Friday, July 20, 2007

UM-Dearborn Picked a Bad Time to Lie About Hidden Costs

Just in time for the University of Michigan Board of Regents’ announcement of tuition hikes raising UM-Dearborn student costs by 7.9%, (“With state aid down, U-M hikes tuition”), Dearborn Underground has obtained University documents showing how school officials planned to spend more than three times the officially stated cost of $25,000 to install Islamic ritual foot baths.

The documents also show that University officials knew the real costs months before UM-Dearborn Director of Public Relations Terry Gallagher began sending out talking points to inquiring alumni, taxpayers, and reporters: talking points falsely reporting the $25,000 figure, as well as misleading inquirers and news media about the public source of the funding.

Emails and other documents obtained from the University show that on June 4, 2007, in anticipation of planned news stories about the project in the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, Terry Gallagher drafted notes providing answers to key questions about the project.

Just before that, a posting by Debbie Schlussel a few days earlier, on May 30th, tipped off the public about the foot baths, in turn leading to angry inquiries to UM from alumni and concerned taxpayers. Debbie's post may have finally prodded the local media to finally report on the foot baths. (Dearborn Underground also posted the details on May 1 and again on May 28.). Prior to Debbie’s post, the University’s plan had managed to escape nearly all public notice and media attention.

All indications to date are that the University wanted it that way. Staying below the radar worked for many months, as UM's decision to install at least one of the foot baths in the campus University Center was made as early as October 12, 2006, when the subject was discussed at a meeting of senior University officers.

A June 5th email reveals that Gallagher sent his notes to ACCESS communications director, Hannan Deep, for her thoughts. Her reply expressed approval for his talking points, urging Gallagher to keep his responses on message, especially to keep repeating his “top key message: No tax payer dollars are being used for the project. (this seems to be everyone’s concern).” After that, Gallagher sent his talking points to UM staff as an aid for interviews and answering questions.

An internal copy of a memo from University Provost Susan Martin, also recommended the notes to UM staff, and described increased media attention “over the past several days.” Martin's memo said that “[S]ome of the information in the blogs and internet postings about the proposal is not accurate,” and were being reported “as if they are true.” As a remedy, Martin attached Gallagher's talking points.

Gallagher also forwarded his notes in responses to email inquires from unhappy alumni and taxpayers, and provided these "facts" to reporters as background information for articles they were writing. Detroit News reporter Karen Bouffard, and Detroit Free Press writer Niraj Wairkoo both received copies.

But it’s turning out that it was Gallagher’s talking points that are “not accurate” and have been widely reported “as if they are true.”

The Real Cost

For instance, under Gallagher's talking-points heading, “What is the cost of this project?”, the fact-sheet states, falsely, that:

“We have not yet received the proposal from the architect or solicited bonds bids yet, but we estimate that the total cost to install two foot-washing stations to be approximately $25,000.”

The stated amount is not accurate. According to a December 6, 2006 UM email, subject New Renovation Project Grants, the projected budget to “modify space to create 2 new footbaths and two new unisex TRs [toilet rooms]” was $80,000. A purchase order also was issued for the same project on April 3, 2007 for the same amount of $80,000. $10,000 of that was slated to pay fees for architectural firm designs and plans for the proposed renovations.

Nor is Gallagher’s statement accurate that the University hadn’t yet received proposals from the architect. Records reveal that the University had received at least two proposals from different architect firms in February and March 2007, respectively. Both proposals incorporated the University’s own proposed construction budget of $70,000. The University also told Debbie Schlussel at the end of May that only $2,000 had been spent so far; but the $10,000 invoiced by Niagara Murano had already been approved the previous April).

None of the records, proposals, budget items, or invoices anywhere mention a figure of $25,000.

The University will undoubtedly attempt to explain the $55,000 discrepancy as primarily the cost of constructing the 2 unisex toilet rooms already planned, leaving the installation of the foot baths as a minor portion only representing $25,000.

But there never was any separate plan to construct unisex toilet rooms absent the decision to install foot baths. Instead, the unisex toilet rooms now have to be built to provide suitable access to the foot baths, and to mitigate the loss of restroom space, including the loss of at least one existing handicapped toilet, resulting from the decision to install special foot baths.

Further, the University’s own talking points make clear that the whole project was intended to solve the very problems caused by Muslim students using restroom sinks to wash their feet:

“We believe that these modifications [to our existing facilities] will benefit all students by providing appropriate facilities that do not interfere with the use of existing restrooms.”

In the end, not only is the plan not going to add to the University's toilet facilities, but unimpeded access to the new toilet in the unisex restroom will be impossible with potentially hundreds of Muslim students needing to use the same room to wash their feet several times a day.

It's Still Public Money

Gallagher’s second talking point that's the real kicker:

“What is the source of the funding?

“No tax dollars are being used for the project; the funding is being drawn from fees assessed to our students for campus infrastructure maintenance and renovation.”

