By Jan Worth-Nelson
Allegations of an injudicious decision-making process and concerns about top-level bullying at the University of Michigan – Flint have been “taken seriously” and have been responded to “appropriately,” University of Michigan spokespersons said Friday.
Associate Emerita Professor Theodosia Robertson and the other 20 former UM – Flint faculty who signed a letter of concern sent to UM President Santa J. Ono Nov. 2 received the response via email from Rick Fitzgerald from UM’s Office of Public Affairs.
The letter also was attached to a response to East Village Magazine from Robb King, UM director of marketing and communications. It is included in its entirety below.
The flurry of communications originated in controversies emerging from what UM has labeled “Strategic Transformation” — an effort announced to the Flint campus Sept. 23 by UM-Flint Chancellor Debasish Dutta to attempt to address UM -Flint issues including declining enrollment, a shrinking pool of college students, and other issues.
Fitzgerald wrote that following a Nov. 4 visit to UM-Flint by UM’s new president, whose first official day on the job was Oct. 14, “it is clear to him that UM-Flint is an excellent institution with much promise that has the strong support of community leaders.”
Regarding heated comments by former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) Susan Gano Phillips — who says she resigned under pressure in June — Fitzgerald wrote, “Both the president and the chancellor are aware of the concerns raised by Professor Gano-Phillips. The university took those allegations seriously and carefully reviewed the details of each situation and has responded appropriately.”
EVM requested detail from UM on what specifically those responses entailed. King replied, “We are not able to share any further details.”
The 21 retired UM-Flint faculty, all from the College of Arts and Sciences, voiced concern about recent planned and proposed changes on the Flint campus and the decision-making process involved, stating that Gano Phillips’ statement “reflects the emergence of a campus culture under Chancellor Dutta where pressure replaces reasoned decisions of shared governance and concomitant secrecy and confusion results in staff demoralization.”
Fitzgerald’s letter indicated, contrary to contentions by some on the Flint campus, that moves of three academic units from CAS into the university’s new College of Innovation and Technology (CIT), were not in fact made suddenly but after a series of considerations across divisions, and, in fact, a response to requests from the faculty from those units themselves.
While the emeritus faculty’s letter did not directly raise it, Fitzgerald’s letter also addresses concerns raised at the Oct. 20 Regents meeting about Huron Consulting, a controversial agency hired by UM to assist with the so-called “Strategic Transformation” initiative underway at the Flint campus.
“…the Huron Consulting Group is not making any recommendations or decisions. The group is assisting the Flint campus with gathering market data and analysis,” Fitzgerald stated.
He also reiterated what UM – Flint Chancellor Dutta has been asserting in community meetings, “…that campus leaders are examining the wants and needs of all concerned constituencies throughout the process. Input from faculty, staff, students and other stakeholders is coming in daily.”
More information about UM – Flint’s Strategic Transformation process is available here.
Sent Nov. 10, 2022
Dear Professor Emerita Robertson and colleagues:
Thank you for taking the time to express your opinions and share your concerns. President Santa J. Ono and Chancellor Deba Dutta have asked me to respond.
As you may know, President Ono visited the UM-Flint campus Nov. 4 and it is clear to him that UM-Flint is an excellent institution with much promise that has the strong support of community leaders.
Both the president and the chancellor are aware of the concerns raised by Professor Gano- Phillips. The university took those allegations seriously and carefully reviewed the details of each situation and has responded appropriately.
Pursuant to the relocation of three academic programs from the College of Arts & Sciences to the College of Innovation & Technology, those moves were done to better align the disciplines represented, as well as research and faculty interests, to the more appropriate unit.
The moves were approved by the provost after her office received letters requesting the move signed by all faculty members who ultimately moved. Upon review of the request, and in consultation with the deans of both colleges, the move was approved by the provost, the chancellor and the Board of Regents.
Finally, to address the concerns surrounding the strategic transformation initiative, it’s important to reiterate that the Huron Consulting Group is not making any recommendations or decisions. The group is assisting the Flint campus with gathering market data and analysis.
