Today marks the start of Dr. Santa Ono’s presidency. After being announced as the 15th President of the University of Michigan in July, the campus community is preparing for the start of a new era for the University.
Upon learning of Ono’s selection as the next president, members of the student body quickly took note of Ono’s reputation as an administrator who interacts with students. Members of the Central Student Government (CSG) were among the first students to question whether that reputation had any merit, and, according to LSA senior and CSG president Noah Zimmerman, it does.
“(Ono) is so student-focused that we’re really excited to work with him,” Zimmerman said. “He’s already got a lot of enthusiasm for what we’ve brought him, and I think he’ll be really keen to engage with the students.”
Zimmerman said CSG has already established communication with Ono and hopes an open line of communication will continue because of his importance to campus and student life.
“He said right off the bat that we have to be transparent, we have to be honest with him, and if something isn’t working tell him because he wants to know,” Zimmerman said. “There’s a level of respect, and I think that’s still there, and I want to make sure we maintain that.”
Business junior Trevor Wallace, who serves as finance and operations coordinator at the Student Sustainability Coalition (SSC), said the SSC was “cautiously optimistic” about Ono’s presidency, primarily because of sustainability efforts. which he oversaw as president of the University of British Columbia. .
“He has a good past record at the University of British Columbia with progress in sustainability,” Wallace said. “We believe it represents a big change from the previous administration in enabling student voices to (make progress on sustainability) and being able to make sustainability a top priority for the University. .”
Wallace said the SSC’s primary concern is to ensure student voices are not overlooked and that he hopes Ono’s presidency will mark a change in that regard.
“I know that in the past many student groups have felt like we’ve been pushing for a long time, but haven’t been heard,” Wallace said. “It’s possible that this is how the administration works, and it’s possible that students will continue to be neglected, and that’s a concern for many students on campus.”
Wallace said the SSC hopes to establish a positive relationship with Ono. He said collaboration between students and administration is the most effective way to create change on campus.
“Just having a relationship and being open about their actions and their goals, and how (SSC’s) goals might fit in with that, would be a great starting point to being able to have a long-term connection. term with the students and the president,” Wallace said.
Jacob Lederman, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Michigan-Flint campus, is an active member of the One University Campaign, a faculty- and student-led group advocating for equitable funding on all three campuses of the University. University. Lederman said he hopes Ono prioritizes building relationships not only with their organization, but also with satellite campuses.
“We would love the chance to build a relationship with him personally,” Lederman said. “Speaking only with campus leadership, such as in Dearborn and Flint leadership, there have often been a lot of misunderstandings that seem to occur between our campus and leadership at the Presidential and Regental levels. So we would like the opportunity to share directly with him some of the issues we are working on.
At the September board meeting, then-acting university president Mary Sue Coleman announced a transformation plan to improve enrollment rates at UM Flint in response to a 30% decline. since 2014. Lederman said a university is wary of the plan and hopes Ono does. lead him in the right direction.
“We’re optimistic but concerned about a planned ‘transformation’ at the Flint campus,” Lederman said. “A university wants to work with President Ono and others to ensure that this investment helps promote equity and access to UM Flint and in particular to ensure that our students on the UM Flint campus can continue to attend a full university with all the liberal arts, fine arts and sciences that we have traditionally had.
Lederman said One University’s primary concern is that students at the Dearborn and Flint campuses are losing opportunities that students at the Ann Arbor campus will continue to enjoy.
“We are concerned about moving towards a three-campus system, in which wealthier students at the Ann Arbor campus can major in subjects such as politics, biology or philosophy and students at the Flint and Dearborn are encouraged to specialize only in professional fields,” Lederman said.
As for how to achieve One University’s goals, Lederman said they hope Ono will be more willing to listen to their organization’s concerns.
“I think we would hope to have someone more outgoing that we could reach out to directly,” Lederman said. “Of course, there will be competing interests that President Ono and our campus leadership will have to wrestle with. We understand that. I think it was difficult to have these conversations because we didn’t really have a presidential-level listener.
Kirsten Herold, president of LEO and a lecturer in the School of Public Health, echoed similar hopes that she would like to see Ono devote the necessary attention to the UM Flint and UM Dearborn campuses. Herold said UM Flint has already seen significant layoffs of lecturers and very few full-time staff members.
“We have maybe about 250 speakers in Flint,” Herold said. “There have already been significant layoffs in Flint…we have very few full-time faculty (teachers at UM Flint), in fact most people are part-time now.”
Stevens Wandmacher, a lecturer at UM Flint and a LEO member, reiterated these concerns about students and faculty at the Dearborn and Flint campuses.
“Ann Arbor is a huge campus and a very complex organization, but there are two other campuses that deserve the president’s attention, and hopefully we get what we need in that regard,” Wandmacher said.
Wandmacher spoke about UM Flint’s campus transformation initiative and said he hopes Ono will make efforts to help UM Flint achieve this goal.
“At the Flint campus, we’re running a transformation initiative: We’ve had declining enrollment for a number of years, and we’re trying to figure out how to handle that,” Wandmacher said. “I hope the President will be a good partner to our Chancellor as we move forward.”
In terms of union work, Jared Eno, president of the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO), said he anticipates a new approach from the Ono administration to the resumption of GEO contract negotiations later this year. GEO’s current contract was ratified in April 2020, just months before the union went on strike to protest then-President Mark Schlissel’s decision to reopen the university amid the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19. The University took legal action against GEO and its members, which ultimately led to the union ending its strike.
“The negotiation of our new contract presents a very great opportunity for the University to address some of these issues that so many graduate students face,” Eno said. “I am really pleased that Ono is bringing a new approach to these negotiations, given the hardline and opposition we faced under Schlissel the last time we tried to fight for ourselves and resolve the problems we face.”
Eno said Ono’s presidency will be an opportunity to hold open conversations about issues that affect graduate students at the University, particularly around affordability and the cost of living.
“Graduate workers are really in the midst of an affordability crisis, and it’s not just coming from the salary that we have…but also from the many additional costs that the University imposes on graduate students,” Eno said. “Since (Ono) is so focused on the experience of people in the community, I imagine he’ll be very concerned about addressing a lot of those hidden costs.”
Herold shared similar sentiments and said she looked forward to having a president who does not see campus unions as against the administration’s interests.
“Previous administrations have treated unions on campus as an irritant, as an outside force, which is wrong,” Herold said. “We hope for more dialogue (and) a more open and responsive style of leadership.”
Although excited, Herold also expressed some caution and said she hoped Ono could live up to the expectations that had been set for her.
“I was on the search committee, so I’m excited,” Herold said. “I felt good about the choice. I’m also a bit nervous because we expect a lot from him…I really hope he can undo some of the damage that has been done to the reputation of the University.