By Jan Worth-Nelson
A town hall offering updates on the progress of the University of Michigan – Flint’s “Strategic Transformation” process has been scheduled for 10-11:30 a.m. Friday, Feb. 17 at the Riverfront Conference Center, Chancellor Deba Dutta has announced.
Dutta said the deans of each of UMF’s schools and six colleges will present “ideas about future-focused academic plans. In addition, the consultants hired to conduct the process, Huron Group, are set to present “a synthesis of information collected, informing the process.”
The meeting is open to the public. It follows by one day the monthly meeting of the University’s governing body, the Regents, who will be convening at 4 p.m. Thursday at University Hall in the Ruthven Building, Ann Arbor.
“Those wishing to make comments during the meeting must attend in person,” according to the Regents’ website. “An agenda will be posted on the Board of Regents website at noon Feb. 13.” Several UM – Flint faculty are expected to appear.
“To offer public comment at the meeting, sign up using an online form before 9 a.m. Feb. 15,” the UM site instructs.
Both meetings offer the p0ssibility of information about the fate of many aspects at the UM – Flint which have been under intense scrutiny since last September, when then-interim UM president Mary Sue Coleman charged the campus urgently with finding solutions to its $7.3 million budget deficit, a 30 percent enrollment drop, an “unacceptable” six-year graduate rate of 35 percent, and in some cases, declines in demands for humanities departments.
The original charge called for the process to be complete by December of last year, but Dutta has stated more time is needed. In an email response to EVM, he has indicated through Robb King, UM – Flint director of marketing and communications, that the first push has been to analyze the academic side, with close looks at the non-academic, student services aspects next up for scrutiny.
“The chancellor has stated that it is his hope that we complete the academic part of this initiative, phase one, if you will, during the first quarter of the year. This phase took a little longer than originally anticipated because the university widened its feedback channels to listen to as many individual/groups who wanted their voices heard.
“After that, phase two will look at support services, which will take some time as well. As additional information is available and ready to be shared, we will continue to do so via town hall meetings and emails to the campus community as has been the practice since the beginning.
“This initiative is about creating a plan for long-term viability that is necessary for both the future of the university and the Flint community and allows for UM-Flint to find a competitive edge,” King wrote.
The work has been conducted under a contract with the Huron Group of Chicago, hired last year to analyze all aspects of the campus and gather data that might help how to stem the campus’s declines and deficits, increase recruitment, marketing and enrollment, and expand the campus’s reach and impact.
The use of Huron has been controversial, with UMF faculty noting the results of its work at other campuses nationally have resulted in what some regard “slash and burn” cuts, faculty layoffs, closed programs, and a emphasis on serving corporate interests at the expense of the humanities and liberal arts.
Dutta, the Regents, and UM President Santa Ono, who came on board in October, have strongly affirmed their support for the process.
A group of faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members concerned about the process have held three of their own “peoples’ town halls” in the past months, frequently criticizing what they say are inadequate attempts to garner faculty and student input and following through on what they say are predetermined plans that would not reflect faculty or community concerns.
In a presentation at the last “people’s town hall,” the group stated the process “hasn’t been as transparent as we have been led to believe,” and that they suspect Dutta will deliver major updates at Thursday’s Regent meeting.
In a Feb. 8 update and memo announcing the UMF’s official town hall — the third since the process began — Dutta said, “Along with recently seeking additional input on campus, Huron has met with various community members about how a transformed UM-Flint can most positively benefit the region.
“In recent weeks,” Dutta said, “they have talked with a variety of public school superintendents who noted ongoing efforts to address a widespread need for teachers.
“In addition, leaders of both Flint-based community organizations and community members discussed opportunities for increased “town and gown” partnerships. This added information builds upon the extensive engagement we’ve had thus far and will help shape a sound plan for the future. Through it all, we are hearing great support for the university and optimism about our future.”
One of the committees formed to inform the process, the 11-member Innovation and Transformation Advisory Council (ITAC) “has asked how feedback and ideas that fall outside of academic programs are being considered,” Dutta wrote. “To that end, I want to make sure everyone is aware that non-academic considerations (support services, broadly) will be considered in next phase of the process. Once a direction for the academic strategy is determined, we will begin work on support services. Ultimately, an implementation plan will be developed that is inclusive of both the academic strategy and the non-academic and student support activities.
In a communication to EVM routed through King, a Huron Group spokesperson reported that as of late January, Huron had conducted 17 focus groups involving 102 participants from the campus and community.
Anyone wishing to comment formally about the process can email here or by using Contact Us webpage, visiting Dutta’s open office hours, or by appointment, according to the university’s Strategic Transformation website.
EVM Consulting Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at email@example.com.