We also would stress that campus leaders are examining the wants and needs of all concerned constituencies throughout the process. Input from faculty, staff, students and other stakeholders is coming in daily. All of this information will be considered along with the market analysis and program data before decisions are made or plans finalized concerning any academic programs at the university.
The end goal is to strengthen student outcomes at UM-Flint so the university is academically strong and financially viable in order to meet the needs of the citizens of our state and prepare UM-Flint graduates for productive careers.
Office of Public Affairs
Original letter from the emeritus faculty to President Ono:
Dear President Ono,
I am writing out of concern at the current situation of the College of Arts and Science (CAS) under the leadership of UM-Flint’s chancellor, Debasish Dutta. The comments of former CAS Dean Susan Gano-Phillips at the October 20 Regents Meeting in Flint outlined the context around the June 2022 executive action by Chancellor Dutta to transfer three CAS academic programs (computer science, engineering, and physics) to form a new unit, the College of Information and Technology (CIT). https://youtube.com/watch?v=
Together with emeritus colleagues who have signed here, I am concerned about both the manner in which CIT has been formed and the strength of CAS in the Strategic Transformation process going forward. The disturbing statement by former Dean Susan Gano-Philips does not bode well for the future of liberal arts on the UM-Flint campus.
Three articles about the situation have appeared on October 21 and 22 in Flint’s East Village Magazine online: https://www.
Emeritus faculty have lived through several changes in the constituent units of our Flint campus; discussions were often contentious, but none so threatening as this situation. Susan Gano-Philips’ statement reflects the emergence of a campus culture under Chancellor Dutta where pressure replaces reasoned decisions of shared governance and concomitant secrecy and confusion results in staff demoralization. Complaints through appropriate channels have not been recognized.
The new CIT unit, whatever its merits, has been created at a cost to the College of Arts and Sciences in a June action prior to the Strategic Transformation process publicly begun in August-September.
If this Strategic Transformation is to succeed, the role of the College of Arts and Science in the history and mission of the Flint campus as a university cannot be disregarded. An institution of integrity does not let complaints, grievances, and allegations go unanswered. Respect for the principle of shared governance is not only an academic value; it is an essential component for public acceptance of campus change.
On behalf of the undersigned, I look forward to your response.
Theodosia (Teddy) Robertson
Associate Professor of History Emerita
List of the signers, in addition to Robertson
Jacqueline Zeff (Professor of English Emerita)
Douglas E. Miller (Associate Professor of German & Art Emeritus)
Ronald E. Silverman (Professor of Psychology)
Lois M. Rosen (Professor of English Emerita)
Kathryn Schellenberg (Associate Professor of Sociology Emerita)
Harry Frank (Professor of Psychology Emeritus & Associate Professor of Earth and Resource Science Emeritus)
Carolyn M. Gillespie (Professor of Theatre Emerita)
Margaret F. Kahn (Professor of Political Science & David M. French Professor Emerita)
Harriet Wall (Professor of Psychology Emerita)
Tracy L. Wacker (Lecturer in Biology Emerita)
Christine Waters (Professor of Art Emerita)
Charles E. M. Dunlop (Professor of Philosophy & David M. French Professor Emeritus)
Paul Peterson (Associate Professor of Philosophy Emeritus)
Neil Leighton (Professor of Political Science Emeritus)
Lauren Friesen (Professor of Theatre & David M. French Professor Emeritus)
Ernest N. Emenyonu (Professor of Africana Studies Emeritus)
Richard Gull (Professor of Philosophy Emeritus)
Nathan Oaklander (Professor of Philosophy & David M. French Professor Emeritus)
Peter Gluck (Professor of Political Science Emeritus)
Lois Alexander (Professor of Music Emeritus)
Charles Thomas (Professor of Sociology Emeritus)
EVM Consulting Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at email@example.com. Worth-Nelson worked for UM – Flint from 1987-2013, most of those years as writing faculty in the English Department, and retiring as director of the Thompson Center for Learning and Teaching.