Associate Professor of English, University of Michigan-Flint. I research and teach rhetoric and writing.
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I asked Chat GPT to write a song in the style of Nick Cave and this is what it produced. What do you think? Verse 1: In the depths of the night, I hear a call A voice that echoes, through the hall It’s a siren’s song, that pulls me in Takes me to a place, where I can’t begin Chorus: I am the sinner, I am the saint I am the darkness, I am the light I am the hunter, I am the prey I am the devil, I am the savior Verse 2: I walk the streets, with my head held high I’ve got my demons, but I’ll make them fly I’ll dance with the devil, and I’ll play his game I’ll be the one, to call his name Chorus: I am the sinner, I am the saint I am the darkness, I am the light I am the hunter, I am the prey I am the devil, I am the savior Bridge: I’ve got the blood of angels, on my hands I’ve got the fire of hell, in my eyes I’m the king of the abyss, I’m the ruler of the dark I’m the one that they fear, in the shadows they hark Chorus: I am the sinner, I am the saint I am the darkness, I

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Dear Mark, Since its launch in November last year many people, most buzzing with a kind of algorithmic awe, have sent me songs ‘in the style of Nick Cave’ created by ChatGPT. There have been dozens of them. Suffice to say, I do not feel the same enthusiasm around this technology. I understand that ChatGPT […]

The post I asked Chat GPT to write a song in the style of Nick Cave and this is what it produced. What do you think? <br> <br> Verse 1: <br> In the depths of the night, I hear a call <br> A voice that echoes, through the hall <br> It’s a siren’s song, that pulls me in <br> Takes me to a place, where I can’t begin <br> <br> Chorus: <br> I am the sinner, I am the saint <br> I am the darkness, I am the light <br> I am the hunter, I am the prey <br> I am the devil, I am the savior <br> <br> Verse 2: <br> I walk the streets, with my head held high <br> I’ve got my demons, but I’ll make them fly <br> I’ll dance with the devil, and I’ll play his game <br> I’ll be the one, to call his name <br> <br> Chorus: <br> I am the sinner, I am the saint <br> I am the darkness, I am the light <br> I am the hunter, I am the prey <br> I am the devil, I am the savior <br> <br> Bridge: <br> I’ve got the blood of angels, on my hands <br> I’ve got the fire of hell, in my eyes <br> I’m the king of the abyss, I’m the ruler of the dark <br> I’m the one that they fear, in the shadows they hark <br> <br> Chorus: <br> I am the sinner, I am the saint <br> I am the darkness, I am the light <br> I am the hunter, I am the prey <br> I am the devil, I am the savior <br> <br> Outro: <br> So come with me, to the edge of the night <br> Where the darkness and the light collide <br> We’ll walk the line, between the good and the bad <br> And we’ll see, who comes out on top in the end. appeared first on The Red Hand Files.

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20 days ago
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UM – Flint “people’s” group critiques “top down” Strategic Transformation process and challenges “employers as customers” approach

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By Jan Worth-Nelson

University of Michigan – Flint assistant professor Kimberly Saks adamantly declares  she is not “unAmerican.”

At a virtual community town hall last week sponsored by a loosely-organized group of faculty, staff, students and alumni who call themselves the “people’s UM-Flint” to distinguish themselves from the official Strategic Transformation process underway at the downtown campus, Saks took issue with comments from Chancellor Deba Dutta in an EVM interview comparing critics of the process to election deniers in the current political realm.

Click to view slideshow.

“I want to make one comment on a personal level,”  Saks declared at the end of the one-hour Zoom discussion, which drew about 40 in a combination of tenured faculty, lecturers, staff, students, and alumni  — about half also identifying themselves as Flint residents.

“One thing  I think many  of us took to heart, but not in a good way…was the comment about us not wanting to see the university succeed, and the idea that if we don’t get our way we’re are going to blow up the process — and  likening us to election deniers and being un-American.”

Saks, a political science faculty member,  has been at UM – Flint for nine years and since 2017,  director of the Masters of Public Administration program.    The “peoples” group is responding to the Strategic Transformation effort, launched by Dutta in September following a charge from UM – Ann Arbor and UM’s governing body, the Regents.  A range of severe problems urgently underly the process:  a 30 percent enrollment drop — to fewer than 5,000 in 2020;   a 35 percent graduation rate; and a $7.3  million budgetary deficit in 2021 — all understood to  threaten the Flint regional UM campus.

Dutta has labeled the critics “detractors” and accused them of behaving territorially and individually in their criticisms,  rather than institutionally.

Click to view slideshow.

That implication struck hard at the heart of what many at UM – Flint see as a vital role and responsibility within academic values as the process moves ahead;  it also exacerbates a sense that the process is in reality “top down.”

“As a political scientist, as someone who studies democratic and antidemocratic rhetoric and political behavior, I could not be more offended at the insinuation that this is the case. This type of dialogue is the type of informed discussion that we should be having.  Not just as people in the United States, but people in an institution of higher education.

