Associate Professor of English, University of Michigan-Flint. I research and teach rhetoric and writing.
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Weekly Review

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In Mexico, where more than 112,000 nationals are missing, two Americans who had entered the country seeking an affordable tummy tuck were rescued by Mexican authorities after having been mistaken for rival traffickers and kidnapped by the Scorpion Group of the Gulf Cartel.1 2 3 4 One day later, Mexican police found five men lying facedown in the street with their hands tied, along with a handwritten apology, purportedly from the cartel. “We are committed that the mistakes caused by lack of discipline are not repeated and that those responsible are made to pay, no matter who they are!!” the message said.5 Republicans called for military intervention against the cartels, which are often armed with guns purchased in the United States, and a conservative congressman from Georgia wondered if diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives contributed to the Norfolk Southern derailment.6 Mitch McConnell was hospitalized with a concussion, and George Santos was accused of leading a credit card skimming plot and of lying about needing to feed his fish to get out of a court hearing.7 8 9 Ben Savage, the former star of Boy Meets World, announced that he is running for Congress, and police engaged in a multi-hour standoff with an underwear-clad man on a rooftop in Topanga.10 11 A Republican representative who gave unofficial tours of Congress to attendees of Donald Trump’s Save America rally in the days before the Capitol riot was put in charge of a committee investigating the Democrat-led January 6 committee, and Tucker Carlson, who was reported to have sent text messages saying that he hates Trump passionately despite his praise of the former president on television, aired previously unreleased footage of the attempted insurrection in order to portray it as a peaceful protest.12 13 14 Psychologists revealed that Americans share fake news to fit in with their friends.15

A gunman killed seven, including himself, during a service at a Jehovah’s Witness Hall in Hamburg, and a man who fired blanks in a San Francisco synagogue was reported to have claimed that it was an act of prayer.16 17 A Catholic nonprofit was revealed to have spent millions on mobile app data identifying priests who used gay hookup apps.18 AT&T, the online health insurance marketplace for members of Congress, and Chick-fil-A were reported to have suffered data breaches.19 20 21 It was reported that the former U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson planned to nominate his father for a knighthood, and Prince Andrew was said to be furious that he could not wear a chivalric costume of flowing velvet robes and a headpiece topped with ostrich feathers to King Charles’s coronation.22 23 The British government announced a plan to remove nearly all asylum seekers who come by small boats via the English Channel, and the BBC faced a boycott after the beloved soccer presenter Gary Lineker was suspended for comparing this policy to 1930s-era Germany.24 25 “I don’t like Nazis. Nobody likes Nazis,” said a man who put up swastika flags in his apartment windows, claiming that they were to draw attention to his missing fiancée.26 Eight months after reporting her husband missing, a hoarder from Illinois found his body in her house.27 A prisoner in Maryland was convicted of attempted murder in a fight over juice boxes, and a Glasgow man was sentenced for robbing an ATM patron who turned out to be his own son.28 29 “Hey Greenwood! How ’bout we stop shooting each other?” read an Indiana billboard days after a deadly incident in a local bar.30 A man who stole approximately $24 from a gas station in China was revealed to have avoided police by living in a cave for 14 years.31

The trench of a Russian soldier who gave the middle finger to a Ukrainian drone was hit with several grenades, and a Luxembourgian MP flicked off a political opponent after he suggested that she had not written a speech that she delivered.32 33 “Flipping the proverbial bird is a God-given, Charter-enshrined right that belongs to every red-blooded Canadian,” a Quebec judge was reported to have ruled.34 A Virginia jurist used a 19th-century law about enslaved people  to decide that frozen human embryos can be considered property, and a committee of the West Virginia legislature defeated a bill that would have banned child marriage.35 36 The governor of Arkansas signed a law ending a requirement that employers obtain work certificates for children under 16, and the meal-kit company HelloFresh confirmed that it would stop carrying coconut milk from Thailand due to concerns over forced monkey labor.37 38 An analysis of paintings conducted by Indian urologists was reported to have shown that the average depicted penis size has increased over the past seven centuries, and Spanish urologists established formal definitions of growers and showers.39 40 Twenty-eight Colombian schoolgirls were hospitalized for anxiety after playing with Ouija boards, and an anime voice actress was reported to have tweeted a reminder for her fans to bathe before attending her concert.41 42 It was revealed that the city of Newark has rescinded an agreement to be sister cities with the United States of Kailasa, which does not exist.43Jon Edelman

The post Weekly Review first appeared on Harper's Magazine.
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17 days ago
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See No Evil,

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From a November discussion on the Eyes Left podcast, between Mike Prysner, an Iraq War veteran, and Mansoor Adayfi, a former detainee at Guantánamo Bay.

mansoor adayfi: As you know, Guantánamo was created out of the legal zone, out of the legal system. Torture was the mechanism of Guantánamo. Torture, abuse, and experimenting on prisoners. We went on a massive hunger strike in 2005. And there was force-feeding. It was torture.

