By Jan Worth-Nelson
Allegations of ill-considered decision-making and concerns about high-level bullying at the University of Michigan-Flint have been “taken seriously” and “adequately addressed,” University of Michigan spokesmen said Friday.
Associate Professor Emeritus Theodosia Robertson and the other 20 former UM Flint faculty, who signed a Nov. 2 letter of concern sent to UM President Santa J. Ono, received the response via email from Rick Fitzgerald of the bureau for public affairs of the UM.
A reply was also attached to the letter East Village Magazine by Robb King, UM Director of Marketing and Communications. It is included in its entirety below.
The flurry of communications arose from controversy arising from what UM has dubbed a “strategic transformation” — an effort announced Sept. 23 on the Flint campus by UM-Flint Chancellor Debasish Dutta to trying to address UM-Flint issues including declining enrollment, a shrinking college student pool, and other issues.
Fitzgerald wrote that after a November 4 visit to UM-Flint by UM’s new president, whose first official day of work was October 14, “it is clear to him that UM-Flint is an excellent institution with great potential that that has strong support from community leaders.”
Responding to heated comments from former College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) Dean Susan Gano Phillips – who says she resigned under pressure in June – Fitzgerald wrote: “Both the President and the Chancellor agree with what Professor Gano-Phillips has said aware of concerns. The University has taken these allegations seriously and carefully reviewed the details of each situation and responded appropriately.”
EVM asked UM for details on exactly what those responses entailed. King replied, “We can’t share any further details.”
The 21 retired UM-Flint faculty, all from the College of Arts and Sciences, expressed concern about the recently planned and proposed changes to the Flint campus and the decision-making process involved, stating that Gano Phillips’ statement “prevents the emergence of a Campus reflects a culture under Chancellor Dutta in which pressure replaces reasoned decisions by shared leadership and the attendant secrecy and confusion demoralizes staff.”
Fitzgerald’s letter pointed out that, contrary to some claims on the Flint campus, the move of three academic units from CAS to the university’s new College of Innovation and Technology (CIT) did not in fact come about suddenly, but rather after a series of considerations across departments, and indeed a response to faculty inquiries from those units themselves.
While the emeritus faculty’s letter didn’t directly address it, Fitzgerald’s letter also addresses concerns raised at the Regents’ Oct. 20 meeting about Huron Consulting, a controversial agency hired by UM to help with the so-called “Strategic Transformation” initiative that runs on the Flint campus.
“…the Huron Consulting Group makes no recommendations or decisions. The group supports the Flint campus in gathering market data and analysis,” explained Fitzgerald.
He also reiterated what UM – Flint Chancellor Dutta has asserted in community meetings: “…that campus leaders examine the wants and needs of all affected constituencies throughout the process. Contributions are received daily from faculty, staff, students and other stakeholders.”
More information about the strategic transformation process of UM – Flint can be found here.
UM reply to Emeritus letter
Posted on November 10, 2022
Dear Professor Emerita Robertson and colleagues,
Thank you for taking the time to give your opinion and share your concerns. President Santa J. Ono and Chancellor Deba Dutta contacted me for an answer.
As you may know, President Ono visited the UM-Flint campus on November 4 and it is clear to him that UM-Flint is an excellent institution with great potential that has the strong support of community leaders.
Both the President and the Chancellor are aware of Professor Gano-Phillips’ concerns. The University has taken these allegations seriously, carefully reviewing the details of each situation and responding appropriately.
As three academic programs moved from the College of Arts & Sciences to the College of Innovation & Technology, these moves were made to better align the disciplines represented, as well as research and faculty interests, with more appropriate units.
The moves were approved by the Provost after her office received letters requesting the move, signed by all the faculty members who ultimately moved. After reviewing the application and in consultation with the deans of both colleges, the move was approved by the Provost, the Chancellor and the Board of Regents.
Finally, to address the concerns surrounding the strategic transformation initiative, it is important to reiterate that the Huron Consulting Group makes no recommendations or decisions. The group supports the Flint campus in gathering market data and analysis.
