Flint, MI—As the University of Michigan-Flint undertakes an initiative to address its financial woes and declining enrollment, a coalition of students, staff and faculty are urging school officials against implementing further cuts to campus programs.
During an Oct. 20, 2022 University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting, members of Flint’s campus community expressed their fear that UM-Flint’s new strategic transformation initiative—a bid to achieve academic and financial sustainability—will spell more slashes in resources.
“We used to have multiple majors and minors focused in Spanish, but now only a Spanish minor remains,” said Emily Feuerherm, an associate professor of linguistics at UM-Flint, during public comment at the meeting.
Feuerherm said she has seen the humanities and world language programs “gutted” during her eight years of working at the university.
“There are almost no advanced world language classes left in any language,” she added. “What this means is we will have fewer world language teachers and speakers in our area. Our children will have less access to the diversity that comes from learning additional languages.”
UM-Flint senior Alexiss Woodard acknowledged that her education at UM-Flint has been extensive. She said she has had the opportunity to take classes ranging from biology to music theory, gender studies to English, and anthropology to Spanish.
Nonetheless, Woodard shared her concern over the state of UM-Flint’s academics.
“Throughout my time here, however, I have seen how these programs have suffered from disinvestment, including my own program, Spanish,” Woodard told the board. “I am not only saddened by this, but I am extremely concerned for others. It would be a dangerous mistake to further diminish any other liberal arts or science programs from this community.”
Ahead of the Board of Regents meeting, the One University coalition, which advocates for equity between Michigan’s Flint, Ann Arbor, and Dearborn campuses, held a rally at UM-Flint’s McKinnon Plaza.
There, some also voiced concerns about the track record of Huron Consulting Group, which is helping guide UM-Flint with its strategic transformation plan.
Huron has a history of consulting on austerity measures for higher education institutions in financial crises, said Jason Kosnoski, an associate professor of political science at UM-Flint.
“We’re very worried about that,” Kosnoski said during the rally. “We want to fight back about this. U of M Flint stands for something. It stands for equity, giving a chance for people to have a true university experience who never ever had such an experience before.”
In August 2022, Mary Sue Coleman, then interim president of the university, charged UM-Flint Chancellor Deba Dutta with developing a plan to ensure the survival of the Flint campus.
“Maintaining the status quo, or only implementing incremental adjustments to current programs and activities will not be sufficient nor sustainable,” Coleman wrote to Dutta in a letter dated Aug. 29, 2022. She also noted that UM-Flint’s six-year graduation rate is ranked bottom among the 15 public universities in Michigan.
Compounding that concern, UM-Flint’s fall-semester student headcount has decreased by roughly 30 percent since 2014. This year the headcount was under 6,000 students—down from nearly 8,600 students in 2014 according to a presentation by Dutta during a Town Hall meeting in September 2022. But, Dutta said, there are achievements worthy of celebration.
For the first time in more than a decade, UM-Flint saw an increase in new undergraduate transfer students, with a nearly 10 percent rise compared to 2021. The university also touted a roughly six percent increase in first-year students compared to last year, which is the first jump in five years.
However, overall enrollment has continued to drop, with revenues declining despite increases in tuition, Dutta explained.
“Things are not going as we want it to be,” he told the town hall attendees.
In a written response to Flint Beat, Dutta said that UM-Flint leadership will be making the decisions as part of the transformation plan, which must then be approved by the Board of Regents.
In the case of Huron’s role, Dutta wrote the consulting group “is providing us with market data, analyses and assistance with the process of making sure all stakeholder voices are heard. None of their current or past work with the University of Michigan has been focused on recommending cuts to jobs or programs.”
And, when asked about the community’s concerns regarding cuts to humanities programs over the years and worries about the future of humanities at UM-Flint, Dutta wrote that “we hear those concerns and they will most certainly be taken into consideration when we make decisions.”
Currently, Dutta said, the strategic transformation initiative is in the process of gathering information and community input.
“This is a time for all members of the community to get involved,” Dutta wrote. “We encourage anyone with input to attend the many meetings that are being scheduled, complete a survey when it arrives in your inbox and go online to the campus website to provide your written feedback.”
Further, he said analysis of labor market trends is underway to understand the best career opportunities in Michigan for future UM-Flint graduates.