Punishing students


It was a disgrace when a bill that made Michigan a right-to-work state was rammed through a lame-duck session of the Legislature in one day last December, without a committee hearing or significant debate. But now the state’s Republican lawmakers are about to do something even more shameful.

Well before the law banning union shops was scheduled to take effect this week, Wayne State University agreed to an eight-year contract with faculty and staff that preserved union rights over that period. The University of Michigan agreed to a similar contract.

Wayne State and U of M, along with Michigan State, are legally autonomous, with governing boards elected statewide. But majority Republicans on the state House’s higher education subcommittee were furious at what they perceived as an attempt to get around the new right-to-work law.

So they voted to slash both schools’ state aid by 15 percent. That could mean a cut of $47 million for U of M and $27.5 million for Wayne State. One GOP lawmaker boasted that “we‘ve sent a serious message here,” and accused the universities of trying to violate state law.

It’s not clear how either school could have broken a law that is not yet in effect. And Wayne State president Allan Gilmour, a tough negotiator who was Ford Motor Co.’s longtime chief financial officer, told lawmakers that the long contract actually saves taxpayers money.

But Republican legislators were in no mood to listen. If their bullying tactic becomes law, the ones who will suffer most are students who, because of years of higher-education aid cuts and tuition hikes, are finding college harder to afford just when education is more important than ever. This may especially affect Wayne State students, who largely come from working-class backgrounds.

Michigan’s lawmakers are neglecting a lot of truly critical issues, such as fixing the state’s crumbling roads. They should check their priorities and focus their attention where it might do some good.