“To insinuate that we don’t want what’s best for the institution — where our futures are tied to so very intimately, and where our students go and that we follow after they graduate, and who we spend our extra time talking to in the evenings, after hours, after I put my kids to bed — to insinuate that we don’t want what’s best for this institution because we don’t want a process that doesn’t believe in us as an institution — is really harmful in how we move forward together.

“Gaps in analysis” include inclusiveness, transparency

The Strategic Transformation process has been accompanied by concerns — particularly from faculty, staff, and students in the university’s College of Arts and Sciences, the largest of UMF’s  six colleges — that in addition to being too “top-down,”  it privileges potential employers over students, neglects the actual needs of the Flint community, and emphasizes a business model at the expense of the liberal arts —  long the UMF’s mainstay.

So far, propelled by work by the Huron Consulting Group, two reports have been issued, the latest Dec. 5, suggesting a heavily market-demand approach to proposals to enhance UMF’s offerings in business,  technology,  and health care, which are seen as better bets for improving the campus’s financial position and draws for  potential students.

Moderator UMF student Maeko Leigh McGovern described the forum as an opportunity to voice concerns and discuss issues surrounding the process “openly and without fear of retribution” and “to offer constructive feedback and positive solutions.”   Several participants, including former CAS Dean Susan Gano Phillips,  have been part of formal complaints about what they call “bullying and intimidation” by UMF upper management under Dutta’s leadership;.

(Graphic source:

The group identified what they called gaps in the Huron analysis so far.  Those include observations that  data collection for community engagement is “not inclusive of population (in the focus groups, surveys, interviews, feedback submissions and chancellor communications.”  They also criticized a lack of demographics data (enrollment status class standing, race/ethnicity); reports of alleged false representation of student organization communication;  and missing reports of the personal experiences in student focus groups.

Themes of the group’s feedback included  “marketing strategies which display the Flint community and the value of a UM Flint education; better community engagement and increasing local partnerships,”  better communications in general and about the Strategic Transformation process itself.

What happens next not clear

Political Science faculty Derwin Munroe lamented what he said he sees as uncertainty not just about the inclusiveness integrity of the data, but about what will happen to it;  He joined others in concerns about the perceived  top down nature of decision making, predicting it will bode ill for what happens next.

“I am pessimistic for a lot of different reasons,” Munroe said. “We’re gathering data from a lot of different sources, but there is this black box which is the Chancellor and we have no information about how this is all going to be weighed or  evaluated.

“How will it be effectively sold to us, the audience, to actually have some kind of public reputable transparent decision-making process?  It’s in their interest to  be transparent about their decision-making process.

“One man’s decision” will not be effective

If it’s not transparent, Munroe warned, if the conclusion of the process “comes down to one man’s decision… that’s not going to be effective in doing what he wants to do.”

Saks agreed.  “You need to have more than one person steering the ship,” she said, and so, it’s really important to have buy-in on whatever the next iteration of the institution is.”

Participants also voiced concerns about how budgetary numbers are being assessed, with analysis focusing entirely on academic costs, not the non-academic costs, including expenses for recruiting, admissions, marketing,  career services, and top administration — Dutta himself draws a $409,000 salary, though recent numbers suggest he has reduced the budget of his office by close to 60 percent since his arrival in 2019.

Reflecting on UMF’s history, going back to its formation in 1956, Munroe commented, “The original mission in the creation of UM Flint was to serve the needs (broadly defined) of a group of counties in mid Michigan. A comprehensive university was the goal. That does not appear to be part of the vision at present. What can be done…[within the formal process] to change the conversation/narrative to a) focus on regional needs (rather than just a few employers), and b) the benefit of a comprehensive university rather than just a tech/STEM one?”

Business model problematic

For some of the “people’s” commentators,  a  business model design is disappointing — particularly when it seems to see employers, not students, as UM – Flint’s primary client or customer.

“The overall philosophy of Strategic Transformation is that the university is a business and that the consumer is NOT the student, but employers,” Saks said.  “Market demand is focused on employer needs, not student demand or student needs.  This fits a predetermined narrative, one that does not fit with our current student population or alumni or the region’s employment trends…

Most of those featured in the Huron analysis, she said, represent profit-based institutions, business, tech, health care.

“If we’re thinking about the university as a business, which might be the nomenclature  none of us want to use, we might at least want to look at students and their demand, other than just employers,”  she said.

Jacob Lederman, associate professor of urban sociology, said, “I think it’s important that they’ve interviewed these employers and am happy to see it. But my sense is that at least half of UM-Flint  students go into government, social services, teaching, counseling etc. It seems like Huron [the consultant]  treats these as ‘community,’ not employers.”

UMF Associate Professor of Urban Sociology, Jacob Lederman. (Photo source: UMF faculty website)

UMF Associate Professor of Urban Sociology, Jacob Lederman. (Photo source: UMF faculty website)

Associate professor of anthropology Daniel Birchok agreed.  “There seems to be confirmation bias in a lot of places,”  he said. “If you’re only asking those employers [in business, tech and health]  what you need , the answers are prefigured in the question.

