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EMU faculty push back on university plans to outsource utilities

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A major pushback against Eastern Michigan’s plans to privatize its utilities is coming from the university’s faculty committee members.

At issue is a plan the university is expected to sign as early as next month. The plan calls for a private company, CenTrio, to pay the university $115 million upfront in exchange for operational rights to the university’s utilities for 50 years. In exchange, the university makes an annual payment of $5.3 million and pays for utilities.

The university sees it as a benefit for the entire campus community using the infusion of cash to reduce the school’s debt, invest in academic programs, student retention, and recruitment efforts.

But in an online forum Thursday night, EMU faculty representatives urged the university to learn from what they see as the past mistakes of privatization, specifically privatizing parking that ended in a lawsuit and higher costs for student parking.

Turning over control of the utilities, warned Faculty Senate president Marilyn Corsianos, could pose risks if the university or CenTrio fail to meet their obligations.

"Will it have the ability to turn off the heat and the electricity if they don’t come to terms? We already see what is happening with parking."

A university spokesperson claims the plan has measures to protect all parties Additionally they say the plan requires CenTrio to spend some $25 million in improving the utility infrastructure, which is a cost the university would struggle to pay. And it commits CenTrio to another $25 million in energy conservation that will ultimately reduce the utility costs for the university.

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Cathy Shafran was WEMU's afternoon news anchor and local host during WEMU's broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered.
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