Stop the Hike, Hike the Wages

UM regents hear protests from students, lecturers
At least one student in Regents Plaza appeared disinterested in the protests.

At least one student in Regents Plaza on Thursday appeared uninterested in the protests.

University of Michigan Board of Regents (April 16, 2009): A warm spring day brought out more than 100 undergraduates, graduate students and lecturers for a rally at Regents Plaza on Thursday, hoping to get the attention of University of Michigan regents on three separate issues: rising tuition, a change in policy for graduate studies, and a pay disparity between lecturers and tenure-track faculty.

Those same issues were addressed at the regents’ monthly meeting that afternoon, though speakers during the public comment session did not use quite the same level of rhetoric as they’d employed outside – no picket signs were carried inside the Fleming Administration Building, and no one raised their voices. But the board room was packed and regents spent more time responding to speakers than they typically do, extending the meeting to two hours – about twice its usual length.

Public comment came at the end of the meeting – before then, regents heard several reports from UM executives but had little to say on any of the items on Thursday’s agenda.

Financial aid

In her opening remarks to the board, President Mary Sue Coleman noted that she’d met with students earlier in the week to talk about concerns over tuition, and that as a result, on Monday the university would post a concise explanation of the budget on its website. She used that to segue into a presentation by Provost Teresa Sullivan, who spoke about how the university’s financial aid programs will be affected by the 2009 federal stimulus legislation.

American Opportunity Tax Credit: An estimated 22,000 individuals or families with children attending UM will be eligible for this $2,500 tax credit, Sullivan said, which applies to tuition paid in 2009-10 and 2010-11 – “it obviously doesn’t apply to taxes people filed last night at midnight,” she joked. Single taxpayers with incomes less than $80,000 or joint filers with incomes below $160,000 will qualify. Sullivan said that $2,500 represents more than 20% of the current undergraduate tuition for in-state students. The credit is especially good for middle class families, she said.

Pell Grants: The economic stimulus legislation increased the maximum Pell Grant by $619, to $5,350, beginning this fall. In Ann Arbor, between 3,200 and 3,300 students receive Pell Grants each year. Sullivan said that UM already meets all the financial needs of in-state students who qualify for Pell Grants, so this money effectively frees up UM funds that would have otherwise gone to Pell recipients, allowing those funds now to be distributed to other students.

Work/Study: An increase of $1.6 million in federal work/study funding means an estimated 440 additional jobs will be provided across all three of UM’s campuses (Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint). In 2007-08, there were 3,164 work/study students at UM.

After Sullivan’s presentation, Coleman asked how she planned to communicate this information to students and families. Sullivan said they would create a website that would point people to information provided by the government, including links to Regent Martin Taylor asked whether the tax credit required filers to itemize, noting that many people don’t do itemized returns even though it might save them money. Regent Julia Darlow said that while tax deductions required itemizing, getting a tax credit did not. Regent Larry Deitch urged Sullivan, as she worked on the budget, to keep in mind the university’s continued commitment to financial aid.

Parking rates

During his finance-property report, UM chief financial officer Tim Slottow told regents that rates for some of the university’s parking permits would not be increased as previously planned. Annual increases had been set for between 4.3% to 4.6% for each of UM’s four permits (gold, blue, yellow and orange). However, only the gold permit will see an increase of 4.5% – none of the other rates will be raised. Gold permits will cost $1,143 $1,443 in fiscal year 2010, up from $1,381. The other rates are: blue ($611), yellow ($141) and orange ($70).

Several factors contributed to making those rate increases unnecessary, he said, including efforts that have brought the bid on the Thompson parking structure to $500,000 below its budget,  and delaying its start, which meant that debt-servicing payments were also pushed back. The university also completed its Ann Street parking structure $1 million under budget, Slottow said.

