U-M staffer accuses one of Ann Arbor’s biggest landlords of pushing for school to reopen amid pandemic


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Coronavirus be damned, school campuses across the country are reopening for the fall semester. In Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan opened on Monday with a hybrid plan calling for both online-only classes, as well as in-person classes scaled down for social distancing, plus rules requiring mask use and restricting large gatherings like parties.

Despite the efforts, some experts believe the campus is a danger of becoming a hotspot for the virus.

"I don't know what other people's towns are like, but Ann Arbor is currently a shit show," epidemiologist and U-M Research Fellow Dr. Peter Larson tweeted on Saturday. "Expect a #covid19 cluster to happen here soon."

Why the push to reopen the campus? According to a Michigan Daily op-ed published last week written by a U-M staffer who was granted anonymity in exchange for candor, the University's decision was guided by one of Ann Arbor's biggest landlords.

When the decision to reopen the school was made, U-M's Board of Regents was chaired by Ron Weiser, a billionaire megadonor of President Donald Trump. Of course, as a landlord, if the Ann Arbor campus was closed, Weiser would take a huge financial hit.

It gets worse. According to the anonymous op-ed writer, Weiser donated more than $100 million to the school in recent years — including a $30 million gift in the days ahead of U-M's decision to reopen. The writer calls this "one of the biggest conflicts of interest imaginable between public health and private wealth."

Asked for comment, Rick Fitzgerald, U-M's Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs, tells Metro Times that "Ron Weiser has been a longtime donor and supporter to the university. His philanthropy started decades before he was selected to the Board of Regents."

U-M's reopening comes following news that U-M's Board of Regents approved a tuition hike of 1.9% for the Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses, and an increase of 3.9% for the U-M Flint campus. A group of students have since started a petition called Fight Back Umich aimed at pressuring officials to lower tuition.

Ann Mintun, one of the petition organizers, says she was shocked that the school raised tuition now.

"As a political science student and a history student, U-M appealed to me because of its history with activism," she says. "The first teach-in was at the University of Michigan in the ’60s to protest the Vietnam War. There’s such a rich tradition of activism in Ann Arbor. And so I really thought I was coming to a city and a university that was liberal and that would take care of its students."

She adds, "Since coming, I’ve kind of realized that Ann Arbor isn’t always as liberal as everyone wants it to be."

Many teachers, parents, and students are worried about starting the new school year amid a pandemic that has already killed more than enough Americans to fill U-M's Big House, and you'll hear more of their stories in this week's issue, out Wednesday.

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