I saw a fucking handsome person come in and he said, “I’m here to ensure that you are treated humanely.”

mike prysner: It was Ron DeSantis?*

adayfi: Yes. And, “If you have any problems, if you have any concerns, just talk to me.” We were drowning in that place. So I was like, “Oh, this is cool. This person will raise the concerns.” But it was a piece of the game. What they were doing was looking for what hurts us more so they could use it against us. In 2006, when DeSantis was there, it was one of the worst times at Guantánamo. The administration, the guards, all of them were the worst. They cracked down on us so hard. When they came to break our hunger strike, a team came to us. The head of the team, he was a general. He said, “I have a job. I was sent here to break your fucking hunger strike. I don’t care why you are here. I don’t care who you are. My job is to make you eat. Today we are talking. Tomorrow there will be no talking.” The second day, they brought piles of Ensure and they started force-feeding us over and over again.

prysner: For those who don’t know, Ensure is a thick milky nutritional shake mainly marketed on daytime television to elderly people. It is very hard to drink.

adayfi: Yes, and Ron DeSantis was there watching us. We were crying, screaming. We were tied to the feeding chair. And he was watching. He was laughing. Our stomachs could not hold this amount of Ensure. They poured one can after another. So when he approached me, I said, “This is the way we are treated!” He said, “You should eat.” I threw up in his face. Literally on his face.

prysner: Ron DeSantis?

adayfi: In his face. Yeah.

prysner: It was well deserved. A JAG lawyer at the time, he would have been well aware this was a violation of international law. There is no question that it was torture.

adayfi: They used to restrain us in that feeding chair. They tied our head, our shoulders, our wrists, our thighs, and our legs. They put some kind of laxative in the feeding liquid. We were shitting ourselves all the time. Then we were moved to solitary confinement—really cold cells. It was like five times a day. It wasn’t feeding. It was just torture. Five times a day. You can’t possibly handle it. They just kept pouring the Ensure. In one week, they broke all the hunger strikers. And he was there. All of them were watching. They also used to beat us. And if we screamed or were bleeding out of our nose and mouth, they were like, “Eat.” The only word they told you was “eat.” We were beaten all day long. Whatever you were doing—they just beat you. Pepper spray, beating, sleep deprivation. That continued for three months. And he was there. He was one of the people that supervised the torture, the abuses, the beatings. All the time at Guantánamo.

prysner: So Ron DeSantis was actually supervising torture, beatings? He was supervising these force-feedings?

adayfi: I’m telling Americans: this guy is a torturer. He is a criminal. He was laughing. And he was there to ensure we were treated humanely.

prysner: He was laughing?

adayfi: Yes, they were looking at us, laughing because we were shitting ourselves. I was screaming and yelling. When your stomach is full of Ensure you can’t breathe. And you are throwing up at the same time. I was screaming. I looked at him and he was actually smiling. Like someone who was enjoying it.

One of the things that hurt us was, you know, when someone comes and tells you, “I’m here to help you, I’m here to ensure that you are treated humanely,” and when he turned against us—not turned against us, showed his true face—it was a shock to us all. He had his notebook. He would ask the prisoners, “Do you have any problems? How can I help you? How have the guards treated you?” I was like, “Wow, thanks!” But everything we told him was turned against us.

prysner: So he basically was gathering intelligence to tell the interrogators what it was that was impacting you most so they could do it more.

adayfi: I remember when we were talking about the noise in the night. We were talking about the vacuums, the generators, the fans, and everything. And they brought more stuff.

prysner: You told DeSantis this and then they increased the noise?

adayfi: They increased the noise. And also the food, for example. We told him we don’t eat meat. What the guards did after that is they mixed all the food with meat.

prysner: And that’s another thing you told DeSantis?

adayfi: It’s not just that. Medicine. Clothing. Treatment. Sleeping. The desecration of the Qur’an. Everything. We talked to him. When they were force-feeding us, he was smiling. Looking at us as trash.

prysner: You told me there was a resistance tactic there, of splashing administrators? Splashing them with your own feces? But you didn’t use this tactic often?

adayfi: Only the worst of the worst got splashed.

prysner: DeSantis?

adayfi: Yes.

