Students protest Marygrove College dropping undergrad programs

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published October 2, 2017

DETROIT — Several students at Marygrove College in Detroit gathered on Sept. 16 to demonstrate their displeasure at the school’s removal of undergraduate classes and the manner in which the school is handling the transition.

Marygrove announced Aug. 9 that due to lower enrollment, it could no longer support its current curriculum. It released plans to maintain its graduate programs while cutting all of its undergraduate programs at the end of the fall 2017 semester. Significant staff cuts would also coincide with the loss of classes.

The students gathered to protest what they believes is a callous attitude toward the students and their futures regarding the changes.

“The rally was a student-led rally with a few staff members there to help guide them,” said Jann Hoge, a social work professor at Marygrove who assisted at the rally. “(The students) want a voice with the administration and the board of trustees. They were aware that there was a meeting on Sept. 8 and the students were not invited, and when they tried to attend, they were stopped by security.”

Hoge has been a social work professor at Marygrove for 22 years. She is part of the faculty group that was willing to stay on until December to teach the classes needed for this last semester for the students. Just a handful of staff members will remain to teach the graduate programs, which are largely online.

The students are upset that the school reassured students prior to the change that such drastic measures would be unnecessary, that the announcement was made after it was too late to make changes for the upcoming semester and school year, that this change will mean that many scholarships will no longer be valid once the programs the scholarships apply to are ended, and that the administration seems unconcerned with student concerns.

“We were seeing the writing on the wall with what is going on with the school, but the way they went about it is what made it tough,” said Joe Slivik, a social work major and student-athlete. “They told us two weeks before the semester began to find new schools. I needed to find another school after scholarships had already been awarded, and that made it very tough.”

Renee Ahee, Marygrove’s director of communications, said the school is putting every effort possible into helping students and that administrators attempted to avoid the change, hence the announcement only two weeks before the beginning of classes.

“No one wants to see Marygrove close its undergraduate program, least of all the administration, and we are very focused on our students. Their dream is a college degree, and we still want to help them achieve that dream,” said Ahee. “The students are concerned about getting into other schools and credits transferring. Each circumstance is different, and we are meeting with more than 300 students individually.”

Many students were not mollified by these reassurances, and thus gathered to protest the situation in front of the college’s main building Sept. 16.

“I have a lot of issues about being a new student,” said Carolyn Kowalik, who transferred to Marygrove just before the announcement was made. “Why was I admitted to Marygrove after graduating from Oakland Community College? They knew the school was closing, so why would they allow me to be admitted? It was one to two weeks before classes started when they announced undergraduate classes were ending at the end of the semester. I also am not getting my full multiyear scholarship, since it no longer applies once these programs end.”

As a result of the demonstrations, several members of the school’s administration and board of trustees met with students at meetings on Sept. 22 and Sept. 27. There, they answered student questions about the change and addressed the frustrations that students had regarding the sudden change.

“‘Why didn’t you tell us sooner?’ was a common question,” said Ahee. “The answer is  … we saw signs that enrollment was picking up in the summer. Our students tend not to register early and have a lot of late registrations. When those numbers were lower than anticipated, we made the decision (to cut our curriculum) because the money just was not there to keep those programs available.”

Another meeting has been planned but was not scheduled as of press time.

While many students attended the first two meetings, some said it was too little and too late.

“Their mind is made up. They’re not changing the plan. I went to the meeting more out of curiosity,” said Slivik. “They said they were doing everything they could. My concerns weren’t really addressed; they were more just saying the right things and trying to save face. Only a portion of the board was there, and they were sort of condescending toward what was asked.”

Ahee said the administration is doing everything possible to help students during this time.

“We hosted a job fair for our faculty and staff,” Ahee said. “All of (our) students have been counseled individually by people who are adept at financial and academic counseling. We have made a particular effort to help them get to the next-best place for them. We are currently running our transfer fair until the end of October, where more than 40 schools are making resources available to help students transfer.”

Emails about the transfer fair, which includes representatives from other schools and universities, have been sent out every Monday morning to each student’s school email account. These resources are available between noon and 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the lobby of the Madame Cadillac Building until Thursday, Oct. 26.

With many students caught in an awkward situation, many also are questioning whether the school has exhausted all of its options. Many want to see the state of pay for administrators but said they have yet to have access to that information.

“They would like to see evidence the college cannot continue with its undergrad programs,” said Hoge. “One of the requirements of a private college for providing financial exigency is to provide proof the administration has suffered cuts, and President (Elizabeth) Burns has pretty much said it’s none of their business.”

The administrators said all other possible measures have been done to avoid the curriculum cuts, and they are eager to respond to student questions and concerns.

“A public university is required to divulge information about compensation; as a private institution, we are not,” said Ahee. “The administration has responded to student concerns. They were able to ask their questions at the two meetings this past week, and this topic was not brought up. To address this particular concern, I will say all has been done. Salaries are not public, and we ask people to respect that.”