Construction projects

Several construction projects were highlighted during the meeting. The largest project – a $49 million renovation of Couzens Hall – is part of a multi-year residential life initiative. (During her opening remarks to the board, Coleman noted that another project, the renovation of Stockwell Hall, was set to open this fall, with North Quad opening in the fall of 2010.) Couzens, a five-story, 180,000-square-foot building, houses about 560 students and will be getting a “deep” renovation, including upgrades to its plumbing and heating, and installation of air-conditioning and wireless/wired Internet service. The project’s architect is Integrated Design Solutions of Troy.

Don Root of Troy-based Integrated Design Solutions describes an expansion project for the Engineering Programs Building.

Don Root of Troy-based Integrated Design Solutions describes an expansion project for the Engineering Programs Building on North Campus.

Don Root, an architect with Integrated Design Solutions, was on hand to describe a different project that his firm is already working on: a $4.8 million addition to the Engineering Programs Building on North Campus. The expansion will add 10,000 square feet to the building, which is primarily used for student projects like the Solar Car.

Hank Baier, associate vice president for facilities and operations, made a brief presentation on the addition to the Thompson Street parking structure. Regents had already signed off on the project, but because bids had come in over budget and it had to be redesigned, the new version required additional approval. The project includes adding 9,000 square feet of office space for UM’s Parking and Transportation Services department and Office of Budget and Planning. When finished, it will have a total of 1,049 parking spaces, a net increase of 273 spaces.

Michigan Student Assembly

A changing of the guard occurred as outgoing MSA president Sabrina Shingwani introduced her successor, Abhishek Mahanti. Royster Harper, UM vice president for student affairs, thanked Shingwani for her service, calling her a “fireball of energy and hard work.” She received a round of applause from the room, including a standing ovation from some. Mahanti said his priorities included better communication with students; helping students find jobs (MSA is organizing workshops on job hunting that he hopes will run prior to this fall’s career day); advocating for students who’ve served in the military, including support of in-state tuition for returning vets; and keeping tuition affordable.

Public comment

The nine speakers during public comment spoke on four issues: Rackham Graduate School’s proposed continuous enrollment policy; pay for university lecturers; the looming eviction of the Michigan Review from its office; and tuition increases. This report includes any related discussion from the regents or administration in italics.

Rackham’s continuous enrollment policy

Marie Puccio: A graduate student, Puccio talked about the unintended consequences of Rackham’s continuous enrollment policy, which would require that graduate students register and pay tuition each semester – something they aren’t currently required to do. She said the policy, set to take effect in the fall of 2010, is really intended to hurry students along the degree path. There’s no evidence that it’s beneficial to graduate education, she said. One of its stated intentions is to improve faculty mentoring, but it doesn’t provide any incentive for that, she said. She said that although the change is expected to be revenue neutral at the university level, it will ultimately hurt students. She said that earlier in the week graduate students had received a mass email stating that tuition fellowships would be available for those who needed financial help because of the policy, but she noted there’s a stipulation that students be making progress in their degree – a stipulation that could be used to deny funding.

Shaun McGirr speaks against the Rackham Graduate School policy of continuous enrollment. Standing at the right are two previous speakers protesting the same issue: Claire Herbert and Marie Puccio.

Shaun McGirr speaks against the Rackham Graduate School policy of continuous enrollment. Standing at the right are two previous speakers who protested the same issue: Claire Herbert and Marie Puccio.

Claire Herbert: A graduate student in sociology, Herbert read several statements from other students about how the policy would affect them. One woman took a leave – called “detached study,” during which students aren’t required to register or pay tuition – to have a child. She worried that she’d be unable to take the time she needed under the new policy, and that it would discriminate against female students. An international student described how he’d be forced to choose between his marriage and studies, since after 2010 he’d be unable to return to his home country for extended periods. Another student, Herbert said, suffered significant health challenges, and the option of detached study helped deal with that. For her own part, Herbert said she chose Michigan, where she is enrolled pays tuition, over funded offers from other universities, because Michigan was her top choice and with tuition-free detached study, she’d be able to manage it financially. “Now I’m being told that the main element that made me comfortable here is being dismantled.” She said it’s not clear whether the fellowships that will be offered will be sufficient to cover all students who need them.

