Student Government’s Director of Foreign Outreach Spearheads State-wide Coalition

University+of+Michigan-Flint+Student+Government%27s+Director+of+Foreign+Outreach+Samantha+Uptmor+has+been+voted+in+as+SG%27s+next+president.

Santiago Ochoa

University of Michigan-Flint Student Government's Director of Foreign Outreach Samantha Uptmor has been voted in as SG's next president.

Santiago Ochoa, Managing Editor

For months now, UM-Flint Junior Samantha Uptmor has been working with student government representatives from Michigan’s 15 public universities to create the Student Coalition for Higher Education Funding (SCHEF).

During that time, Uptmor, along with colleagues from other universities, like Joel Pagel, Grand Valley’s Student Senate Vice President of External Affairs, floated the idea of a coalition dedicated to advocating for the increase of higher education funding by the state. The idea being strength in numbers–having the support of 15 student bodies behind an issue would make one more likely to get an audience with the capitol.

Uptmor cites the consistent cutting of university funds as one of the catalysts for SCHEF’s creation. The paradoxical effect of these cuts, she says, have dug universities like UM-Flint into a deep hole. 

“The primary goal of it [SCHEF] is to advocate for higher education funding and doing that through testimonials of students … Especially what we see in Flint, for example, you know our enrollment is going down because we don’t have classes to offer and things like that because we don’t have funding, but at the same time because our enrollment is down, we’re not gonna get more funding.” 

Coincidentally, SCHEF’s roots can be traced back to Lansing. According to Uptmor, in the fall of 2019, she, as well as members of other university student governments, lost one of the few opportunities they had to speak with Michigan legislators. Lansing Advocacy Day, an event that would allow students to do just that, was canceled due in large part to rumors of a government shutdown looming over the city.  

“So we came up with the idea over a conference call, I suggested that we did a joint resolution and we would bring that to the United Student Governments Conference at Saginaw Valley that happened in November [2019],” said Uptmor. 

In the months leading up to the conference, Uptmor and Pagel worked together to write a resolution all universities could stand by. The first iteration of the document was primarily based on existing information gathered by the now-defunct Student Association of Michigan. 

“We took it to the conference and we voted on it there,” said Uptmor. “We had to go through a conference committee, take suggestions, we ended up having to rewrite it in the middle of the conference committee, which was stressful because we spent months on it and had to re-write it in 10 [minutes].” 

Despite the setback, the newly written resolution was taken to the general assembly at the conference where it passed with 12 votes in the positive. There was one in the negative by Lake Superior State University, which had concerns regarding the logistics of in-person meetings, one abstention from Oakland University and a non-vote due to Ferris State University’s absence at the conference. 

The coalition made arrangements to meet during pre-existing meeting dates, like during the United Students Conference, in order to accommodate for LSSU. OU abstained from voting due to a lack of representation at the conference but later came on board after being briefed. Despite several attempts to communicate with representatives from Ferris’ student government body, the university has yet to join the coalition.

One aspect of SCHEF that has remained unaltered since its inception however, is its reason to exist. While the name may give it away, the coalition is doing more than just vying for more state funding. 

Some members and the universities they represent may have overlapping interests, but for the most part, each of the 15 student governments taking part in the coalition has unique needs. The institutions all lie scattered along different ends of the economic spectrum, varying greatly in both populations and endowment sizes. “There are great divides between the East and West sides of the state and also between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas,” said Pagel.

This means to take part in SCHEF, the various student governments must be willing to stand behind their colleague’s needs and struggles, despite not sharing the same experiences. “Dylan Catalano (Student Body Vice President at Michigan State University), he really spoke up and said State doesn’t need more money, but they see that other universities do and they want to help with that, which was really cool,” said Uptmor.

After the meeting, Uptmor, Pagel and other student government members from across the state began drafting a constitution for SCHEF. “We want to make it as inclusive as possible to make sure that it can cater to as many students around the state,” said Uptmor. “Not just student governments and other institutions themselves, but have it really be an entity that can do the most for as many people as it can.” 

According to Pagel, SCHEF is now in its final stages of being established. All that’s left is for each university’s delegations to ratify the resolution. “With establishment around the corner, it is exciting to think about what the future holds,” said Pagel. “As student governments work together on higher education work and policy, I think there would be a great bond and this will serve as an excellent learning experience for everyone who is part of it.”`