Four Lessons from Monday’s Protest and Mary Sue Coleman’s Response

On Monday SUM, along with concerned faculty, staff, lecturers, and students held a protest against AST. The event targeted the intellectual author of AST, Rowan Miranda, and made a broader demand that the corrupt, wasteful policy be called off. On Wednesday, Mary Sue Coleman spoke publicly about AST for the first time, announcing both that she fully intended to see AST move forward in April and that Rowan Miranda would no longer head the transition. This is a small victory—while shifting Miranda to a different project in no way stops the administration’s plans for AST, what is clear that the administration is reacting to the pressure from below. Here are four lessons that we learned this week:

1. The university will first try to shuffle things around before changing policy. The administration only took Rowan Miranda out of the spotlight while it is still moving full speed ahead with AST. They are trying to distract us with nominal change, rather than engage us as a community that deeply disagrees with this policy on logical, rational grounds. Changing Rowan Miranda’s position does not engage our outrage over a corrupt and wasteful contract with Accenture, the damage AST will do to research and education, or address the idea that the administration can openly and painlessly abuse and take advantage of a dedicated staff that helps sustain and fuel this institution. We are not going to be distracted by Miranda’s relocation, but we are heartened by the fact that the university felt pressured enough to react.

2. We must continue to educate about the budget. Mary Sue Coleman’s public statements reiterate the administration’s constant lie that AST is a direct response to declining state support. She fails to acknowledge the construction spree and excess spending by and on upper level administrators that are fueling rising tuition.* Until the administration is honest about why we lack funding (it has more to do with going $85 million into debt over the Munger dorms and corrupt contracts with Accenture than it does with staff inefficiency and declining state funding), we cannot have an honest conversation about cost containment. The only way to force the administration to open up the conversation is to continue to reach out to faculty, students, and staff and share our budgetary analysis. Too many of the faculty proposals thus far lack a basic grasp of how money flows through this university. We need to continue to provide educational meetings and materials to help folks know where our funds come from and how they are being spent by the administration. At the core of this fight is the need to deal not with declining state support, but rather with an administration that is constantly pledging student tuition as collateral for construction projects and paying itself (and its corporate “consultant” friends) ever increasing sums that we cannot afford.

3. The administration is not taking the idea of faculty, staff, or student input seriously. The administration is still planning to move forward with AST beginning this summer, as Mary Sue Coleman assured us on Wednesday and e-mails to staff members about the transition confirmed.

Image 1: Recent e-mail received by staff. The administration is moving ahead quickly with AST, sending out critical e-mails like this one during finals week (probably to avoid communal discussion and protest).

However, we have heard them consistently promise to consult the faculty in the ensuing months about the transition. What input can faculty and staff offer in four months that will substantively modify AST’s implementation? Is the administration going to let them choose the décor of the new shared services call center? This is a major insult to the demand for more participatory decision-making. It is also notable that despite the claim that this is being done to keep tuition down, students are protesting the measure, making (and numerically supporting) the claim that this will not result in shared savings and will decrease the quality of our educations.

4. Direct Action matters. Over the past six weeks we’ve seen an inspiring groundswell of activity around AST, including writing, public meetings, and a very well attended teach-in. That being said, Mary Sue Coleman declined to speak publicly until we started holding the intellectual author of this policy accountable for his work in a public, embarrassing way. While her response was disappointing and inadequate (changing Rowan Miranda’s nominal job does not actually change anything), we now know that public responses to AST outside of institutionalized university spaces matter and must play a role in this fight. Monday’s protest scared the administration enough that they felt they had to respond, despite their claims that Miranda is “focus[ing] his attention on other areas”. What they did was a mere PR move, but it tells us that we cannot get their attention without loud, public, non-institutionally sanctioned protest.

As we have written elsewhere, the university’s ability to borrow massive amounts of money to continue to fund its construction spree, pay top-level administrators’ astronomical salaries, and continually increase their ranks relies on its high credit rating. The university’s high credit rating relies in large part on the idea that labor is generally submissive and that the administration can and will raise tuition as needed. We are incredibly threatening to the university administration when we gather in large numbers, publicly denounce their policies, and refuse to silently obey. Our power comes from organizing outside of institutionally sanctioned forums controlled by the administration and threatening their reputation in the financial sector as able to exploit us freely and without question. We need to stay loud, visible, and confrontational if we are going to win this fight.

* When we talk about administrators in this piece we are talking about the University Administration (namely the President, the Vice Presidents serving under her, the many administrators under them, including Rowan Miranda, Associate VP of Finance). We are not talking about the members of HR who will be affected by AST, whom we refer to as staff in this piece to avoid confusion.

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One thought on “Four Lessons from Monday’s Protest and Mary Sue Coleman’s Response

  1. Pingback: A Short History of the Struggle against AST, So Far | Student Union of Michigan

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