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Public comments on the University of Michigan’s alleged response to anti-Semitic acts on campus, the renovations to University recreational facilities and new administrative appointments led the conversation at the February Board of Regents meeting Thursday.
The meeting marked the board’s first public convening in 2017. Regents Shauna Ryder Diggs (D), Mark Bernstein (D) and newly elected Ron Weiser (R) phoned into the meeting, while Regent Denise Ilitch (D) was not present in order attend the funeral of her father, prominent Detroit businessman Mike Ilitch.
Response to anti-Semitic acts
In both public comment sessions of the meeting, students and community members criticized University President Mark Schlissel’s response to the racist and anti-Semitic emails sent earlier this month. Engineering and computer science students were sent emails from a hacker posing as University faculty. The emails expressed anti-Black and anti-Semitic sentiments. Speakers conveyed the common sentiment that Schlissel did not respond to the threats toward African Americans and Jews on campus with enough force.
Eugene Greenstein, former president of the Zionist Organization of America-Michigan Region, said in the past, the University has routinely failed to condemn anti-Semitism on campus. Nearly all the speakers also brought up demonstrations put on by Palestinian student advocacy group Students Allied for Freedom and Equality as a part of #UMDivest, a movement calling on the University to divest from human rights violations in Israel.
“It’s three strikes and you’re out, except if you’re targeting Jewish students at the University of Michigan,” Greenstein said. “In that case, the record is clear that the University administration will remain silent and take no action.”
In response to Greenstein’s comments, Schlissel reiterated previous statements denouncing both racism and anti-Semitism as unacceptable on campus.
“Bigotry of any kind is unacceptable in our community and I’ve said so countless times,” Schlissel said. “Bigotry includes bigotry on the basis of race, ethnicity and on religion. Anti-Semitism is not tolerated here or elsewhere and should not be.”
Despite these remarks, community speakers continued to step up reaffirm the previous statements. Sheldon Freilich, parent to University students, outlined four steps he said the University should take to reverse “double standards” when responding to anti-Semitism.
“Concrete steps that this University should take include the following four,” he said. “Disciplinary measures for those who commit anti-Semitic bigotry, publicly and forcefully labeling incidents that are explicitly anti-Semitic … educating teachers and students about the dangers of anti-Semitism … and informing all students of the school’s procedures and policies when seeking redress for incidents of discrimination and harassment.”
In his address to the board earlier in the meeting, LSA senior David Schafer, president of Central Student Government, said students on campus who were not affected by recent attacks contribute to an attitude of apathy.
“This is something that we can and must address in some form or another if we hope to empower more students to become allies,” he said. “An offense against any member of the Michigan community is an offense against all. When one student or one community is made to feel unsafe … that must matter to all of us, even if it’s not someone that we know.”
The executive board of the Black Student Union attended the event, wearing all black in solidarity. LSA sophomore Jesse Love, political actions chair of the Black Student Union, said the University’s response was inadequate and measurable action must be taken.
“We want to the University to know, although we couldn’t get a speaking time, that our presence is definitely something that’s going to be felt and that this is an issue that we have with the University,” he said. “Obviously it’s not every day that we come to Regents meetings, but we felt it was specifically necessary that we come to this meeting so that they can see that their inaction did not go unnoticed.”
Recreation Facility Changes
The Regents approved $21 million in renovations to the Bennie Oosterbaan Field House, among other construction plans. The project consists of building a 32,000-square-foot performance center within the fieldhouse for use by the football program. Additionally, the plan calls for a 5,000-square-foot mezzanine level to be created. Other renovations, such as upgrading heating and ventilation, will also be made to address safety concerns.
Prior to the plan’s approval, Business junior Nate Fisher, president of the men’s club rugby team, asked the Regents to delay the project. Fisher spoke on behalf of the 31 club sports teams at the University, citing that almost a third of these teams utilize Oosterbaan for practice and competition. The construction, he said, would hurt their programs.
“The reduction of Oosterbaan translates to fewer hours of practice to refine skills, fewer scrimmages to prepare against opponents, fewer games and less time to become a team that is capable of upholding the prestige expected of students at the University,” he said.
Fisher noted club sports allow students to gain leadership skills and interact with alumni and administration. He cited that in recent years, teams that practice in Oosterbaan have attended National Championships 25 times and won five titles.
“Oosterbaan is very valuable due to its size and indoor benefits,” he said. “Seven out of the nine teams require a space the same size as Oosterbaan with a similar ceiling height to play sanctioned games, and together we play approximately 35 games. The renovated indoor track building that (the University Athletic Department) described will not meet these league standards or have the additional run-off room on the sidelines for safety.”
Among other things, Fisher noted that, if the capacity of Oosterbaan is reduced, as suggested by the proposal, only one team could practice safety at a time.
The Regents made two major administrative appointments Thursday afternoon.
Kallie Bila Michels was appointed full-time vice president for communications. After serving as associate vice president for communications since 2008, Michels will take on the role of chief communications officer, working with the Board of Regents and other executive officers to organize communications and marketing-related initiatives. She will also oversee the University’s social media outlets.
The action request signed by Schlissel said Michels will be responsible for enhancing the university’s reputation and visibility locally, nationally, and internationally. It will also work to position and differentiate the University among leading institutions of higher education.
The board also confirmed Elizabeth B. Moje as dean of the School of Education. Moje is currently serving as interim dean and teaches classes in secondary and adolescent literacy, cultural theory and research methods. Her research focuses on youth literacy in Detroit, specifically addressing the intersection of disciplinary literacies of school and literacy in and out of school.
The action request signed by Interim Provost Paul Courant, in his first official appearance before the board as interim provost, says Moje’s “enthusiasm and dedication” to the School of Education is evident in all her work.
Michels assumes her position on Feb. 17, while Moje’s appointment takes effect on March 1.