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29 days ago
Holy shit. He's somehow more evil than I could imagine.

UM-Flint Chancellor gets 15% raise; dozens top $100K in diverse salary picture as Strategic Transformation decisions appear close

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By Jan Worth-Nelson

The University of Michigan – Flint’s top executive, Chancellor Debasish Dutta, received a 15% pay raise for the 2022-23 fiscal year, bringing his yearly salary to $469,000, according to publicly available sources.

UM-F Chancellor Deba Dutta, PhD. (Photo by Tom Travis)

On average, the rest of the Flint university faculty and staff  received raises of about 3-5%.  The overall University of Michigan pay raise for 2022-23, was 4.1%.

Asked for a response from UMF administration about Dutta’s salary increase, Robb King, UM – Flint director of marketing and communications, confirmed the amount is correct.

He said the increase was related to Dutta’s action to eliminate one of the UM – Flint’s executive positions, vice chancellor for business and finance, in Fall, 2021, as Dutta described in a December interview with EVM.

King noted Dutta “personally took on responsibility for the related units, increasing his own direct reports from seven (7) to 15 and reducing payroll by more than $275,000 per year.

“He did this new and expanded job for a year without additional compensation,”  King said.

“Now in the second year, his fall 2022 salary includes the 4%-5% annual raise (for administrators) and an adjustment for the substantial increase in his workload.”

Dutta’s pay compares to UM – Dearborn Chancellor Domenico Grasso, who is receiving $468,400 for 2022-23. UM President Santa Ono was hired last year at a base pay of $975,000.

Click to view slideshow.

What UM – Flint employees get paid is one of many factors under scrutiny as the downtown campus studies itself in a major effort underway since September, 2022,  aimed at addressing a series of serious challenges, a process the university is calling  “Strategic Transformation.”

As detailed in earlier EVM stories, those challenges include a 30 percent drop in enrollment since 2014,  an “unacceptable” six-year graduation rate of 35 percent, a  deficit of $7.3 million in the last fiscal year, and losses or declines in demand for programs in liberals arts.

The campus is a major downtown employer.

According to data from the UMF’s  Officer of Institutional Analysis and the UM Human Resources Information System, as of Nov, 1, 2022, UM – Flint employs 1,013 people,  with 717 (71 percent) full time and 296 part time (29 percent).

Of those  494 are Faculty, in the following categories:

  • 195 Tenured/Tenure Track Faculty (which includes 23 Academic/Administrators who are tenured faculty members and 1 Emeritus Faculty who is actively working)
  • 228 Lecturers
  • 8 LEO-GLAM (Librarians, Curators and Archivists)
  • 63 Clinical and Adjunct Clinical Faculty”

In addition, there are 445 Staff, who “includes all non-bargained-for and bargained-for staff, and supplemental, 74 Graduate Student Research Assistants.”

In the 2022-23 UM – Flint annual operating budget of $116.5 million approved last June,  salary, wages, and benefits account for almost half, at $56 million.  That operating budget total is down from $154 million in 2021-2022. 

The revenue picture for the campus includes $25 million from state appropriations for 2022-2023, up about $784K from last year.

Photo 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. (Photo by Tom Travis)

Who gets paid what varies widely.

The average UM – Flint full-time salary, according to 2021-2022 numbers from, was $69,8K, with Dutta exceeding the next-closest employee, Provost and Vice Chancellor Sonja Feist-Price by more than $100K; 13 others had pay of $200K or more in 2021-2022.

Among that group are two former chancellors, Ruth Person and Sue Borrego, who stayed at UM – Flint after their departures from the chancellor’s suite.  They took “retreat rights” as would have been negotiated in their original hiring terms, into their professional departments — Person as professor of management, and Borrego as professor of education.

In an update on request from EVM, a university official clarified Jan. 27 that both Borrego and Person were faculty members in 2021-2022. Borrego’s salary that year was $274,308. Borrego left the University in summer 2022 and thus was not on the 2022-23 salary list. He said  Person is still a faculty member, with a current salary of $236, 085.

Close to 100 more UM – Flint employees are pulling in between $100K and $200K, as of 2021.

The lowest full-time UM-Flint pay recorded for 2021-2022 was $31,200.

The salary distributions — even among faculty and among the UMF’s six colleges, are radically diverse, with some non-tenure-track faculty getting $100,000, while some full professors in liberal arts arenas make thousands less.

The amounts paid have created an economic class structure, some in-house commentators say, and also point to competitive hiring demands, where faculty in management, health sciences, and technology get  paid much more than those in the liberal arts.

