A petition demanding the University of Michigan release the papers of the late Dr. John Tanton, father of the anti-immigration movement, was presented to Tim Lynch, University vice president and general counsel, on Wednesday afternoon.
The petition, titled “Tell the University of Michigan: Stop Hiding White Nationalist’s Papers From The Public,” has more than 3,800 signatures. The petition was created by Law student Kerry Martin in an effort to raise awareness about Tanton’s ties to white nationalism, eugenics and anti-immigrant movements.
Martin originally requested to meet with University President Mark Schlissel regarding the petition, but was scheduled to meet with Lynch instead. Martin rehashed the events of the hour-long private meeting to The Daily, which included presenting the petition to Lynch and arguing why Tanton’s papers should be released immediately to the public.
“This is an issue of University transparency,” Martin said. “This is a public university trying to keep secret papers of the architect of the anti-immigrant movement, a known white nationalist. I told (Lynch) that keeping it secret is depriving immigrant rights activists and civil rights activists of an opportunity to draw more clearly the line between the University’s current anti-administration policies and the racist xenophobic rhetoric that would be found in those papers.”
The petition was written earlier this year and calls on the University to limit “the spread of white supremacist ideology across the country and prevent further erosion of our democracy.” Martin and petition supporters argue that the University is using taxpayer dollars and University resources to keep Tanton’s papers secret from the public. After a legal battle spanning almost three years, the University is bringing the case to the Michigan Supreme Court.
Law student Angela Theodoropoulos also attended Wednesday’s meeting. She recalled Lynch could not discuss specific legal matters related to the case, but made it clear his positions were being stated on behalf of his client, which is the University.
“It seemed that (Lynch) was trying to convey that he has a duty of zealous advocacy on behalf of his client, the University, and the library,” Theodoropoulos said. “And so, even if his beliefs are different, or the University’s beliefs are different, (there) might be reasons in terms of wanting to acquire excellent papers that could be used later that could fuel one’s hypothetical position.”
Martin said that during the meeting, Lynch questioned both him and Theodoropoulos on their own ideological perspectives in regards to the case and gave hypotheticals as a way to attempt to challenge their view on the case. The sealed Tanton papers and the records of a beloved civil rights activist or a liberal Supreme Court justice, Martin said, are not comparable.
“The same reasons for releasing the Tanton papers shouldn’t apply in those circumstances, partly based on the law and the shadiness with which the University has gone about defending the secrecy of these papers, but also partly based on a belief that we have that the law really does take into account public interest,” Martin said. “There’s public interest at question (and) at stake when you’re concealing papers belonging to a racist white nationalist whose biased xenophobic views are currently fueling horrific policies out of Washington. The stakes are different, the interests are different, and that matters.”
Theodoropoulos echoed Martin’s sentiment and explained she hopes the University will be more transparent with its stances on similar issues in the future.
“The University can’t really speak out of both sides of its mouth very fairly, and I think that that’s something that I think both Kerry and I want to see the University sort of reconcile their position on that, and be held more accountable in terms of being transparent,” Theodoropoulos said. “Of course, there’s a bit of a tension there, because we obviously have different interests at stake.”
University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen confirmed the subject of the meeting with The Daily, in an email interview, and also emphasized while this case is pending trial, the University cannot comment on the petition or action steps following the Wednesday meeting.
“As you know, this is a legal matter and will be handled in the courts,” Broekhuizen wrote.“…(P)ending trial or other legal developments the closed portions of this collection will remain closed.”