Written by Fran Shor; posted here by Art Myatt
Public universities have a venerable tradition going back to the nineteenth century. In the aftermath of World War II, that era’s G.I. Bill, and federal legislation in the 1960’s, public universities became much more accessible to underserved populations, especially minorities and adult workers. Unfortunately, the last few decades have witnessed an erosion of financial support at both the federal and state level.
In Michigan, the state legislature originally recognized the importance of public universities by mandating that “universities remain responsible to the public at large.” In practice, this translated into statewide voting for the governing boards of the three major public universities in Michigan – University of Michigan, Michigan State, and Wayne State.
However, as noted recently by a report issued in September 2016 by the Michigan League for Public Policy: “Between 2003 and 2017, Michigan cut university funding by more an $262,000,000, a 30% decrease in public support after adjusting for inflation. The cuts have resulted in students and their families being charged higher tuition to make up for the universities’ lost state revenue.” As a consequence, Michigan now has the sixth highest tuition in the nation for in-state students. What had been once affordable even for students from working and poor families has either priced them out of Michigan public universities or added additional debt burdens to these students and their families.
The decreases in state funding for Wayne State have been particularly precipitous, leading to a 152% increase in tuition since 2003, the third highest in the Michigan among all public universities. Like other public universities, Wayne State has re-oriented itself towards a corporate model that compounds the costs, both economically and socially, for citizens of Michigan.
Here are a few examples of how that corporate orientation at WSU operates to the detriment of the public interest.
1.) The President as CEO: Instead of a primary focus on accessibility and quality education, presidents are now more concerned with raising private funds, building flashy and costly new facilities, and making business deals that highlight their corporate sponsors.
President M. Roy Wilson of Wayne State was just given a raise to $522,000, partly due to his fundraising and the establishment of a suspect Illitch School of Business arrangement. Perks include free housing in two different campus locations, membership in exclusive clubs, and subsidized global travel. The metrics for his performance and that of former presidents, like Irvin Reid (1997-2008), apparently exclude continuing problems with retention and declining enrollment, especially for African American students.
In Reid’s case, after overseeing the destruction of the College of Lifelong Learning, the College of Urban, Labor, and Metropolitan Affairs (with its “urban mission” focus), and the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, the premier “open admissions” degree-granting program for working adults, he was given the equivalent of a CEO “golden parachute” that includes a $350,000 salary, free housing occupying a complete floor of the Park Shelton with attendant staff, among other perks.
2.) Redundant and Costly Managerial Positions: Like the top-down corporate world, Wayne State, especially at its financially troubled Medical School, proliferates such positions and practices. In the Medical School there are eleven Associate Deans receiving a total salary from WSU alone of three million dollars. Other Medical School Managers “double dip” by being part of the University Physician Group (UPG), including one Dean who receives $355,682 from UPG in addition to the WSU salary of $423,908.
3.) Corporate Research: Unlike past practices where research was often in the public interest, faculty at the Medical School and in various science, engineering, and business departments are increasingly part of research programs that benefit corporate sponsors, like Pharmaceutical companies. Some of these partnerships border on conflict of interest because public tax dollars are used to pay and underwrite such research.
4.) Privatization of Facilities: Recently, Wayne State, with the unanimous approval of the Board of Governors, turned over its housing to a private company, Corvais Campus Living. Corvais, like other corporations, relies on non-union labor.
As indicated above, Wayne State’s Board of Governors (BoG), with rare and infrequent exceptions, has affirmed the corporate orientation of the Administration. Instead of scrutinizing and opposing policies that cheat the public, the BoG has forfeited its public responsibilities to protect the students and the citizens of Michigan.
As a candidate for the Board of Governors, I pledge the following:
1.) I will oppose costly increases in administrative positions and salaries, seeking ways to cut those costs.
2.) I will try to find alternatives to corporate research and privatization.
3.) I will demand re-instituting colleges and programs with an urban mission that will be more accessible to underserved populations.
4.) I will work to reduce tuition and debt.
5.) I will insist on giving faculty, staff, and students a greater role in determining the allocation of resources through participatory budgeting.
In short, I will be an advocate for the public at Wayne State University.
[Featured image photo credit – alternatives2corporateuni.wordpress.com/]