The University of Michigan Board of Regents convened for their final meeting of the year on Thursday at the Richard L. Postma Family Clubhouse to discuss the interim replacement of E. Royster Harper, Vice President for Student Life; the University’s investments in fossil fuels; and rights for student athletes. Community members and students from the One University Campaign and Climate Action Movement protested before, during and after the meeting.
The board approved Simone Taylor, the senior associate vice president for Student Life, as the interim Vice President for Student Life to begin serving in that role on Jan. 18, 2020. Soon after, President Mark Schlissel sent an email to the University community announcing Taylor’s appointment as interim vice president.
In an address to the Board, Regent Katherine White (D) officially named Harper a Vice President Emerita of Student Life and presented a plaque to her in honor of her commitment to the University. Harper thanked her colleagues in her last speech to the board.
“You’ve been such great teachers and healers to so many faculty, staff and students, including me,” Harper said tearfully. “I’ve appreciated our opportunity to share thoughts, counsel and loving energy. We’ve been colleagues and friends, students and teachers.”
Schlissel also announced the new E. Royster Harper Scholarship to provide greater financial aid to University students.
“On a personal level, I can’t imagine a better partner and colleague to work alongside the rest of the executive team and myself in providing an outstanding experience for our students, great mentorship, sage advice, wonderful friendship and collectively we all wish her a long, healthy, happy and joyous retirement,” Schlissel said.
The Regents proceeded to vote down a proposed $50 million dollar investment to Vendera Resources, a company known for its extensive assets in oil and gas production.
Before the vote, Regent Jordan Acker (D) spoke up and motioned to deny the investment. Acker had tweeted the Regents should not make the investment and that doing so would not align with the University’s values.
“Vendera is a company that almost exclusively invests in Oil and Gas drilling and exploration, some of the greatest drivers of climate change,” Acker wrote. “At the very moment that @UMich needs to be pushing away from dirty energy, this is absolutely the wrong path.”
When the board ultimately voted to not invest in Vendera Resources, the room erupted into applause.
Acker then brought up name, image and likeness rights in the NCAA, which allow college athletes to earn money off of things like advertisements or clinics. NCAA athletes are currently not allowed to do this and face potential ineligibility.
He emphasized students at the University who pursue other professions are encouraged to be showcased and do whatever it takes to succeed. He said athletes should be awarded the same rights.
“Allowing name, image and likeness rights helps our athletes,” Acker said. “Throughout this University, we are able to push our students to succeed in their chosen fields. We hold showcases for our musical theatre students, we encourage the recruitment of our students for companies throughout the world, and even work with our students and faculty to allow them to use their ideas to start world-changing businesses. Restriction of these rights to athletes in this context is simply unconscionable.”
After Acker’s statement, public commenters from the community addressed the Regents about divesting from fossil fuels, reaching carbon neutrality and the 1U Campaign. Out of 15 total public commenters, 13 spoke to the Regents about the University’s investments in fossil fuels and what they say is an unequal distribution of resources across the three University campuses.
The majority of public commenters, especially those associated with 1U and CAM, posed a question to the board about the University’s perceived inaction toward reaching carbon neutrality or unwillingness to allocate more resources to the Flint and Dearborn campuses. After asking these questions, the commenters waited for the Regents to respond.
In between speakers, members of CAM and 1U chanted slogans like “empty words but no equitable funding” and “we deserve to be heard.”
Engineering senior Logan Vear, a member of CAM, told the Regents there is a strong link between issues of climate change and 1U’s mission and asked why the Regents have not responded directly to either organizations’ demands after a year of protesting.
“While some of you have expressed sympathy, and even at times support, you have done next to nothing to tangibly act to support our causes. During public comment, you have actively ignored us, looked down at your phones and have left the moment we finish or during our comments as well,” Vear said. “So, we ask, why should we continue to come to Regents meetings if they have been so fruitless over the last year?”
In response to Vear’s question, Regent Shauna Ryder Diggs (D) said most of the Regents do take the public commenters’ arguments into account and sympathize with their views. She noted how even though the organizations’ arguments have been impactful, significant institutional change still takes a while to enact.
“Asking us to give you an answer right this second, I just can’t do that,” Diggs said. “I actually think that you’ve been very effective, because when you first started coming to the Regents meetings and talking individually with each one of us, there was no (President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality). Even doing all of that work, I think is the reason why President Schlissel put together this commission.”
Diggs was the only Regent at the meeting to directly respond to CAM and 1U’s questions.
LSA senior Dim Mang reacted to Diggs’s comment by saying student activists should not have to work tirelessly to receive basic resources and support from the University’s administration.
“You listen to us, but at the same time we shouldn’t have to fight for our own livelihoods day in and day out when U-M is lucky to have these students here,” Mang said. “Our activism isn’t here to window dress your inaction and, frankly, your fear of student power.”