#UMichRegentrifiers: Invest in Detroiters

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On the morning of October 30th, members of the University of Michigan community received an email from President Schlissel announcing U-M’s $300M Detroit Innovation Center – a conference center, hotel, and research campus built in partnership with business and real estate moguls Dan Gilbert and Stephen M. Ross. We, the undersigned members of the University of Michigan’s tri-campus community, are opposed to the Center’s construction and believe it is antithetical to the University's stated values of equity, empowerment, and community-centered public engagement. 

In its statement, the University Administration emphasized a desire for the project to support the city of Detroit and “its people.” However, the project does little to actually support Detroit residents. Many University of Michigan students and faculty have demonstrated informed, inclusive, and empowering ways for the University to engage with Detroit such as:

  • The School of Public Health's Detroit Community-Academic Urban Research Center
  • The School of Social Work's Technical Assistance partnership with the Skillman Foundation's Good Neighborhoods Project
  • U-M Dearborn's Public Allies Program and Office of Metropolitan Impact
  • The Taubman College of Urban Planning's Capstone projects in Detroit
  • The Stamps Detroit Connections program and partnership with the Brightmoor Community Center and Makerspace
  • The Ginsberg Center's America Reads partnerships with numerous elementary schools in Detroit
  • The Rackham Graduate School's Program in Public Scholarship and Institute for Social Change Fellowships with Detroit organizations such as the Wright Museum and Cass Corridor Commons
  • The LSA-Residential College's community-engaged work in Detroit, including: Semester in Detroit, Detroiters Speak community mini-course, PCAP, Spanish Language Internship Program and the RC French Program's Collaborations with Freedom House

Yet with this decision, the University Administration signals its priorities in Detroit do not lie with Detroiters. Surely, a genuine commitment to the city would not include investing in a company that profits off of evicting Detroiters from their homes, despite criticism from students and community members on the investment. Nor would it ignore plans from the Detroit Justice Center to develop a restorative justice initiative on the once-failed jail site where the Innovation Center will now lie. But the University has done both of these shameful acts and is now supporting gentrification and business interests at the expense of residents’ needs.

Perhaps this disparity in priorities lies with the Administration's partners on the new project: Dan Gilbert and Stephen M. Ross. President Schlissel emphasized the University will consult “with Detroit’s business community” in developing future programming at the Center, but communicated little intention of centering the needs of everyday Detroiters. We regret the Administration’s willingness to support business moguls whose advancement of gentrification inflicts harm on Detroit residents and believe the largest public university in our state has an obligation to invest in projects which center community members, equity, and justice – not profits. 

We also agree with President Schlissel’s statement that U-M, as a public institution, holds community responsibility “to focus our academic strength on the challenges and opportunities that face the public we serve.” We therefore invite President Schlissel to increase funding support for U-M’s very own Flint and Dearborn campuses – campuses which play integral roles in their communities and are suffering from a gross lack of investment from the Administration, despite the fact that Flint and Dearborn community members continue to call on the University for increased funding support.

As students, faculty, staff, and community members who value the University of Michigan’s responsibility as a public institution, we condemn the plan for the Detroit Innovation Center and are ashamed of the University's actions in the city. We urge the University to consult Detroit residents rather than the city’s “business community” as it plans future development.