For some segments of the staff and non-tenure-track faculty, salaries are negotiated by their respective unions.  In the case of the non-tenure-track faculty, for example, the Lecturers Employee Union (LEO) struck a deal in the last contract for 3 percent yearly pay increases starting from a full-time minimum base of $18,000.

Proposal to cap administrative pay ignored so far

One group concerned with economic equity, among other issues at UM, is One University (1U); it has  participants from all three campuses.

Participants in that group presented a proposal in December, 2021, to the Regents for capping all administrative salaries at UM at $150,000. They received no response, and resubmitted it a year later as what they called  “a transformational idea.”  So far the Regents appear to have ignored it, 1U participants report.

The 1U proposal states,

“In the last few years, the Regents and Central Administration have not provided sufficient resources to UM-Flint and UM-Dearborn to stem the tide of cuts, layoffs, and program reductions. UMF recently put the Africana Studies program on moratorium. Dearborn has slashed Applied Music.

Protesters gather on the UM-Flint campus. (Photo by Tom Travis)

“This proposal seeks to remedy the financial distress causing these cuts by setting a $150,000 cap on administrative salaries and saving UMF $1.29M per year and UMD $1.66M. These funds can be repurposed toward the central educational mission of these campuses.”

“On the Flint campus, roughly 14 administrators earn more than $150,000. We estimate their total salaries, excluding benefits, to be $3.5M. The marginal earnings above $150,000 is roughly 1M. The fringe benefits, calculated at 20% of salary, was determined only on the marginal income above $150,000, resulting in roughly $1.3M in savings per year.”

Asked about the silence from the Regents, 1U participants jointly responded, with requests for anonymity,  “This isn’t exactly news but [we]  think it’s relevant…that it genuinely spoke to the culture on our campus. [We’re] guessing that the proposal could come across as snarky but [we]  don’t think that was the intention. Many of us truly believe that we need mission-driven leadership and that seems like one of the things lacking at our institution.”

Process moving toward final recommendations?

In a Jan. 18 update on the Strategic Transformation website, Dutta stated that the Strategic Transformation consultants and university planners will  “move toward our goal of completing the academic program phase by the end of the first quarter of this year. Soon, we will also begin work on the broad range of academic and student support services that will be necessary to ensure student success and a vibrant academic environment at UM-Flint.”

“Based on the feedback received at the Dec. 9 town hall and from ITAC, the Huron Group is engaged in conversations with additional members of the Flint community and school district superintendents. They are providing us with valuable insights about how they interact and would like to work with the university now and in the future,”  Dutta stated.

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

Coordination of the Strategic Transformation process has been in the hands of the Huron Group, a national consulting firm hired by UM last year which has been a source of controversy because of its work at other institutions, where  “slash and burn” decisions in some cases decimated liberal arts and humanities programs and led to major faculty layoffs.

So far, specifics about what is to come at UM – Flint are unclear, and many involved in the process are complaining about a lack of transparency by the Huron Group and doubts that their feedback and ideas actually are being incorporated into the findings.

Two appointed groups have been ostensible  in-house channels between the consultants, Dutta’s administration, and the rest of the campus —  to pass along information, audit progress reports, and most of all  provide input.  The two groups are a Steering Committee made of up UMF’s top executives,  and the Innovation and Transformation Advisory Council (ITAC), comprised of 13 representatives drawn from the UMF’ six colleges, staff council, and student government.

ITAC group received “synthesis,” expresses concerns

On Jan, 19, the Huron group presented a draft  to ITAC, a “synthesis of findings” of the market analysis, program economics, and stakeholder feedback they have collected. “At the same time, our schools and colleges have begun to develop academic transformation plans with the data available to them to date,” Dutta predicted.

Participants who received the ITAC presentation, including Associate Professor of English James Schirmer who represents the College of Arts and Science (CAS)  in the group,  expressed concerns about  what they heard, where the process is heading and about whether ITAC’s input is making a difference.

“ITAC is no closer to understanding its role since this process began,” Schirmer said. “Charges and charts have shifted in unhelpful ways, and so have timelines and expectations of effort. Council members are disappointed with the lack of clarity and guidance from the chancellor and frustrated by Huron consistently ignoring our concerns and questions.

“Still, ITAC wants to be constructive and so intends to put together its own “deliverable” (despite the chancellor and Huron stating that is not necessary or wanted),” Schirmer said.

EVM Consulting Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at  EVM Education Beat reporter Harold C. Ford contributed research to this story.

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51 days ago
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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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72 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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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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