UM-Flint faculty react to the Strategic Transformation plan

Students walk on the sidewalk in front of French Hall. The First Street residence hall is seen in the background.

Luis Martinez, Writer

Faculty around the University of Michigan-Flint are reacting and discussing the changing education and economic policy of higher education. Although everyone is interested in the process, a mixture of caution and confusion but openness to work surrounds the plan. 

The reasoning surrounding the transformation plan and the goals sought by the transformation plan came from the direction of the interim President Mary Sue Coleman where, in her charge letter,  she pointed to the trends of low high school graduation rates, and low graduation rates at UM-Flint. 

Although the low graduation rate may be peculiar to Flint and the rest of Genesee county, this is a systemic issue across the state. According to an article by Ethan Baukli, and Koby Levin, “Graduation rates in Michigan dipped for the first time in recent years. The statewide four-year graduation rate was 80.4% for the Class of 2021, a decrease of 1.6 percentage points from the previous year.”  

The goals placed by Coleman follow in line with the investment methodology as per the financial statements for the June 2022/2021 years ended, “University’s investment policies are governed and authorized by university Bylaws and the Board of Regents”. However, the key term used in this letter is “one-time”, if the investment is supposed to be “one-time” then it must be increased in output or enrollment. 

Following the charge by Coleman, Chancellor Debashish Dutta put together a Strategic transformation plan, which includes recruiting and retaining students, expanding and creating new programs and improving graduation rates. 

A labor and student market to work towards those goals, and  Huron Consulting Group, which specializes in education, healthcare, and technology markets has been selected to help produce and analyze the data. 

Some faculty have raised concerns about Huron Consulting Group’s involvement because of the group’s ties to the Enron banking scandal in 2001 and work done with the University of Wisconsin in 2017

Huron Consulting Group’s has been met with criticisms from faculty and students. At the Board of Regents meeting, critiques were laid out against Huron and criticized the underlying business and education models as it goes against the interest of the workers and students and the general community of Flint. 

A Steering Committee and Innovation & Transformation Advisory Council have also been created in order to understand and analyze data and possible needs. The council, committee, members and staff have been reassured on the FAQ that  “any new programs will lead to new opportunities and growth. In the end, this may result in the need for more employees, not fewer,” The FAQ also assured that “we welcome all ideas in support of the strategic transformation initiative.”

The purpose and modeling that is being done have caused concern for some faculty. Kimberly Saks McManaway along with a conversation with Adam Lutzker, Derwin Munroe and Patrick Nard discussed extensively about what the education policy of academic programs and student involvement could entail and how certain modeling and analysis may not capture it.  

While Kim Saks McManaway, assistant professor of political science adds that she is appreciative of the quantitative skills of analysis offered by Huron Consulting Group but wonders how the changes suggested by the group will be received by the community. 

Peter Stokes who is the managing director at Huron consulting firms, is quoted on Huron’s website, “Transformation is about adapting two variables: the business model and the audiences served.” Much controversy surrounds such a framework as it could limit student options.

Matt Fhaner, associate professor in analytical chemistry states, “While there is always a concern of turning higher education strictly into a vocational school, it is possible to provide the foundational theory and technical curriculum while sculpting programs that align with the careers of the next decade and beyond.” 

Although cause for concern from faculty may vary, McManaway agrees that such a transformation is important further stating, “We shouldn’t exist in a bubble and we can all work together.”