Public commenters address Regents about STEM funding, pedestrian safety

Thursday, September 19, 2019 - 9:16pm

Public commenters at the University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting Thursday afternoon addressed issues relating to pedestrian safety, wrongful child abuse convictions and funding for STEM programs, among other concerns. 

Multiple commenters expressed concern about the Title IX complaint regarding Black Girls Code, a summer coding program at Wayne State University. In February, University of Michigan-Flint professor Mark Perry filed a claim against Wayne State in the fall of 2018 alleging the school violates Title IX by holding a summer workshop aimed solely at girls. In response, Williams and about 15 other National Action Network members demonstrated outside the home of University President Mark Schlissel to call for Perry’s firing. 

Charles Williams II, president of the Michigan chapter of NAN, addressed the Regents about Perry’s claim and representation in STEM fields. Williams pointed out the lack of racial diversity in the University’s STEM programs and urged the University to take immediate action against Perry. 

“If you begin to investigate the graduate programs in STEM and in other disciplines, you will see rarely African Americans admitted into your programs,” Williams said. “We know the University of Michigan fought hard for affirmative action … but what we don’t know is if their commitment is sincere. Where is the University of Michigan’s footing in Detroit?”

Josh Mack, University alum and NAN member, emphasized Williams’s points and shared his own experience at the University as a doctoral student in the early 1970s. Mack said he faced social and economic challenges as a black student and added that he hoped the University would continue supporting STEM programs, including those that reach out to minority groups. 

“Our Constitution of the United States is designed to make our country a more perfect union,” Mack said. “With the STEM program, if we continue to support the STEM program and the Bridge program and the (Women in Science and Engineering) program, it continues to make the University of Michigan a more perfect learning institution.”

Community members involved with Torn Family, an organization dedicated to overturning false convictions of Shaken Baby Syndrome, addressed the Regents about cases related to University hospitals. 

Douglas Smith, a retired professor of pathology at the University and a board member of Torn Family, called on the University to hold a formal discussion about wrongful child abuse convictions in an academic and scientific setting. Smith said although LSA and the Law School held a day-long conference a few years ago to address the issue of Shaken Baby Syndrome, representatives from the Medical School refused to participate. 

“The courtroom is a terrible place to have a scientific or medical debate,” Smith said. “We need to have academic platforms for debate. But as long these faculties refuse to acknowledge that there is something to debate, it won’t happen … This Board would be doing a great service for the education of doctors and the safety of families if this debate were to happen.”

Melissa Geers, a community member, shared her experience with child abuse pediatricians and wrongful allegations. Geers said her family was “torn apart” four and a half years ago by allegations of child abuse and asked that the University reevaluate how it handles cases relating to child abuse or neglect. 

“There is a breakdown in the system that is put in place to protect children,” Geers said. “I am here to ask U-M to be part of the change and put systems in place that ensure you do not tear apart innocent families in hopes to find guilty ones. Psychologists say the most traumatizing thing that can happen to a child is removed from their home … This event became the event that defined (my children).”

LSA junior Amytess Girgis spoke about the One University campaign, which was discussed at both the May and July Board of Regents meetings. Girgis expressed frustration with what she claimed was inaction on the part of the University to distribute resources equitably across the three U-M campuses.

“The (Dearborn and Flint) students are consistently lower-income, consistently students of color and consistently underfunded and under supported by the faculty of the University of Michigan, who have ample resources to put into the Dearborn and Flint campuses,” Girgis said. “The reason why I’m here today is because countless Flint and Dearborn students are either working two jobs or don’t have a car and were not able to make it today as a result, oftentimes, of the inconsistent support given to them by this University.”

In an interview with The Daily after the meeting, Girgis said in previous communications from the Regents had contained multiple inaccuracies about students on the Flint and Dearborn campuses. Girgis said this statement pushed 1U advocates to campaign more vigorously for their demands. 

“In making a statement that we are not going anywhere, that statement has not deterred us in any way,” Girgis said. “In fact, (it) encouraged us. Because the fact that they put out those falsehoods means they really don’t have much else to say about our extremely valid arguments that are gaining momentum across these three campuses.”

Multiple public commenters also raised concerns about low visibility and unsafe conditions on the roads near the West Ann Arbor Health Center. 

Gayle Turner, a community member, called on the University to make the roads safer and build walkable sidewalks between Jackson Road and the WAAHC. 

“It is a very high-risk situation where there is no room for error,” Turner said.

 

Correction: A previous version of this article stated Perry filed a lawsuit against Black Girls Code, when it was a Title IX complaint filed in the fall of 2018.