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Viewpoint: An open letter to President-elect Mark Schlissel

BY THE COALITION FOR QUEER PEOPLE OF COLOR
The Coalition for Tuition Equality
Published April 22, 2014

Dear President-Elect Schlissel:

These last few academic years, we have seen a groundswell of activism addressing long-term structural issues across the campus community. Over the past few years, students have organized and fought to make the University more accessible to undocumented students. Through the Diag Freeze Out, #BBUM and Speak Out, students have exposed and challenged a poor racial climate and unacceptably low underrepresented minority enrollment. Staff, faculty and students have protested the administration’s push to centralize services at the detriment of research and departmental communities via the Administrative Services Transformation. The campus community rallied against the administration’s mishandling of a sexual misconduct case, something that we were only made aware of through the diligence of student journalists. Students have challenged questionable investments and demanded that the University be held accountable for its financial decisions during the #UMDivest and Divest and Invest movements. All of these movements highlighted longstanding issues at the University. They responded to the increasing privatization of the University, structural exclusion of underrepresented minorities and working class students, unethical investments, daily microaggressions suffered by marginalized communities and increasingly precarious working conditions.

However, despite these student movements calling for change, the institution remains culpable and complacent. The constant refrain of “We are listening” from the Coleman administration has done little to actually address these realities. When you take office, we expect the following of your administration: accessibility, transparency, accountability and action.

The University of Michigan has become a PINO — public in name only — university and must reprioritize accessibility by addressing broader structural issues of race and class. If the University continues to prioritize the elite, then it is implicated in perpetuating larger systems of oppression and exclusion. This does not mean cosmetic fixes or more glossy brochures, but the reevaluation of the goals of this university and who it serves. It means affordable tuition, a nurturing and welcoming learning and working environment, more aggressive and creative recruitment and more fully-funded retention programs. The University cannot provide social innovation while maintaining the status quo.

While the University may legally fulfill certain standards of transparency as a public institution, decision-making on this campus has been intentionally opaque and remains behind closed doors. Money is continually misspent on luxury construction projects while tuition skyrockets, salaries of staff and faculty stagnate (but not those of the administration) and workers face increasingly precarious working conditions. We refuse to believe that there is no funding for first generation, working class and underrepresented minority communities but there is money for higher administrative pay. The University has not been forthright about its declining minority enrollment before Prop 2. We do not need affirmative action to make our campus more socioeconomically and racially diverse. What we really need is an administration that is committed to finding solutions rather than providing excuses.

We are tired of the administration claiming to have standards regarding racial justice, personal safety and sexual violence, and economic equity without clearly stating and enforcing such standards. We as students, faculty and staff have a right to a safe and respectful community and when this right is violated, there must be concrete consequences. In addition to overarching institutional reform, we insist that there must also be accountability from the administration for the incessant micro- and macroaggressions that students, faculty and staff encounter everyday on the basis of their race, class, sexuality and gender. Forming inadequate and redundant committees, creating one-sided review processes that burden and blame victims, and holding selective panel discussions and “public forums” are not valid attempts at accountability.

When you arrive in July, we expect you to have a plan of action to address these problems. We do not expect you to understand the complexity of our lived experiences, but we do expect you to respect our struggles and understand their root causes. You must be proactive, not reactive, with your engagement of this campus. We are holding you accountable for what happens during your tenure.

As student organizations committed to social justice and equal access to university space, we stand united. We are committed to responding to any and all failures to address these structural problems with the gravity they deserve. We will not stop expressing our voice and exercising our right to this space until we are completely satisfied with the administration’s work. Mary Sue Coleman and Board of Regents turned the University of Michigan into a corporation. We will make it a public university again.

The Coalition for Queer People of Color
The Coalition for Tuition Equality
Graduate Employees’ Organization
Students Allied for Freedom and Equality
Students of Color of Rackham
Student Union of Michigan
United Coalition for Racial Justice

Organizations in solidarity:

Students for Choice
F.O.K.U.S.
Sikh Student Association
Yoni Ki Baat
Middle East and Arab Network
What the F
Students Organizing Against Prisons
Palestinian Student Association
Student Collaborative Against Islamaphobia and Injustice
Michigan Women of Color Collective
I.G.N.i.T.E
Chaldean American Student Association
United Students Against Sweatshops
Human Rights through Education
Amnesty International (University chapter)
Social Justice Commission
South Asian Awareness Network
Iraqi Student Association
Arab Organizations at the University of Michigan
GSIs of Underprivileged Backgrounds and of Color
Muslim Students' Association
African Students Association
Feminist Forum