“I bump into my students all over the community, government, nonprofit,  — they’re doing all sorts of things.  It  is disheartening to not  see that kind of work counted as work when it is indeed work.

In his own research, Birchok noted, “I don’t get to make data claims about people I don’t talk to. I really want to believe in this process, but it’s these kinds of things that make everything seem prefigured to me, and it’s the kind of thing that keeps me up.”

UMF Associate Professor of Anthropology, Daniel Birchok. (Photo source: screenshot from virtual meeting)

“This is a huge missed opportunity to better understand our students now and in the future,”  Saks said, “and to understand the area in which we are situated.   The context of the institution is not properly situated in the report.”

Nonprofits count as “work” too

Cade Surface, a UM – Flint alum who works downtown,  echoed concerns about emphasizing feedback from the establishment profit-making business community.  Noting that he lives near the  campus and works in a local nonprofit in the field of urban design, employs UMF students, and has often sought counsel from his UMF contacts, he said missing out on the nonprofit sector in the Strategic Transformation process misses important elements of the community.

Click to view slideshow.

“A lot of the entrepreneurial efforts [in the city]  are nonprofit businesses trying to make up for the way establishment businesses have really decimated the foundation of the way our city operates ” he said, adding that a plethora of  “internal talent” — locally and in UMF itself — could be drawn upon for “truer representation of the folks that are supposed to be served by the institution.”

Final reports and recommendations are expected early in 2023, according to Dutta’s office — extended from an initial goal to be done by the end of this year.  Dutta has emphasized the need for action is urgent but will need to also be complete.

In the meantime, Saks and her colleagues are continuing to insist that detailed and passionate critique of the process is crucial to their role and necessary for a healthy transformation process.

“The reason why we do this is because we LOVE this institution,”  Saks said.  Many of us could have left this institution, but we chose not to — we chose to stay, because of the types of students that we serve and the area we serve and things that we can do here that we cannot do anywhere else. For me, this is something I need to get off my chest. this is not un-American.

“This is not denying an election, not trying to find a reason to deny reality. This is asking that the reality that someone else sees is justified with data and with the analysis that an institution of higher learning deserves and  the the people of Flint deserve. So this is why we are doing it.

“It is not unAmerican, it is not unpatriotic — it’s not being disloyal to this institution — it’s  quite the opposite.  It’s being loyal to this institution and to the students I serve.”

Dutta’s comments in full can be found here, in the EVM interview.

At the Sept. 23 Town Hall launching the Strategic Transformation campaign, Saks was the first to respond to Dutta’s presentation. In trying to explain the importance of representation of the Flint community itself, she said, “In the City of Flint,  so often residents are routinely pushed aside, often to literally life-and death circumstances.  Yet again this institution is pushing them to the side in this process.  We have a duty to include them.”  She said  three months into the process, she believes these concerns still are not being given enough attention.

In a follow-up email conversation, Saks offered these further summary comments:

I want to be very clear: this isn’t just about whether I or anyone else agrees with the Chancellor’s vision for the institution. It’s about how you get community buy-in to a large-scale transformative process. Without open input at the front end and honest dialogue throughout, consensus will not be achieved. At that point, no matter how much money gets poured into the project, it will necessarily not embody the institution and community and therefore will likely fail. A plan that does not consider implementation is a problem. Huron is paid to come in and do a specific analysis and leave. They don’t have to live with the consequences nor do they fully comprehend the context from lived experience. This community–on and off campus–deserve more than that.
Please make this abundantly clear: We want the institution to succeed. I want the institution to succeed. I proudly tell people that I teach at the University of Michigan-Flint. The city, our students, and our history is something worth fighting for. I don’t want just the liberal arts or social sciences to succeed. I want the technology disciplines, the business majors, and the medical professions to succeed
as well. 
We all do better when we all do better. Those of us who are organizing these conversations feel that there have been extremely limited and only scripted ways for participation in this process that undermines this goal.”

Anyone interested in communicating with the “people’s group” can email them at

Banner photo, by Tom Travis, taken from the third floor of the UM-F Library looking north across the Flint River and the UM-F William S. White building on the north end of campus.

EVM Consulting Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at  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.

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40 days ago
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Analysis: UM – Flint wrestling with implications of Strategic Transformation effort: will liberal arts — or the campus itself — survive?

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By Jan Worth-Nelson

Pressed by a complex mix of serious financial issues, declining enrollment, momentum to supply expected workforce needs, effects of the pandemic, and even socio-cultural shifts, the University of Michigan – Flint is grappling with the likelihood of major changes in its character and institutional design.

It appears the new era is already underway, with the launch in 2021 of the new College of innovation and Technology (CIT)  which offers eight degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)-based programs, along with an intensely market-driven attempt to attract students in fields where data suggests  demand is greatest or growth is predicted.

(Graphic source:

The looming changes are ringing alarm bells for purveyors of traditional liberal arts and humanities, once a source of pride at UM – Flint, who in the present climate find themselves targets for what many fear will be austerity measures threatening to axe anything not in a growth phase.

