A student stands in protest of the university’s mistreatment of UM-Flint students at a 1U Rally in McKinnon Plaza (Santiago Ochoa)
A student stands in protest of the university’s mistreatment of UM-Flint students at a 1U Rally in McKinnon Plaza

Santiago Ochoa

1U’s Demands No Closer to Being Met After a Year

November 11, 2019

Almost a year after its founding, the One University Coalition has yet to have its demands for equity across all three University of Michigan campuses met. 

Founded on the idea that all three campuses within the UM system be treated as one, the 1U Coalition is comprised of students, faculty and community members who advocate for the equitable investment and treatment of all students. The coalition spent the entirety of 2019 working towards gaining a formal audience with the University of Michigan Board of Regents. 

Though there have been reports of individual regents meeting with 1U members in the last year, the board itself has not shown full support for the coalition. 

This comes as a surprise to Austin Ogle, UM-Flint student and 1U Steering Committee member. To him, 1U’s requests fall well within the part of the political spectrum the majority of regents publicly align themselves with. 

“Seven of them are democratic or ran affiliated with the Democratic Party. Ideally we should have seven out of eight fully supportive. If not eight out of eight. Just because you’re from a different political party doesn’t mean you don’t believe in equity.”

While some of the coalition’s members have had several chances to speak at Board of Regents’ meetings, the most recent of which was held Oct. 17 on the Flint campus, public response from the regents themselves during these meetings has been scant.

Upon reaching out for a comment on the matter, Rick Fitzgerald, a spokesperson for the university, directed the Times to a website addressing all of the coalition’s goals. 

The site offers a counterargument to each of the coalition’s demands. It explains how the excess funds 1U refers to when talking about Ann Arbor’s wealth do not exist. Rather, the funds are a misinterpretation of the university’s consolidated cash flow statement.

“The group [1U] has selectively constructed a number using only portions of the statement including items such as Michigan Medicine patient revenue – which cannot be used outside of Michigan Medicine – while excluding other sections of the report that include obligations such as debt payments. The result is a false impression that the university has a large cash surplus,” the website states. 

Comments from UM’s president, Mark Schlissel, UM-Flint Chancellor Deba Dutta and UM-Dearbon’s Chancellor Domenico Grasso are also featured on the page. The three administrators mention the importance of keeping the campuses financially separate, which allows them to maintain their autonomy.

“My experience in multi-campus public universities leads me to believe that each campus is best served with a level of autonomy that allows it to chart a course that best aligns with its commitment to the population and community it serves,” said Dutta.

Despite the university’s insistence there is no large sum of unused money, pressure from the coalition has grown, with support for its cause spreading into the upper ranks of state government. 

In May of 2019, 12 Michigan lawmakers, including state Reps. John Cherry and Sheldon Neeley, who represent Flint, signed an op-ed published by the Detroit Free Press titled ‘University of Michigan students in Flint and Dearborn are shortchanged. That has to stop.’

In the article, the lawmakers mentioned how “Dearborn and Flint students pay 80% of the tuition that Ann Arbor students pay, but their per-student funding is drastically lower than that – 23% and 25%, respectively, per the U.S. Department of Education.”

They called for UM to better serve its students, saying they would look forward to working with the university to reach this goal. 

Six months later, no major conversations have been reported between the university and state legislature regarding the 1U Coalition. 

To some, the perceived silence coming from the Board of Regents has been deafening. 

“It is frustrating and I do find it to be a little bit fake sometimes, they aren’t responding and they don’t seem to care or understand,” said Lucine Jarrah, a UM-Flint student and 1U advocate, regarding the lack of acknowledgment from many of the regents.

“But at the same time, I think that it’s important to just keep pushing the conversation … for the people in the room that are there and are like ‘okay this fight is still happening.’”

And keep pushing 1U has. Over 100 people attended a rally at UM-Flint’s McKinnon Plaza hours before the previously mentioned regents’ meeting.

Among those in attendance were students from all the campuses, Flint community members and professors. Some attendees, like UM-Flint Assistant Professor of Anthropology Daniel Birchok, spoke to the Times during the rally. 

“I see the struggles my students go through on a daily basis … I’m tired of seeing my best students struggle and my struggling students leave the university.” 

Birchok mentioned how he has seen students of his at UM-Flint have to make difficult decisions based on a lack of financial support, sometimes having to choose their health over their education. 

“I’ve had students who have had to choose between paying their tuition or paying their medical bills. There is a lack of equity there.”

The lack of financial equity Birchock referred to has been a point of contention within 1U since its founding. Financial aid programs like the Go Blue Guarantee, which offers free tuition to students from households making less than $65,000 per year, are available only to students in Ann Arbor.

According to a letter from past UM-Flint chancellor, Susan E. Borrego, regarding UM’s announcement of the Go Blue Guarantee, in 2017, 75 percent of UM-Flint students were receiving some form of financial aid. That same year, UM-Flint and UM-Dearborn students had the High Achieving Involved Leader Scholarship made available to them. The HAIL scholarship began as a pilot program for the Go Blue Guarantee. 

While 1U has been able to amass a large audience, reaching those who matter most to the coalition — students — has been difficult. Ogle attributes this in large part to the nature of the average UM-Flint student.

“We need to get people to come out. But that’s hard because, you know, … a lot of Flint students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, so if you’re not in class, you’re working,” said Ogle.

According to UM-Flint’s Institutional Analysis site, 31 percent of all undergraduates in the Fall 2018 semester were non-traditional students. While there is no single definition of what being a non-traditional student means, it is generally understood people within this category are usually part-time students, full-time workers or parents. 

This means a large portion of students attending UM-Flint, some of which sometimes meet one or more of the criteria listed above, are going through school underserved, despite being the ones needing assistance the most. 

To students who are able to find the time to get informed, Jarrah said, finding out about the inequities between campuses is surprising. “And then all of a sudden things make sense because they’re like ‘I’m experiencing a lot of these problems. I just didn’t know that these disparities were the reasons why.’”

“I would say that the linchpin of our organizing work is rooted in this communal power — an understanding that in order to change outcomes we need a community wide investment in this campaign,” said Jarrah.

So, really, the question of progress is best defined by our growth as a coalition. It is defined by our dedicated efforts in uplifting the voices in our impacted communities, by raising awareness through our advocacy work, and by continuing to align our mission with other campus/community organizers working towards achieving similar goals.”

This article originally appeared on the Nov. 11 print issue of The Michigan Times and has since then been edited for clarity.

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