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The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs met on Monday afternoon to discuss the bathroom policy for transgender students it passed last week, hoping to expand the resolution. The board also welcomed Cynthia Wilbanks, the University of Michigan’s vice president of government relations, to discuss the Freedom of Information Act.
Last meeting, the board passed a bathroom policy that allows for members of the community to use the bathrooms they feel match their gender identity. SACUA derived its policy from the one in place at Oberlin College, but modified it slightly to include its own wording, while still capturing the essence of the other college’s policy. For this meeting, the members expanded their discussion to pinpoint more ways they could further provide for the LGBTQ community.
SACUA member Robert Ortega, associate professor of social work, weighed in on the bathroom policy and suggested expansion of it.
“Suppose I were to say bathroom were a metaphor for all facilities, showers, sports,” Ortega said. “If the idea is to create a safe space, why are we limiting it to the bathroom?”
Another SACUA member Michael Atzmon, professor of engineering, added his own concerns over the bathroom policy, worrying people in the University of Michigan community were not educated on transgender rights.
“I’m not sure people are sufficiently educated about these issues,” he said. “Just go on the internet and see what’s being said about this.”
Further concerns were voiced from SACUA Chair Bill Schultz, an engineering professor, who worried non-transgender individuals would take advantage of the bathroom policy for “shenanigans.” After the meeting, in an interview, Schultz described how the decision to modify the resolution from last week was reached.
“We passed it sort of on the fly last week and we didn’t pass it as much as approve it to be put forward to the Senate Assembly one week from today,” he explained, saying that it was not yet an official rule that has been instated on campus.
Schultz also added there was no external pressure from any community to bring forward this policy — SACUA decided to bring up the issue on its own.
“We thought it was important enough to protect an important group in the community,” he said. “We weren’t reached out to by the affected community. I think that they are a silent, sort of not-seen community for the most part and I’m sure if we went to the Spectrum Center we’d find out more. I have been an ally of the Spectrum Center — I didn't get my full training unfortunately — but you know I think we wanted to just make a strong support in these uncertain times when we seem to be losing some of the gains we made in the LGBTQ community.”
Wilbanks then entered as a guest speaker to help bridge the gap of understanding between the University government relations and SACUA’s agenda.
Wilbanks debriefed SACUA on activities at the University’s Federal Relations Office, describing how they are aiming to devote more endowment funds to lower student tuition and prevent future debt.
She also explained FOIA, a federal law that requires public institutions to respond to requests for the release of information. The state FOIA, however, is different from federal FOIA.
The conversation about FOIA requests stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy against the University for not releasing University President Mark Schlissel’s emails in a timely manner. The Center hoped the release of emails that contained the word “Trump” would shed light on his decision to speak in support of Democratic students, claiming he created a negative atmosphere for students who supported President Donald Trump.
“FOIA requests are coming into the University … sports and athletics are one of the areas where there is a great deal of interest,” Wilbanks said. “A fair amount of FOIA requests are related to procurement like ‘see the bid documents’ or work that was done to construction sites.”