Both the process and content of what is happening on the downtown campus, in a broad-based effort called Strategic Transformation,  are proving tumultuous  and controversial —  especially among the faculty from the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) the largest of the University’s six colleges and the bulwark of the liberal arts and humanities.

One place where change already is visible is the English Department, once a reliably large-scale generator of credit hour dollars and majors.  Because of enrollment declines, shifts in demand and other factors, it has gradually shrunk to a double handful of tenured professors and untenured lecturers, with almost all of them teaching business communication along with or instead of their disciplinary specialties such as literature or rhetoric. The dwindled department has been folded into a new combination, called the Department of Language and Communications, along with Communications and Foreign Language and Literature.

Some faculty, along with top administration officials, are lauding the efforts underway and see them as essential for the UM – Flint’s survival, but a far more vocal group are criticizing the use of a consultant, Huron Consulting Group, with a “slash and burn” reputation and suggesting that the community comment period underway is merely window-dressing for decisions that have already been made on the Ann Arbor campus.

It is not just a philosophical issue for the CAS faculty;  based on what has happened at other universities where Huron Consulting has run “market analyses,” as well as the drift of early assessments and actions already undertaken, they fear not just that their concerns are not being heard, but that they actually will lose their jobs.

UM-Flint campus – (Photo source UM-Flint Facebook page)

At the New School in New York City, for example, 20 percent of the staff were laid off in the wake of  a Huron Consulting contract — including many faculty in the humanities — in favor of a more online “corporatized” model.

At the University of Wisconsin — Stevens Point, according to an October, 2020 report in The Nation, “In addition to laying off a hundred employees, reducing employment for non-tenure-track staff, and forcibly reassigning tenured faculty, Huron’s plan shuttered thriving programs in humanities and social sciences and drove mass faculty layoffs.”

But university officials up and down the power grid acknowledge changes at UM – Flint must be made and are coming.

In the Aug. 29  “charge letter”  officially initiating what the university has labeled a Strategic Transformation, then-interim UM president Mary Sue Coleman made it clear minor adjustments would not be enough to “reverse any of these negative trends” on the Flint campus.

She said the need to implement bold changes was based on “a realistic description of the financial realities facing UM-Flint”  provided to top UM management and the Board of Regents by UM – Flint Chancellor Debasish Dutta, since his arrival as UM-Flint’s eighth Chancellor in August, 2019.

Coleman, who had come back to lead the university after the firing of former UM President Mark Schlissel, set a December, 2022 deadline for the plan to be completed.

She also wrote,  “At the end of this study and with the approval of the President, a one-time financial investment (which will be dispersed as milestones are achieved) will be committed by the University.”

What that amount is and how it might be distributed is the carrot dangling before the Flint campus.

In the meantime, the new UM president, Santa J. Ono, came into office Oct. 14, and has indicated in visits to UM – Flint and various public statements that he fully supports efforts to achieve “a robust transformation that results in a viable financial model and a strong, attractive brand that conveys a clear and nimble institutional focus that meets the immediate career needs of students, coupled with current and future employment needs of businesses and supports the local community,” as Coleman put it.

“We are striving to remain positive’

“It’s obvious from the town hall [held Sept. 23 to launch the Strategic Transformation effort] and some of the communications since then,  this isn’t something that faculty necessarily requested,” according to James Schirmer, associate professor of English and the lone representative of CAS on the Innovation and Transformation Advisory Council (ITAC).

 “But faculty, and staff , and students are very much involved,”  he said.  “We are striving to remain positive. The amount of ideas that are being generated and are being shared is incredible —  about what do we mean by “strategic,” about what do we mean by “transformation”?

ITAC is one of two official groups meeting every other week receiving data from Huron Consulting, and   preparing to advise University administration  as the process plays out.

ITAC  is composed of 11 representatives from each of UMF’s six colleges as well as the staff and libraries.

French Hall on the UM-Flint campus in downtown Flint. (Photo by Tom Travis)

The second group, the Strategic Transformation steering committee, includes the UMF cabinet — Provost Sonja Feist-Price along with the four other vice-chancellors and the deans of all six colleges.

Data is flooding in, Schirmer said, at all levels — in meetings at the unit level, the  college level, surveys, interviews, focus groups and small-group meetings with the Chancellor.

“For me,”  Schirmer said, “what remains a concern is how and where and to what degree all of this stuff being generated is feeding into and being filtered through Huron Consultants and the Chancellors’ office.  It’s not clear how all of that is coloring or balancing things like the market analysis.

“I worry that those two things  are not going to complement each other, and that they will show contrasting visions.”

He said a lot of the ideas emerging are “revolutionary” — still grounded in disciplinary knowledge and expertise, but designed around the skills that come through those courses that can prepare students for what they might need.  It’s a shift in perspective he said he thinks is positive.

