Commentary: “The work of higher ed must continue” — Emeritus faculty voice concern, yet again, about UM – Flint upheaval

By Theodosia Robertson

Theodosia Robertson is an associate professor emerita of history and an occasional columnist for East Village Magazine.  She can be reached at

In November, 2022, I composed a letter of concern addressed to President Santa J. Ono of University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The letter was signed by 20 retired (emeritus) faculty of the UM-Flint College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), the original and core unit of  the UM – Flint.

(Graphic source:

As the letter shows, we retired faculty were deeply concerned about several executive actions University of Michigan-Flint Chancellor Debasish Dutta was taking to try to transform the profile of the UM-Flint. Whatever the merits of the changes he and his team initiated, their consequences involved a dramatic reduction of the offerings, appeal, and fiscal viability of the historic core of the College of Arts and Sciences or CAS—the campus unit that provides liberal arts and sciences education at UM-Flint.

Equally alarming were statements by then (now former) CAS Dean Susan Gano-Philips, who described an alarming administrative environment marked by pressure, disregard for shared governance, and staff demoralization.

We retired professors cared about students when we were teachers at UM-Flint. We cared about students at the start of Chancellor Dutta’s Strategic Transformation plan eight months ago. We care about UM-Flint students now.

The retired CAS faculty who signed on to the November, 2022 letter  lived through significant changes in the constituent units of our Flint campus. Those included formation of the School of Management, the College of Health Sciences, the School of Education and Human Services, and the School of Nursing. We remember discussions that were often contentious. Even when CAS faculty were not directly involved, we respected our colleagues and their work. UM-Flint changed and expanded over the years since its foundation, including the decades of our teaching there.

UM-Flint Recreation Center. (Photo by Tom Travis)

At this new juncture, with the departure of Chancellor Dutta, we care about potential upheaval in students’ lives as they pursue higher education at UM-Flint. Our mission as teachers has always been to our students whose futures depend upon higher education — both its skills and its values. That work must continue without upheaval.

A story about that letter and its triggering circumstances can be reread here.

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).

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.

Articles about the situation have appeared in October 2022 in Flint’s East Village Magazine. Links to those stories are here:

UM-Flint administration lambasted for “bullying,” “chaos,” at UM Regents meeting as heated public comments critique “Strategic Transformation” and call for firing consultant

“One University” faculty, staff and students rally for equity and saving liberal arts at UM-Flint

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.

Strategic Transformation page
Chancellor presentation Strategic Transformation

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)

UM Response to the Emeritus Letter:  

[An East Village Magazine story about this can be found 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.


Rick Fitzgerald
Office of Public Affairs

EVM contributor Theodosia Robertson is an associate professor emerita of history and an occasional columnist for East Village Magazine.  She can be reached at

Author: East Village Magazine

A Non-profit, Community News Magazine Since 1976

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