BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY
Published October 3, 2010
The University is a diverse place of many opinions and backgrounds. But on one issue, we are united. Support for Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong following attacks on Armstrong by Andrew Shirvell, a University alum and Michigan assistant attorney general, has been inspiring. Shirvell, who took a voluntary leave of absence on Thursday, is now facing a personal protection order from Armstrong and is subject to a disciplinary hearing from his boss, Attorney General Mike Cox. Also on Thursday, Cox admitted to The Detroit News that he "made a mistake" by supporting Shirvell. But overdue apologies aren't enough. Cox shouldn't have hesitated to dismiss an employee who clearly doesn't represent the people of Michigan. Cox should remove Shirvell from his post in the attorney general's office.
Shirvell started his blog to comment about Armstrong in late April. His initial post criticized Armstrong and what Shirvell called his "radical homosexual agenda." Subsequent posts went on to rage against Armstrong with unsubstantiated claims and labels. On Thursday, the blog was limited to invited readers only. According to an Oct. 1 Daily article, the University's Department of Public Safety issued Shirvell a trespass warning on Sept. 14, which bans Shirvell from campus. Armstrong filed for a personal protection order against Shirvell on Sept. 13. The hearing will be held today.
In mid-September, The Michigan Daily first reported on Shirvell's blog, noting its offensive language and unsubstantiated claims. This was shortly followed by a report on WXYZ, Detroit's ABC affiliate. The story gained national attention when it was picked up by CNN's Anderson Cooper last week and was then picked up by news outlets across the nation. The resulting public outrage was overwhelming.
As the Daily predicted in its Sept. 16 editorial condemning Shirvell's hatred, the campus community has seen Shirvell's blog for what it is: the rants of a bigot. But no one could have predicted the strength of the support that the campus community has shown. The Spectrum Center has created shirts sporting the phrase, "Elected by us; Respected by us." And on today's page 3A, you'll see a advertisement supporting Armstrong signed by dozens of campus organizations. Addtionally, the Facebook group "We Support Chris Armstrong" has more than 14,000 members as of Sunday — and it's only one of several groups backing Armstrong and condemning Shirvell.
At their Sept. 16 meeting, the University Board of Regents announced its support of Armstrong, stating that "When one member of our community is targeted, we are all targeted." And last week, several University officials, including University President Mary Sue Coleman, voiced their support for Armstrong. The unity that campus has shown is inspiring. Our community has been strengthened with a shared value of respect.
Armstrong deserves praise for the dignity with which he's handled the affair. At the Sept. 27 MSA meeting, Armstrong stated that he "will not back down" from these types of attacks, according to a Sept. 28 Daily article. The strength of character that Armstrong has displayed is admirable.
Attorney General Mike Cox's character has not been so commendable. Despite public outrage, Cox has failed to properly respond to Shirvell's actions. Cox has argued that Shirvell's words are protected by the First Amendment and the state's civil service laws and that he therefore can't dismiss him. But Cox does have the authority to dismiss Shirvell on the grounds that his behavior qualifies as "conduct unbecoming a state employee." There is no doubt that Shirvell's behavior is unbecoming — as Cox admitted when he appeared on "Anderson Cooper 360" on Wednesday. Though the blog is run on Shirvell’s free time, as a member of the attorney general’s office, he represents the people of Michigan even when he’s not on duty. And his actions have made many people doubt the integrity of the attorney general’s office.
During Cox's interview with Cooper, Cox said that he would consider sending Shirvell to an "employee assistance program" in the event that Armstrong filed for a personal protection order and it was granted. But the kind of hatred that Shirvell harbors for members of the LGBT community can't be countered by an assistance program. Regardless of the outcome of today’s hearing, Cox must take action.
The attorney general has been indecisive for too long. His comments to The Detroit News don't make up for his delay in removing Shirvell from his post. When Shirvell returns from his leave of absence, Cox should not hesitate to dismiss him.