Shaun McGirr: Saying that Rackham’s administration will present this policy as a fait accompli, McGirr urged regents not to accept that characterization. He said they have a petition of over 750 students opposed to the measure, and that everyone they speak with, after hearing about the policy, looks bewildered and asks, “Why?” The administration’s rationale is that students tend to drift away, he said, but there are other ways to address that problem. The level of faculty mentoring is more of a cause for concern, he said, and administration should focus on dealing with that. McGirr also noted that the new level of tuition would differ dramatically with that of  peer institutions, where students are charged a nominal amount to stay enrolled while working on their Ph.D.

Tiffany Tsang: As president of the Rackham Student Government, Tsang said she represents over 7,000 graduate students. She said that over the past two years, and especially over the past 10 months, her group had been working hard to get out information about the policy. Even now, many are “clueless” about it, she said, and many people have been given misinformation. Students in the physical and biological sciences tend to support it, she said, while students in social sciences tend to oppose it, primarily because their field research often requires that they leave campus for extended periods. She said students should try to keep an open mind and work with the administration to address these concerns.

Regent/administration response: Several regents said they had some concerns, citing in particular maternity leave and financial implications. Provost Teresa Sullivan defended the policy, saying that UM’s schools and colleges hadn’t yet worked out the financial plans for taking care of their students after the policy is implemented. She noted that it wasn’t in the interest of administrators to do anything to harm graduate students, and that their motivation was to recruit, educate and graduate the students. On that note, she said their graduation rates lagged behind peer institutions, and this policy would address that. Peer institutions had similar policies, she said. Sullivan urged regents to keep an open mind during the upcoming implementation process – they are not required to approve the policy, but will be asked to vote on any change in tuition for students. Regent Julia Darlow asked for a detailed report on the policy in the fall.

Pay for lecturers

Elizabeth Axelson: Wearing a bright yellow T-shirt with the Lecturers’ Employee Organization logo, Axelson said she represented the roughly 850 non-tenured faculty on Ann Arbor’s campus.

Elizabeth Axelson, union steward for the Lecturers' Employee Organization (LEO), speaks during the public comment section of Thurdsays UM regents meeting.

Elizabeth Axelson, union steward for the Lecturers' Employee Organization (LEO), speaks during the public comment section of Thursday's UM regents meeting.

This is a salary grievance, she said, and they’re looking for cooperation, good faith and the restoration of trust. LEO doesn’t believe they’re getting the raise stipulated by their contract, she said. The administration argues that the discrepancy stems from tenured faculty getting additional amounts to address structural inequities, or that tenure-track faculty are offered “preemptive retention” awards. As a result, lecturers received a 2% raise compared to 4.1% received by tenure-track faculty. Two weeks ago, she said, administration agreed to bring a settlement to the table, but then withdrew that offer. Members were angry and disbelieving at that, she said. ”We are losing trust, and we’re asking that regents help resolve the issue.” It’s especially important to have a healthy base as they move into contract negotiations next year, Axelson said.

Marc Ammerlaan: A lecturer in biology, Ammerlaan is the organizing chair for LEO in Ann Arbor. When they negotiated their contract two years ago, it was their understanding that both tenure and non-tenure faculty would receive the same raise. The union didn’t insist on fixed raises, he said, because they thought that tying themselves to tenure-track faculty would ensure equity for all. He said they don’t understand the administration’s priorities, with tuition hikes for students on the one hand, and less pay for lecturers on the other. “More’s being taken, less is being given – we don’t know what’s going on.” They’ve filed a grievance, he said, and this regents’ meeting was a final attempt to avoid arbitration. Referring to the tenure/non-tenure raises, Ammerlaan said, “4.1 minus 2 should not be the Michigan difference” – an allusion to the Michigan Difference fundraising campaign that received chuckles around the table. Making up that gap would cost about $520,000, he said.

