News Story

Tuition Up 3.9 Percent, But U-M Finds $85 Million More For 'Diversity'

'A poor choice of stewardship'

Officials at the University of Michigan announced last week that the school will spend an additional $85 million over the next five years to promote diversity and inclusivity on its campuses. According to an online announcement by Jeremy Allen of the university's public affairs office, the university currently spends $40 million each year to promote diversity.

According to the 43-page strategic plan, the additional $17 million a year will pay for a three-part campaign that will “create an inclusive and equitable campus.” It will also help “recruit, retain and develop a diverse university community,” and “support innovation and inclusive scholarship and teaching.”

The plan also says the university is committed to “increasing diversity, which is expressed in myriad forms, including race and ethnicity, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, language, culture, national origins, religious commitments, age, disability status and political perspective.”

Roughly $31 million of the new spending will be paid from the university’s general fund, most of which comes from tuition and fees paid by students and appropriations granted by state lawmakers.

The rest will come from private donors, returns on university investments proceeds and other sources, according to U-M officials.

Earlier this year university officials increased tuition by 3.9 percent for in-state undergraduates at the Ann Arbor campus. This is more than double the rate of inflation, as well as the rate of increase lawmakers granted in appropriations for the Ann Arbor campus. When the Flint and Dearborn campuses are included, U-M will receive $355.9 million in state appropriations for the current fiscal year, more than any other state university.

The university’s increased diversity spending will pay for new programs and surveys.

More money will be spent, for example, on resources dealing with “bias-related incidents,” including a bias-reporting hotline. “These efforts,” the plan says, “will offer critical support for all students involved in crisis, bias-related incidents or situations related to a challenging campus climate.”

The plan will also use measurements and reports to track the programs, and existing diversity projects will continue, such as scholarships and a new $10 million Trotter Multicultural Center.

In developing the initiative, officials collected input at over 200 events and activities over the last year. One example cited in the report described graduate students concerned by “regular experiences of microaggressions, discrimination, and incivility in academic and social settings from student peers, faculty and staff.”

A “microaggression” refers to an intentional or unintentional slight a non-minority person makes to a minority person which displays the offending person’s inherent bias.

The plan will also create a new full-time administrative position – titled a vice provost for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer (VPEI-CDO) – which “will serve as a leadership voice on diversity, equity and inclusion for the entire university.” The person who holds that position will also implement the plan.

University President Mark Schlissel has nominated Robert Sellers to be the university's first chief diversity officer. Sellers currently serves as vice provost for diversity, equity and academic affairs.

Sellers, who as a U-M student in the late 1980s was a member of the progressive group United Coalition Against Racism (UCAR), was paid nearly $350,000 in his current position in 2014-15, the same year the position was created. The new position will be an additional responsibility for Sellers, U-M Spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said in an email.

Sellers’ new salary cannot be confirmed until the appointment is approved by the Board of Regents on Oct. 20, Fitzgerald added.

When Sellers was a graduate student in 1987, UCAR protested the university’s choice of CBS journalist and alumnus Mike Wallace to be a commencement speaker, based on claims that he made racist statements.

Ashley Thorne, the executive director of the National Association of Scholars, which promotes liberal arts education and academic freedom, condemned the new diversity initiative.

“This is a poor choice of stewardship by the University of Michigan of the tax dollars and tuition entrusted to it by the citizens of Michigan. It appears to be an attempt to appease protesters rather than an effort to unite the campus around the shared purpose of the pursuit of knowledge,” she said.

“The plan represents an endeavor to put the entire university under the umbrella of a one-sided ideology, so as to exclude the voice of anyone who disagrees. That's exclusion, not inclusion,” Thorne added. “Promoting diversity based on membership in identity groups leads to racial preferences, which in turn fuel the fire of racial resentment rather than quelling it. The University of Michigan should use Michigan taxpayers' money to educate students, not to coerce its employees to conform to the diversity doctrine.”

The new initiative was spurred, in part, by campus protests in 2014. Black student movements and the #BBUM campaign (Being Black at Michigan) sought to address what they called a lack of ethnic diversity on campus by threatening “physical action” and issuing a list of demands for the university.

The announcement of the initiative follows a report two weeks ago of a new online student portal that allows students to report their preferred gender pronouns so faculty and staff can use these them when addressing each student.

The University Record, a publication for faculty and staff, quoted Schlissel on the new diversity position: “The future of our great university will be determined by how well we embrace the values of diversity, equity and inclusion. To live up to our full potential as a university, everyone must have the opportunity to contribute and to benefit, and our community can be complete only when all members feel welcome.”

Schlissel continued, “Our dedication to academic excellence for the public good is inseparable from our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. We cannot be excellent without being diverse in the broadest sense of that word."

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.