Within 30 seconds of University President Mark Schlissel commencing the University’s Board of Regents meeting in the Michigan Union’s Anderson Room, protesters from By Any Means Necessary stormed the regents’ meeting table while shouting, “On-site admissions now; open up, or we’ll shut it down.”
Tables were displaced as the protesters ran forward, drawing a response from Division of Public Safety and Security officers present at the meeting. Some protesters were tackled to the ground, handcuffed and escorted from the room.
Officers made eight arrests, one of which was a University student, according to DPSS spokesperson Diane Brown. Seven of these individuals, including the University student, were adults who have been released pending an arrest warrant from the county prosecutor. The eighth, a minor, has been transported to a juvenile detention center.
BAMN is a national coalition that works to defend affirmative action, immigrant rights and equality. The University’s chapter of BAMN previously shut down a regents meeting in November, where they demanded the University exercise on-site admissions at Detroit schools.
During that meeting, the regents relocated the session to the Fleming Administration Building.
BAMN had been threatening to shut down the regents meeting throughout the week, handing out fliers across campus to advertise the pending demonstration.
As the police responded during the event, one fallen protester yelled, “I can’t breathe.” Another screamed at the police to let her fellow protesters go.
Ultimately, all BAMN protesters were expelled from the meeting, and those who were not arrested continued to protest in the hallways of the Union adjacent to the Anderson Room.
Those remaining also yelled “Let them go” — perhaps in reference to the arrested protesters.
The regularly scheduled regents meeting continued as planned after police escorted protesters out of the room.
In November, BAMN forced the regents to relocate their meeting by employing similar methods — demanding the University exercise on-site admissions at Detroit schools and calling for the University to employ the “Texas Top 10 Percent” admissions policy, which administrators have said would not be feasible for the University.
At the time, the board moved to a closed meeting in the Fleming Administration Building for “public safety reasons,” raising questions about the University’s compliance with the Open Meetings Act.
In response to the November incident, the University strengthened security measures during the meetings, primarily by staffing the meetings with uniformed DPSS officers as opposed to those wearing plainclothes. The meeting rooms were also equipped with security cameras and the tables were rearranged to prevent protesters from approaching the regents’ table.
Additionally, a sign in the entrance to each regents meeting now reads, “The University of Michigan recognizes the right of dissent, but we also recognize the right of speakers to be heard.”
“I certainly respect the right of the group to speak up and tell us their opinion about something important,” Schlissel said in an interview with The Michigan Daily after the November meeting. “I’m disappointed that they chose to disrupt the meeting, but we were able to conduct the business of the University in this separate venue as needed.”
Toward the end of the Thursday’s regents meeting, both Schlissel and a number of regents expressed their frustration with the protest.
Regent Mark Bernstein (D), who previously served as the chair of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission and helped established the Michigan Civil Rights Academy, said the protest did a disservice to the cause of diversity on campus.
“On a personal level, I am deeply frustrated and disappointed in some of our students and other people, not because it was moderately disruptive, but because they are so misguided and damaging an important cause,” he said.
Black undergraduate enrollment at the University has hovered around 4 percent in recent years. Aside from BAMN, other groups have lobbied for increased diversity on campus. In January 2014, members of the University’s Black Student Union called on the University to address undergraduate minority enrollment, among other issues. In addition to campus activism, the BSU has opted to work with administrators to implement changes, whereas BAMN has largely focused on protest. In November, E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, said BAMN had not attempted to schedule a meeting with University officials.
Regent Andrea Fischer Newman (R) said she, too, was disappointed in the protest and added that BAMN’s demonstration turned the narrative away from important issues.
“I don’t think rushing the table and storming the meeting helps make the point,” she said in an interview after the meeting.
Schlissel echoed this sentiment, calling for constructive dialogue and plugging the launch of a University-wide diversity plan. Schlissel has said he plans to announce details in the fall.
“I hope we continue to work together to construct some civil discourse and constructive action,” he said. “The University’s commitment to diversity does not waver.”