Students, Faculty Comment on Changes Since the 2017 Climate Report

Colin Roedel, Writer

In May of 2017, a campus-wide climate study was sent across the University of Michigan-Flint campus to gather an overall feel of the campus’ climate. The 465-page study was conducted by Rankin & Associates, Consulting and is available for download on the university’s website The survey presented two key findings: areas of strengths and areas for improvement. According to the survey, UM-Flint community members completed 1,578 surveys for an overall response rate of 17 percent. The number of people who took it can be broken down as:

810 – Undergraduate students

317 – Staff

284 – Faculty members

188 –  Graduate/Professional students

10– Senior administrators (faculty rank)

5 – Senior administrators (non-faculty rank)

Almost one year later, new programs have been added, buildings remodeled, and the outside downtown area is thriving. However, enrollment has dropped for the fourth year in a row. Fall 2014 showed the enrollment of 8,574 students, whereas Fall 2017 showed enrollment was at 7,836 students. This is most likely attributed to the ongoing water crisis in Flint. The Michigan Times wanted to inquire how else campus has shifted since the study, and how students feel the university has responded to these findings.

One key finding of the survey showed that 71 percent of respondents felt comfortable with UM-Flint. Comfortable was defined as “current attitudes, behaviors, and standards of employees and students concerning the access for, inclusion of, and level of respect for individual and group needs, abilities, and potential.” Moreover, 89 percent of student respondents felt valued by faculty, and 80 percent felt valued by faculty in the classroom.

“I feel like a valued member of the community,” said Senior Jimmy Bovee, a wildlife biology major. He remarks that he always has. “I think the school works very hard to be diverse and inclusive. I think there will always be room to grow, but I think they’re working at it,” said Bovee.

One way he feels the university could improve is to help student organizations market their events. Bovee also feels some organizations are often overlooked by the university.

“I think that while there are clubs for just about every race and ethnicity, I think some get more attention from SIL (Student Involvement and Leadership) than others,” said Bovee. “For example, I feel like the Native American groups on campus often don’t have their voice heard.”

However, he feels the university is continuing to improve both socially and academically, and admires all the new majors being offered in the curriculum.

The report also gathered and presented key findings for opportunities for improvement. According to the survey, respondents were able to share “experiences of exclusionary, intimidating, offensive, and/or hostile conduct at the University of Michigan-Flint.” Results show that 170 students, faculty, and staff members shared comments regarding their personal experiences. The survey remarked that “three themes emerged from their narratives: reporting process, racial issues, and fear of consequences.”

The Michigan Times asked several students if they faced any racial or religious backlash on campus. Almost all asked to remain anonymous with their answer. One student, who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, credited the students as being very open and accepting of different cultures, lifestyles, and mindsets.

“The students of the university are very open to learning about different cultures and about different race,” they said.

However, they did wish administration was more openly visible to all students.

“Specifically, the vice chancellor of this university,” they shared. “I have never seen (them) in my 3 years.”

The Michigan Times reached out to Vice Chancellor Dr. Barbara Avery, but was unable to receive a response before publishing. However, the anonymous individual did credit many faculty, specifically naming Professor Traci Currie, for being accessible and taking time to get to know students.

However, not all students feel the university is as inclusive as it could be. Another student, who also wishes to remain anonymous, shared they originally had difficulty fitting in as a Muslim when first coming to campus.

“I’m the type of person who is active in joining new organizations and making friends, but as a Muslim, never felt a sense of belonging to MSA (Muslim Student Association) or Muslim students.”

They feel the campus atmosphere has shifted negatively in the past year, but due to outward forces.

“The atmosphere of this campus didn’t change until Trump was elected president,” they shared. “I cried the following morning (of the election) but my friends didn’t share my reaction to the news. To them, it was either a joke or not a big deal.”

Since the election, they have attended more MSA meetings, trying to strengthen bonds between others of the same faith. They say they have realized that many other Muslims share the common feelings of fear, anger, and shock when watching the news. They hope that faculty will continue to invest time into learning about students’ beliefs: something they credit the chancellor at excelling at.

A glaring issue that stood out in the survey was that 57 percent of faculty respondents and 63 percent of staff respondents “have seriously considered leaving the University of Michigan-Flint in the past year.” The Michigan Times reached out to nine different faculty members with the option to anonymously share their opinion on the climate report. Seven of them either declined, said they were not able to comment, or simply did not respond. This may be attributed to the Rankin Studies reporting of one qualitative theme that kept appearing in the study, which was fear of consequence, as well as concerns with senior administration.

However, some faculty of the university, including John Stephens, a lecturer of finance, is happy with the university. He shares that he has previously taught at two other institutions.

“One observation is that the faculty at UM-Flint seem less content than faculty at the other institutions I was at. I think this is due to the faculty here making constant comparisons to the faculty at Dearborn and Ann Arbor campuses,” Stephens shared. “What strikes me odd is this campus has the most generous compensation and development packages of any institution I have been at. I believe the faculty thinks all universities offer generous development monies to their faculty, but that is usually not the case.”

Stephens shares he feels Chancellor Susan Borrego and her provost have made significant strides in trying to communicate better with faculty.

“This seems like a positive step for the institution and should lead to better shared governance,” said Stephens. “Once faculty leave the institution and see what their new institution lacks, they will have a different opinion of UM-Flint and wish they had not judged the school so harshly.”