The following op-ed originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press. It was written by Lester Spence, an associate professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, and Kofi Boone, an associate professor of landscape architecture at North Carolina State University.
As a public institution of higher learning, the University of Michigan is without peer. It has the largest alumni base in the world, and the university’s academic departments routinely place within the top 20.
Maintaining that standing requires a commitment to innovation. Protest, debate and disagreement in the public sphere are the lifeblood of innovation, and we view the Black Student Union’s recent action as an excellent opportunity to use student protest to build lasting institutional change.
This isn’t the first such oppeortunity. U-M’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration was the result of student protest. The Department of Afroamerican and African Studies was also the result of student protest. The demands that students presented to university officials — which include increasing black student enrollment and increasing the resources available to lower-income students — are eminently reasonable. Reading the demands as alumni, we felt as if we were shoved into a time machine. Indeed, many of the demands were ones students made decades ago.
But we recognize that these demands don’t just reflect past concerns, they also address present realities. U-M’s black and Latino student population has dropped about 30% and 25%, respectively, since 2006. For the past five years, costs to financially strapped undergrad students have remained stable. However, the increasing costs of a U-M education place it out of reach for many families. Four years of tuition, fees, books, room, board and personal costs add up to $108,300 for an in-state student, and $219,636 for an out-of-state student. Academic success in schools like Michigan is becoming less a matter of one’s academic capabilities, and more a function of familial wealth. Where one lives, how much wealth they have, the political climate of their place and, sadly, the color of their skin, remain cruelly accurate predictors of one’s access to universities. This trend must change.
Read the rest here.