A 70-page draft report dated Nov. 7, titled a ‘Market Analysis’ from Huron Consultants,”    depicts data supporting a realignment prioritizing technical degrees and rethinking or repositioning liberal arts degrees like English, psychology and economics.

Two days after the release of that draft,  Nov. 9, a special meeting for CAS faculty was conducted on Zoom with Huron Consultants representatives.  Participants were given three minutes each to share ideas about how to achieve “Strategic Transformation.”

“There were lots of great ideas put forward that day,”  one faculty member reported, “but now we wait  — we have some concerns about whether any of those ideas will see the light of day.”

Draft report emphasizes market demand, growth predictions

The Nov. 7  document,  identified and offered to faculty and staff  as a “preliminary analysis,” is heavy on bureaucratic language, and it raises many questions and issues which await the final report.  But its six chapters can yield some suggestions about how the process is organized and what the data is showing so far.   Taking each of UM-Flint’s colleges one at a time, it clearly emphasizes market demand for various degrees and attempts to predict growth in various markets.

It  compares UM – Flint to a “comparator set” of five other institutions:  Eastern Michigan University, Wayne State University, Oakland University, Saginaw Valley State University, and Mott Community College.

Missing in that set is Kettering University, a high-tech institution in UM – Flint’s own neighborhood.

While all involved stress the report is a draft,  it indicates that analyses of student demand, employer demand, and what the report labels “demand intensity”  are 100 percent complete, while studies of the competitive environment and conclusions from the market analysis are 75 percent done.  These last two categories, the report makes clear, rely on “synthesizing findings and insights from primary research and community input” — the latter category clearly underway as feedback continues to come in.

The report “infers demand for educational attainment” based on trends in the number of jobs, trends in degrees conferred across the disciplines, and trends in population demographics.”

According to the report,  the ten fastest declining occupations, for complicated reasons,  include three that have been supplied by UM – Flint’s degree options for decades: elementary teachers, secondary teachers, and middle school teachers.  The other seven are buying/purchasing agents, pharmacists, computer programmers,  computer user support specialists, and computer systems analyst.

The ten fastest growing occupations, according to the report, are home health aide, software development, general manager, market research analysis, health services manager, financial manager, manager, nurse practitioner, logistician, and load officer.

“Jobs in healthcare, business and tech  are growing and transforming,”  the report states, while the education workforce is expected to contract.  These trends have implications for academic program focus, content, and modality.”

In analyzing and developing hypotheses about which disciplines may be ripe for growth or investment, the report states that “demand intensity” is greater in nursing, engineering, business and computer science-related programs, and that the five “comparator institutions” are prioritizing these market-driven programs , while Flint has a low market share except in nursing.

Growth trends favor programs in business, health and technology, the report asserts, which it says comprises “all the top ten fastest growing professions in the region.”

The report says it aims  “To determine how UM – Flint should  go about investment in and structure of its core portfolio, which may include programs with objectives beyond direct skills/market alignment, e.g. positive externalities.”

One seeming anomaly is that it notes UM – Flint’s master’s in mechanical engineering is “in moratorium” due to declining local demand.

And it states that “Flint’s recent investments in programs such as cybersecurity are well-positioned to benefit from market forces, while “other components of the Flint portfolio such as business administration and liberal arts should be considered in light of degree conferrals and workforce trends.”

“Market intervention, such as recent actions by the state of Michigan to address education-related workforce shortages, may impact student demand in certain fields.”  Later the report hypothesizes that the institution might “align education programs with student demand, unique market opportunities and the provider landscape.”

In a section titled “emerging hypotheses,” the report suggests that UM – Flint “leverage liberal arts strengths to empower and differentiate tech and health programs,” a suggestion that got the attention of some in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Faculty begin to respond

“On some level I’m advocating on behalf of my unit,”  Schirmer said of his role in the ITAC group,  “but I also want whatever sort of transformative ideas we bring forward to benefit the university as a whole. I would hope that the transformation would lift everybody – I’m trying to be more of a believer in “both/and.”  He said he hopes the thinking about transformation is not exclusively about growth.

“Unfortunately from the draft, my take is that it’s very much growth focused,”  he said.  “We can read the writing on the wall…are the liberal arts a growth area right now?  No, they’re not…what seems to be the omission of certain fields from the draft market analysis gives me pause.  I’m hoping we will do what we do to not just grow.  How do we also answer and change the declines that we’ve seen in enrollment?  At some level we’re coming up against social and emotional forces.”

Schirmer said he’s seeing that effect  it in his communications in business classes  — a class required of all business majors.

“So many, 85 to 90 percent of the students, are saying, well, I’m majoring in business, but my real joy is photography, or literature, or my real passion is travel —  there is a widening gap between what students think they have to do to get a job and what they really want to do.”

For his part, Dutta has provided regular updates to the campus and on the Strategic Transformation website, the latest posted Nov. 16.

In that update, Dutta said feedback has poured in from faculty, staff, students, alumni and community leaders through ” three surveys, multiple focus groups, 30-plus small group meetings” with him.