Regent response: Denise Illitch asked why discussions broke down between the union and administration. Axelson said that the union had planned a teach-in, but called it off when they heard that the administration was planning to make a settlement offer. However, one lecturer went ahead with it on the day before it was planned – Axelson said she believed that’s what caused the administration to change its mind about the offer.

Office space for Michigan Review

Karen Boore: A senior in the business school, Boore is also publisher of the Michigan Review, a biweekly student newspaper with a conservative and libertarian bent. They are about to be evicted from the office they’ve used at the Michigan League for the past 27 years, and she spoke to regents urging them to intervene. Boore said in an oversight, the Michigan Review failed to re-register with the Michigan Student Assembly, which administrates the use of office space for student groups. They didn’t realize this oversight would jeopardize their office space, she said, until they were informed of it in mid-March. There was not adequate communication on the part of MSA or the Michigan League, Boore said, and eviction would be a “devastating blow” to the newspaper. “For any newspaper, office space is not a luxury,” she said. “It is a necessity. In addition to a daily bustle of activity, we have computers, printers, podcasting equipment, desks, books and storyboards – items that need a secure place to stay.” She also argued that the newspaper is important because it adds a diverse voice to campus.

Regent response: Andy Richner, one of two Republicans on the eight-member board, asked the administration to look into the issue in further detail, saying he was concerned about issues related to due process and the way in which student groups are notified about office space. Libby Maynard cautioned that the process is handled by students, and she was wary of administrators getting involved. Andrea Fischer Newman, another Republican regent, said it’s been an issue before – the UM Gilbert & Sullivan Society lost its space a couple of years ago, too, she said. The administration should offer MSA some guidance, Fischer Newman said. Larry Deitch said they need to figure out a way to support the newspaper: ”I probably don’t agree with most things in the Review, but I think that voice is very important on this campus.”

Stop the (Tuition) Hike

Protesters at a rally in Regents Plaza prior to Thursdays board of regents meeting

Protesters at a rally in Regents Plaza prior to Thursday's board of regents meeting. The sign on the right says "Implement This!"

Kai-Ming Lau: An engineering student and member of Stop the Hike, Lau said he was working with a group that was gathering and analyzing public data as well as information requested from the administration, trying to find a solution to the financial situation without raising tuition. He said the university’s best minds could find a better way. He comes from Singapore, and noted that nonresident undergraduates like him contribute $319 million in tuition. However, he said he would be unable to return to campus in the fall.

Adam London: Also with Stop the Hike, London said transparency was important, and he was glad that the university was posting information about its budget on their website next week. He also stressed that it was a right for students voices to be heard, and that they should look for creative ways to address this financial challenge. He asked for a commitment from everyone in the room to preserve accessibility to education by keeping tuition costs affordable for all qualified students. He said they’ve been talking to administrators but don’t see much follow-through, let alone the kind of sweeping, intelligent changes they need to make. That includes working with state legislators to increase funding for higher education, he said.

Present: Mary Sue Coleman (ex officio), Julia Darlow, Larry Deitch, Denise Ilitch, Olivia Maynard, Andrea Fischer Newman, Andrew Richner, Martin Taylor, Kathy White

Next board meeting: Thursday, May 14, 3 p.m. at the UM Dearborn campus. [confirm date]

Tyler. Seated in front is

Tyler Clary, a UM sophomore who won two NCAA championships in swimming, was recognized at Thursday's regents meeting. Seated in front of him is Steve Luke, the first Michigan wrestler in 35 years to have an undefeated season. He won the NCAA wrestling championship in the 174-pound weight class.

Janella James, a staff member of the Lecturers Employees Organization, holds one of the buttons they were passing out before the regents meeting to protest pay disparity between lecturers and tenure-track faculty.