This is the number one bit of misinformation UM wants to spread. As Hannan Deep at ACCESS urged him, this is the University’s “top key message.”

And he’s stayed true to it. In response to a concerned taxpayer inquiry as recently as July 17, Gallagher gave this explanation:

“The proposed project will be paid for with funds received from an infrastructure fee collected from all students; those funds are part of the campus general fund. While the annual appropriation we receive from the state also is part of the campus general fund, the accounts are separate. It's clear that you disagree with this project and I don't expect to change your mind, but I believe we have consistently and accurately described the funding source.”

It doesn’t matter if the accounts are separate as long as they're all sourced to the general fund. There is no way that campus operations, facilities, and maintenance are paid for with student fees alone. Besides, students (or their parents) are required to pay those fees, they and their parents are certainly "the public," and once the money is handed over, its public money, as it's under the control of a government university. Do they really think they can make us believe this is not public money?

We can’t be certain if Sue Martin’s June 5 email to “All Staff,” claiming blogs were posting inaccurate information was meant to refer to the funding details, but it's a reasonable assumption. After all, in order to contradict the "not accurate" blogs, Martin attached Gallagher’s talking points to her email!

Neither our postings on May 1 or 28, nor Debbie Schlussel’s on May 30th, contained any inaccurate information about public funding. Debbie reported accurately that the money was coming from “the University of Michigan general fund.” She went on to explain, correctly, that "if you are a taxpayer, you're paying for them, as the general fund is made up of federal and state monies and paid tuition fees."

In fact, it is a reduction of state contributions right now that's behind the UM Board of Regents' decision to raise tuition.

And, as we saw above, Gallagher admits in his most recent email the money still comes from the campus general fund.

So there's no inaccuracy here

UM's Endorsement of Islam

And there's one more talking point I want to include:

“Why are you furthering a specific religion?

“We are not furthering one faith over another. Instead, we are providing a service that many of our students need and value. This project also means that other campus restrooms can better serve the needs of all students.”

This is the worst kind of language-twisting. Any action good or bad, from shoveling someone’s snow to pushing drugs to committing murder-for-hire, can be called “providing a service” that somebody “needs and values.” The point isn’t whether the University is providing a service, but whether the University is placing public resources at the service of a particular religion in an unlawful way.

Clearly, the foot-bath project is furthering Islam in preference to all other faiths, or to any purely secular point of view. All students, Muslim and nonMuslim, are required to pay student fees that in turn are diverted to support this project. Meanwhile, only one class of students stands to benefit from the foot baths--Muslim students.

And as for the project freeing up other campus restrooms to better serve the needs of all students, that's an example of solving one problem by creating another. It was the University that created the restroom problem in the first place by tolerating student misuse of the facilities.

Nor is it at all likely that installing only two foot baths, in different buildings, is going to solve the problem of “accommodating” 950 Muslim students, in addition to Muslim staff and faculty, whom we are told need to wash their feet before praying five times a day.

More likely than not, there are still going to be students far off in other campus buildings who aren't going to travel to the University Center or the Fairlane Center to wash their feet. There will still be misuse of the campus's other restrooms.

So the real cost: $80 grand. And now the Board of Regents are boosting tuition at UM-Dearborn 7.9%.

Which only makes the $80,000 price tag seem like an even worse idea.


Anonymous said...

Great job Underground. These outrages are reported but, rarely does anyone ever commit time to pursue the truth. Please keep us posted. I will send this link to my contacts and encourage other to do the same.

Sabra said...

Excellent read about this issue!

It's always just the ONE religion that seems to be able to dictate that it IS above all others - or so it would surely seem - as evidenced by their refusal to assimilate into a culture where these problems and situations just didn't seem to require so much "special" attention as they do of late. Apparently that little clause "separation of Church and State" was not meant to include islam or we wouldn't be reading posts like this!

Way past due time to get this crap out of the forefront - it doesn't belong anywhere! You want to wash your feet umpteen times a day, fine with me, but do it in the privacy of your own home or dorm room. The rest of us don't need to be subjected to your personal hygiene routine. Get this crap out of the public schools - this separate prayer lead by a non-teacher outside of instruction time is bullsh^t. Take off those foolish veils which are not required by your so-called religion and are either learn to be a part of the culture here or go back to the Middle East where in a few years after the oil money has dried up you can go back to living in tents and riding camels in the desert.

Ronbo said...

Thanks for posting this article!

This is how it begins....with small demands that mount as the years pass.

The only proper response is to deny Islam any special favors as a religion from the very beginning.

A pity no conservative group is planning a lawsuit. What about the Federalist Society? Losing a multi-million dollar lawsuit would get the attention of the Leftards.

Cheers, Ronbo

Anonymous said...

Saw the photo published in the New York Times. Looks like an European urinal I have seen in Germany. Since it's a unisex facility, I guess anyone can use it as such.

Why do they need a "Unisex" toilet anyhow?