A request from EVM  for specifics about that feedback was turned down by Robb King, UM – Flint director of marketing and communications, who said a presentation would be made public to the campus on UM’s own timeline —  likely in December.  In a similar response, CIT Dean Chris Pearson declined to comment, stating, “As you are aware, the university is in the information-gathering stage with its constituents, and with no decisions having been made, for me to comment at this time would be premature.” King directed readers to the Strategic Transformation website for as updates become is available and noted feedback still can be provided there.

Responding in part to concerns about the fate of liberal arts programs, Dutta wrote,

“Themes are emerging from the feedback, and I would like to share a few of those with you. Some are very positive, like UM-Flint’s distinctive high-touch offerings and the hands-on nature of so many academic programs that are keeping students engaged in their learning. We are also hearing that you believe there is a need for increased marketing and advertising to tell the compelling stories of UM-Flint’s educational value. At the same time, we are hearing concerns about the future of liberal arts programs. This is all to say that – and I want to emphasize this to everyone – we are intently listening to all that is being shared with us. As I have emphasized, no decisions have been made and therefore your feedback throughout the process is important.”

“We are very excited and energized”

One faculty member happy with the process and likely changes is Mojtaba Vaziri, a physics faculty member of 32 years, who addressed Regents at their Oct. 20 meeting.  He was one of the faculty  moved into the College of Innovation and Technology (CIT) from the College of Arts and Sciences this summer.

“Right now we are all fully engaged in a college-wide discussion on curriculum and how to enhance them to better serve our students and community,”  Vaziri said.  “We are fully invested in making UM-Flint a great destination for prospective students.

“In my 32 years here, I have witnessed many changes and initiatives – but nothing at this level,”  Vaziri concluded, thanking Dutta and Provost Sonja Feist-Price. “But I also recognize that additional change is needed to transform UM-Flint towards a healthy future.”

Another  faculty member however,  Associate Professor of English Mary Jo Kietzman, called the draft report “concerning.” Among many critiques, she lamented that the report does not describe or mention specifics of the Flint community and its significant history — and that UM – Flint’s longstanding commitment to liberal arts establishes it as unique and distinctive in the region.

Commenting on the statement that “Liberal Arts should be considered in light of declining [degree] conferrals and workforce trends,”  Kietzman is skeptical. “There is plenty of data that shows all kinds of companies need a literate workforce, capable of researching, writing, and managing digital platforms for communication.”

Teaching students for resilience

Kietzman continued, “There is NO foolproof way to design a school based on the market.  We need to teach and train students for resilience:  basic skills, thinking, coping with ambiguity and alternatives, and preparing them to be lifelong learners.  They’ll have to be with the employment landscape shifting so rapidly.”

In addition to the basics of the transformation discussions is a recent donnybrook centered around psychology professor Susan Gano Phillips, fired as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in June.  Gano Phillips delivered a heated commentary at the October Regents meeting in Flint,   Her comments and others that day, led to a letter of concern from 21 emeritus faculty to UM President Santa J. Ono,  and a reply from UM saying the allegations had been received and that the UM had “responded appropriately.”

Gano Phillips  said she is not satisfied with the UM’s response and that formal complaints of administrative practices of bullying and intimidation of those disagreeing with the Chancellor  — “dozens of incidents,” she said —  have been met with inadequate or no action by Ann Arbor.  She said she and six other former high level administrators have repeatedly requested meetings with Ono and the Regents, but have been ignored.  A lengthy letter enlarging on Gano Phillips’ Regents comments was sent to Ono this week.

The ongoing turmoil around Dutta’s approach, which some in contact with EVM have characterized as “authoritarian,”  “volatile” and “intolerant of disagreement,”  has led one UMF campus leader — one sympathetic to the Strategic Transformation process —  to declare anonymously, “Maybe this is right for UM – Flint, but with the wrong leaders.”

Political science professor Jason Kosnoski , who has called on UM to “fire Huron Consultants,” described the Nov. 7 preliminary report as “a cut and paste mad libs report that they fill in the blanks with.”

And like many others, Kosnoski stated he worries “Faculty will have next to no influence in this process, especially if Huron has any say.  Although the administration says that they are just collecting information, the original charge letter from Mary Sue Coleman says Huron will collect data and make ‘evidence based suggestions’ on what transformational plan we should implement.  We are all incredibly worried.

“Another worrying aspect of this,” Kosnoski said, “is that although the Chancellor is having ‘listening sessions’  around town, none of this input was in the Huron draft report.  Furthermore, these listening sessions are invitation only,” he stated.

To try to  counteract that, three faculty-based organizations and others have put together an independent community listening session set for 5 p.m. Nov. 29 in the Happenings Room at University Center.  Kosnoski said he hopes it will draw  “people who really care about equal educational opportunities and making sure that students from Flint get the same options as the students get in Ann Arbor.”

So, with the deadline for completion of the plan fast approaching, c0nstituents at the downtown campus are trying to figure out the degree to which they will have a say in what happens, how they will benefit or lose from what some think was decided long ago in Ann Arbor,  and what the changes, if they occur, will do for students, potential students, and the whole Flint community that has been home to UM’s northernmost campus since 1956.