Janella James, a staff member of the Lecturers' Employee Organization, holds one of the LEO buttons being passed out before the regents meeting to protest pay disparity between lecturers and tenure-track faculty.

Perspective is everything: A view of the protest from the door entering the Fleming Administration Building.

Perspective is everything: A view of the protest from the door entering the Fleming Administration Building.


  1. By Barbara Tozier
    April 18, 2009 at 7:22 am | permalink

    regents heard several reports from UM executives but had little to say on any of the items on Thursday’s agenda.

    Having read several of your reports of the Regents meeting with similar wording, I’m wondering where and when the real work gets done.

    BTW: “Gold permits will cost $1,143 in fiscal year 2010, up from $1,381″ — should that be $1,443?

  2. By Katherine
    April 21, 2009 at 8:10 am | permalink

    I am the student pictured attending the rally, which was advertised to me as being against the continuous enrollment policy for doctoral students. I object to the characterization that I was uninterested, as well as to having been rudely singled out in a way that distracts from the real story.

    In fact, I left my office to attend my first rally, because I feel strongly that the continuous enrollment policy is a terrible idea which not only reduces student freedom, but also reduces the quality of education by making fieldwork, internships, and other opportunities financially infeasible. It is unclear to me why an internship or study abroad program such as a Fulbright is acceptable if it takes place in summer, but not if it takes place during fall term. Yet these programs would be cost-prohibitive if the student needs to pay tuition in two universities at once, or needs to spend more on tuition than would be earned during the internship. (Note that non-doctoral graduate and undergraduate students are not subject to the same policy.) Also, I fear that some students who may need time off for personal reasons would find it difficult to return, thus increasing dropout rates.

    I was unaware that there are rules for attending rallies. As a graduate student, I feel that working while attending a rally is perfectly acceptable behavior. Having to take time out of my day to protest a policy which might seriously harm other students is a double harm – and then to be criticized for doing so responsibly, offends me.

    Note that no one from this website contacted me, whether to verify that I was a student, or to determine whether I was in fact interested in the rally. As no one asked whether I am a student, and yet you printed that I am, I believe I have found this website to be publishing unverified information.

    Therefore, I encourage readers not to trust information they read on this website, since the content producers do not adhere to standard journalistic practices such as verifying their facts before printing them (whether I am a student).

  3. April 21, 2009 at 10:54 am | permalink

    I think the word “appeared” in the photo caption adequately addresses your concerns about it, Katherine. No need to take anything personally. Thanks for attending the rally and for sharing your thoughts about the proposed policy here. After all, that’s what’s relevant, right?

  4. By Katherine
    April 21, 2009 at 6:53 pm | permalink

    No, I don’t think it adequately expresses my concerns. My concerns are:
    1. Your rudeness in unfairly singling me out for attention.
    2. Your lack of interest in facts, in that you did not verify whether I was a student or what my purpose for attending the rally was. The photo seems to me to have been deliberately framed to make me appear to be at a distance from the crowd, when in reality I was a short distance from the speaker, seated within a large plaza. Being in the area of the protest is a classic symbol of identification with the cause of the protest, even though you apparently think that reading negates this.

    More importantly, when I spoke to the editor on the telephone, he did not seem to know whether the reporter had contacted anyone to verify whether I was a student or what the context of the photo was. This leads me to believe that the reporter and editor are unconcerned with facts.
    3. Your lack of interest in the main issue of the protest, symbolized by focusing on an irrelevant side issue. There were important issues at stake, but your reporter was more interested in mocking me (regardless of any impact this might have on me), and only glanced over these issues. Clearly the point of the article is entertainment rather than dissemination of information. I wonder what kind of protest would possibly interest the Chronicle in the continuous enrollment issue, and I suspect that none would. For this reason, I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t read a book – at least someone will be learning about important issues.