We would also like to emphasize that throughout the process, campus leaders consider the wants and needs of all affected constituencies. Contributions are received daily from faculty, staff, students and other stakeholders. All of this information along with the market analysis and program data are considered before making any decisions about academic programs at the university or finalizing any plans.
The ultimate goal is to strengthen academic outcomes at UM-Flint so that the university is academically strong and financially viable to serve the needs of our state’s citizens and prepare UM-Flint graduates for productive careers.
Office of Public Affairs
Original letter from emeritus faculty to President Ono:
Dear President Ono,
I am writing out of concern for the current situation of the College of Arts and Science (CAS) led by UM-Flint’s Chancellor, Debasish Dutta. Comments by former CAS Dean Susan Gano-Phillips at the Oct. 20 Regents Meeting in Flint outlined the context surrounding Chancellor Dutta’s June 2022 executive action to transfer three CAS academic programs (computer science, engineering, and physics) to to form a new entity, the College of Information and Technology (CIT). https://youtube.com/watch?v=
Along with emeritus colleagues who have signed here, I am concerned about the manner in which CIT was formed and the strength of CAS in the future strategic transformation process. The troubling testimony from former dean Susan Gano-Philips bodes ill for the future of the humanities on the UM-Flint campus.
Three articles about the situation appeared online in Flint’s East Village Magazine on October 21st and 22nd: https://www.
Emeritus faculty have seen several changes in the constituent units of our Flint campus; Discussions were often controversial, but none as threatening as this situation. Susan Gano-Philips’ testimony reflects the emergence of a campus culture under Chancellor Dutta in which pressure replaces reasoned decisions by shared leadership and the attendant secrecy and confusion demoralizes staff. Complaints via suitable channels were not recognized.
The new CIT entity, regardless of its merits, was created at the expense of the College of Arts and Sciences in a June action ahead of the strategic transformation process that publicly began in August-September.
Strategic Transformation page.
Chancellor Lecture on Strategic Transformation
If this strategic transformation is to be successful, the role of the College of Arts and Science in the history and mission of the Flint campus as a university must not be overlooked. An institution of integrity does not leave complaints, grievances and allegations unanswered. Respecting the principle of shared governance is not just an academic value; it is an essential component for the public acceptance of the campus change.
On behalf of the undersigned, I look forward to your reply.
Theodosia (Teddy) Robertson
Associate Professor of History Emerita
List of signers, in addition to Robertson
Jacqueline Zeff (Professor of English Emerita)
Douglas E. Miller (Emeritus Associate Professor of German Studies and Art)
Ronald E. Silverman (Professor of Psychology)
Lois M. Rosen (Professor of English Emerita)
Kathryn Schellenberg (Associate Professor of Sociology Emerita)
Harry Frank (Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Associate Professor Emeritus of Earth and Resource Sciences)
Carolyn M. Gillespie (Professor of Theater Emerita)
Margaret F. Kahn (Professor of Political Science & David M. French Professor Emerita)
Harriet Wall (Emeritus Professor of Psychology)
Tracy L. Wacker (Instructor of Biology Emerita)
Christine Waters (Art Professor Emeritus)
Charles EM Dunlop (Professor of Philosophy & David M. French Professor Emeritus)
Paul Peterson (Associate Professor of Philosophy Emeritus)
Neil Leighton (professor emeritus of political science)
Lauren Friesen (Professor of Theater & David M. French Professor Emeritus)
Ernest N. Emenyonu (Professor Emeritus of Africana Studies)
Richard Gull (professor emeritus of philosophy)
Nathan Oaklander (Professor of Philosophy & David M. French Professor Emeritus)
Peter Gluck (Professor Emeritus for Political Science)
Lois Alexander (Professor of Music Emeritus)
Charles Thomas (Professor Emeritus of Sociology)
EVM Consulting Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at [email protected]. Worth-Nelson worked for UM – Flint from 1987 to 2013, most of those years as a writing faculty in the English department, and retired as director of the Thompson Center for Learning and Teaching.