“I haven’t heard or understood any conversations against transformation,”  James Schirmer said in summarizing his sense of the campus efforts. “There is broad agreement that the way things are going, we do need to change.

UM-Flint Professor James Shirmer. (Photo source:

“We want this to be a welcoming place, a good place,”  he said. “Nobody on ITAC is against transformation — but how is it all going to look?  Even for those that are skeptical about Huron’s influence —  they’re still participating. We want a better future for the campus.”

On request, Chancellor Dutta has agreed to an interview with EVM, and the outcome of that meeting will be reported.   Requests to UM Regent Chair Paul Brown and recently re-elected Regent Mike Behm, who lives in Grand Blanc and practices law in Flint, have not yielded a response. The UM – Flint stories are complex  — no one piece can cover all of them — and we will continue our reporting as the Strategic Transformation process evolves. 

EVM Consulting Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at  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.

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When the worst people in the world keep winning


Since my return to active blogging, I have been reluctant to post about politics, choosing instead to retreat into aestheticism. Today I feel I have to respond to the overturning of Roe v. Wade in some way, because I feel implicated in the decision as a former evangelical. My church and family were never particularly politically active, and I was mercifully spared the lifelong shame of attending an anti-abortion protest or harrassing women outside a clinic. But it was the one absolutely unquestionable goal — the one trump card that meant conservatives always had the moral high ground against liberals. What could possibly be more important than stopping the genocide against the unborn?

For such an absolute axiom, however, we never seemed to place much weight on it. We never seemed to ask, for example, what the liberals thought they were achieving by condoning the murder of infants. To the extent that anyone tried to explain it, they tended toward obviously crazy theories — basically, that liberals love evil for its own sake, that they glory in the destruction of life just to piss God off. As my dad once said to me out of nowhere, “Liberalism is a religion and abortion is its sacrament.” Since almost none of us knew any liberals well and obviously none of us were in a position to have a rational exchange of views with them if we did, those extreme statements were weirdly free-floating, attaching to people who were by definition outside our circle. We also never seemed to ponder whether we really thought that “abortion is murder,” which is to say that terminating a pregnancy holds the same moral weight as killing a post-born individual. The way we thought about the women involved certainly didn’t indicate that we did — until recently, the idea of actively punishing the wicked abortive mother was not really on the agenda. A woman who understood what was happening couldn’t really want to kill her child! That was insane! It had to be the doctors misleading and seducing them, they’re really to blame.

As with all conservative projection, the truth was that the pro-life view is insane. Abortion is not murder. Developing embryos and fetuses, especially in the very early stages of pregnancy, are not morally important entities unless the woman bearing them decides they are. Early term abortion is a morally indifferent act, and late-term abortion would only be chosen under the most urgent circumstances, by both the woman and her doctor. Believing otherwise is crazy. It breaks your brain. Spending your whole life trying to wrap your mind around such a ludicrous, insane belief distorts your personality. It warps your capacity for human sympathy by accustoming you to value hypothetical “persons” no one has ever met over the woman standing right in front of you. It deadens your moral sense by teaching you that lying and cheating and maybe even occasionally killing is justified in the battle to “save” the lumps of flesh hidden within a full-grown human being you cannot allow yourself to treat as such.

And look at the people who handed down this decision! Clarence Thomas is operating under a heavier load of cognitive dissonance than almost any man alive — the only Black person on the Supreme Court for decades, today he argued for emptying the Fourteenth Amendment of all meaning and enforceability. Brett Kavanagh screamed and yelled and vowed vengeance on the floor of the Senate, on national television, because he couldn’t admit that he did something really bad when he was black-out drunk. Amy Coney Barrett play-acted the Handmaid’s Tale in a creepy cult and gladly seized the seat of the most outspoken feminist in the history of the Court in order to personally destroy her legacy. As for the three men who have made themselves a vessel for cheap talking points of the kind that the typical intellectually curious teenager quickly gets bored with, the less said the better. Two unrepentant sexual assailants, two people who very actively chose to symbolically betray the members of their demographic, five people who accepted nomination by presidents who initially took office against the popular will — this rogue’s gallery gets to decide on our human rights.

They’re the champions the evangelicals deserve — people who spend their lives in a sad bubble surrounded by Jesus-branded tchotchkes, who get goosebumps from simplistic repetitive songs meant to emotionally manipulate teenagers, who can’t have a genuinely honest discussion of any important issue without clamming up or lashing out in defensiveness, people who see again and again and again that their thing is breaking people, that their children can’t stand to be a part of it, that their fellow citizens distrust and resent them, and say: this shows we’re right. These are God’s chosen people. These are the ones who arrogate to themselves the right to decide on our behalf.

