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AG's office: Shirvell took leave of office on own accord, will be subject to disciplinary hearing upon return

Marissa McClain/Daily
Andrew Shirvell speaks at an MSA meeting September 7, 2010. Buy this photo

BY RACHEL BRUSSTAR
Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 30, 2010

Andrew Shirvell, an assistant attorney general for the state of Michigan, is taking a leave of absence the attorney general's office said Friday. The move capped what had become a national news story after The Michigan Daily first reported in early September on Shirvell’s controversial blog that targeted Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong.

Shirvell announced his leave Thursday, but didn't say when he would return, according to Cox spokesman John Sellek.

Sellek told the Daily Friday afternoon that Shirvell took this leave on his own accord.

Upon returning to his position, Shirvell will be subject to a disciplinary hearing with his employer, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, according to Sellek, who was unable to comment further regarding specific details or potential outcomes of the hearing.

Cox, who previously defended Shirvell, told The Detroit News Thursday that he was wrong to stand by Shirvell and support his behavior toward Armstrong. The News had originally reported that he Shirvell had been suspended.

"I'm at fault here," Cox said in the article. "I've been saying for weeks that (Shirvell's) been acting like a bully, that his behavior is immature, but it's after-hours and protected by the First Amendment."

Cox told the News that he hadn’t read all of Shirvell’s blog when he made those comments.

Earlier in the day yesterday, the University administration and community rushed to stand by Armstrong amidst the growing controversy.

In a statement released to The Michigan Daily on Thursday, University President Mary Sue Coleman wrote that the administration supports Armstrong and opposes anyone who compromises the rights and safety of students.

“A high-profile situation involving one of our students is highlighting the importance of values that our institution holds dear,” Coleman wrote. “An individual has chosen to target the elected president of the U-M student body in a reprehensible manner.”

Shirvell started a blog called Chris Armstrong Watch shortly after Armstrong was elected in March. The blog — which he closed to all but "invited readers" on Thursday — accuses Armstrong of promoting a “radical homosexual agenda” on campus and makes contemptuous comments about Armstrong’s family and friends. Last month, Shirvell also spoke during the public comments portion of a Michigan Student Assembly meeting, calling Armstrong a racist and demanding his resignation.

At the meeting and during another confrontation on campus earlier in the year, Shirvell criticized Armstrong for joining the senior honor society Order of Angell. The organization has weathered criticism for allegedly using Native American artifacts during rituals in the past. In 2007 the group — formerly known as Michigamua — changed its name and began releasing its members' names in an effort to be more transparent, though its meetings and activities are still secretive.

Armstrong filed a personal protection order against Shirvell on Sept. 13, according to a representative at Washtenaw County Trial Court. The hearing will be held on Monday at 1:30 p.m. in Ann Arbor

As long as all parties appear, the judge will make a decision regarding the personal protection order on Monday, according to the representative.

Messages and e-mails to Armstrong seeking comment went unreturned last night. But at Tuesday night’s MSA meeting Armstrong said he “wouldn’t succumb to any unwarranted attacks.”

“I, along with the rest of this assembly, (was) elected to this body to represent the University,” he told the assembly on Tuesday. “And nothing said about us, or regarding our personal merits, will waive our commitment to serve the student body.”

On Sept. 14, the University's Department of Public Safety issued a trespass warning — banning Shirvell from University grounds — after receiving complaints of Shirvell stalking and harassing Armstrong outside his house in Ann Arbor, according to DPS spokeswoman Diane Brown.

DPS is still investigating the complaints, Brown said, and Shirvell is in the process of appealing the order with DPS Executive Director Ken Magee.

In her press release, Coleman wrote that the University is working to ensure appropriate measures are taken.

“In addition to its internal action, the University also has called upon others in positions of authority to take all appropriate action to address this situation,” Coleman wrote.

The incidents began gaining national attention after CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed Shirvell on Sept. 28 and Michigan Attorney General Michael Cox — Shirvell’s employer — on Sept. 29. During the broadcasts, Cooper discussed Shirvell’s blog and questioned Cox about his thoughts on Shirvell’s behavior.

In his interview on Anderson Cooper 360, Cox said that while he deems Shirvell's behavior inappropriate, it would be against the law to fire him for First Amendment-protected speech that Shirvell produced off the clock. However, Cox did say that he would consider sending Shirvell to an “employee assistance program” if Armstrong was granted a personal protection order or if a lawsuit was filed against Shirvell.

While Shirvell said he was not a cyber bully and defended the claims stated on his blog in the interview with Cooper, Cox called Shirvell’s actions “offensive” and “unbecoming of civil discourse.”

In response to the CNN broadcast, viewers throughout the country have contacted Cox and urged him to fire Shirvell. There is also an online petition created by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which enables the public to send messages directly to Cox.

The University community is also responding to the incidents by rallying around Armstrong.

In an e-mail from the Spectrum Center that was sent to the MSA e-mail listserv yesterday, the center presented several ways students can support Armstrong.

According to the e-mail, the center sponsored an “informal community gathering” in its office last night where students could talk about the incident. The Spectrum Center also urged students, faculty and staff who support Armstrong to change their Facebook statuses to “Elected By Us, Respected By Us.”

Today, the center is hosting a "Brown Bag" lunch where students can learn how to be an ally to the LGBT community and how to take action when incidents of bias occur on campus.

Armstrong supporters, not limited to University students, are also adamantly voicing opinions on Facebook pages, such as “We Support Chris Armstrong,” which has 5,610 members, and “Fire Andrew Shirvell,” which has 5,976 members — both as of 8:54 p.m. Thursday night.

On the “We Support Chris Armstrong” discussion page, a post titled “An Open Letter to Attorney General Cox,” includes adults from the University and other colleges sharing their opinions on the issue and calling on Cox to remove Shirvell from his position.

In the release, Coleman reiterated the solidarity of the University community and wrote that the campus will maintain unwavering support of the student body leader.

“As a community, we must not and will not accept displays of intolerance,” Coleman wrote. “We are heartened, but not surprised, by the response of the campus community in supporting Chris. We are impressed with his resiliency and stand by him and the important work he is doing on behalf of all of our students.”

Those outside the University have also been voicing support for Armstrong. Michigan Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm also voiced her opposition to Cox’s decision not to fire Shirvell in a Tweet posted at 3:12 p.m. yesterday.

“If I was still Attorney General and Andrew Shirvell worked for me, he would have already been fired,” the Tweet stated.

In The Detroit News article, Cox called out Granholm’s Tweet — saying that the move was unprofessional.

"I don't know why she's so freaking irresponsible. ... she went to Harvard Law School," Cox said. "The civil service rules are a huge shield for free speech and she knows that.