It’s a cliché to say that the worst people on earth have deep conviction while the good are wishy-washy — but they do not seem to have the courage of their convictions. Neither “courage” nor “conviction” comes to mind when we think of the typical evangelical, or the typical conservative. Someone who really believes, really knows that they are on the side of right isn’t so prickly, so irritable, so habitually dishonest and deflecting. They can’t take yes for an answer because they don’t know what they want, don’t know what their supposedly deeply-held beliefs even mean. They’ve destroyed their own minds, their own consciences, their own structure of basic emotional responses — on purpose, over and over, day after day for years and years, until they know nothing else. Except they do know something else: they know, deep down, that this isn’t it, this can’t be all there is, this can’t be worth their one single precious life on this earth. It is to unknow this indisputable fact, to squelch this unanswerable question at the core of their being, that they keep going back to their lies and conspiracy theories and sad bromides, like a dog returning to its own vomit.

Their salvation is the least of our worries, but if we save ourselves from them, we will also be saving them from themselves. They need us to take their power away, they need us to break this unbearable winning streak that is only making things worse and worse — for us primarily, but also for them. No one should have to live like they do. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

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On the exodus of faculty

A lot of folks, with tenured positions, are choosing to get out of the university game to do other kinds of work. A recent issue of Nature has a particularly strong piece of journalism that dives into “the great resignation.” This article has resonated with a lot of people. Perhaps we’ve only seen the the…

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Weekly Review

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The United States Senate confirmed to the Supreme Court Ketanji Brown Jackson, and a former Republican National Committee aide who once requested and enthusiastically responded to a video of a baby being raped was sentenced to over 12 years in prison for receipt of child pornography.1 2 3 “I was honored to have his endorsement in PA. Twice. But I’m disappointed by this,” tweeted Sean Parnell, who ended his Senate campaign after his wife publicly accused him of abuse, in response to Donald Trump’s endorsement of Mehmet Oz.4 5 “Oz is the antithesis of everything that made Trump the best president of my lifetime.” Pakistan’s parliament ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan, a former cricket star, in a vote of no confidence, and the right-wing incumbent Emmanuel Macron and far-right politician Marine Le Pen received the most votes in the first round of France’s elections.6 7 Viktor Orbán, who was recently reelected as Hungary’s prime minister, announced that he would break ranks with the European Union by purchasing Russian gas with rubles, and climate activists rallied outside the United States Postal Service’s headquarters in support of transitioning to a fleet of electric mail trucks.8 9 An assailant poured red paint on Dmitry Muratov, the Nobel Peace Prize–winning editor of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, as he rode a train in Russia, and an investigation revealed that violence against journalists reached record levels in Mexico, with 25 murders since President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office in 2018, an 85 percent increase from his predecessor’s tenure.10 11 It was reported that Israel is currently holding 10 Palestinian journalists in jail for “incitement.”12

Shortly after defending the New York Police Department’s increased arrests for low-level offenses, New York mayor Eric Adams, a former cop, attended a dinner party for the haute couture fashion brand Valentino, and then contracted COVID-19.13 14 15 The NYPD destroyed homeless encampments across the city, opened fire on a getaway car, and with a police van killed a man who was asking for money in Brooklyn.16 17 18 19 With updates to its death chamber now complete, South Carolina announced that it would give people sentenced to death the choice of whether to be killed by firing squad, the electric chair, or lethal injection, depending on availability.20 In Oregon, the trial of Nancy Crampton Brophy, a woman charged with murdering her husband after self-publishing an essay titled “How to Murder Your Husband,” began, and in Florida, a woman was dismissed from jury duty for the sentencing of the Parkland school shooter after asserting that she is too occupied with her husband and her sugar daddy.21 22 Ammon Bundy was sent to jail for contempt of court after arguing that his campaign for governor should count toward his required 40 hours of community service.23 A woman was fired from a strip club after it was revealed she had merely pretended to be related to a boy who died after falling from an amusement park ride.24 “You could smell it a block away,” said the owner of Barney Greengrass, the famed smoked-fish store, after an arsonist burned down its dining shed.25

Mark Zuckerberg claimed that employees of his company “lovingly” refer to him as the Eye of Sauron.26 “We really want this to become the most famous, iconic statue in the world,” said John Bartleman, the CEO of TradeStation, referring to a 3,000-pound robotic bull without testicles that was unveiled in Miami, which is meant to represent the cryptocurrency market.27 In accordance with tradition, the Canadian finance minister purchased a new pair of shoes before the nation’s budget was announced, and the family of a deceased rapper defended their decision to stand his corpse on the stage of a Washington, D.C., nightclub.28 29 “We’re worried about how professional this has become,” said Theo Dekker, the chairman of a Dutch dairy interest group, after thieves pulled off a cheese heist in the Netherlands and an employee of a mattress shop in Middlesbrough, England, expressed concern that proposed bike lanes would provide shoplifters with “a clear getaway.”30 31 A man in Germany received up to 90 COVID-19 booster shots, and scientists announced evidence that invertebrates feel many emotions, especially when shaken or injected with acid.32 33Sam Needleman

The post Weekly Review first appeared on Harper's Magazine.
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