At the University of Michigan Central Student Government meeting Tuesday night, students, faculty and community members came together to discuss a resolution opposing the University’s new felony notification policy, which has spurred controversy on campus over the past month. Guest speakers also discussed the One University Campaign, a coalition working to make all three University campuses more equitable.
The University implemented an amendment requiring faculty, staff, student employees, volunteers and visiting scholars to provide notification if they are charged with or convicted of a felony crime. They must notify the University within one week of a charge or conviction occurring on or after Feb. 1, 2019.
Once the University is notified, University Human Resources will process each post-employment case using a process similar to the school’s current pre-employment background screening procedure. According to the website, when going over each case, HR will focus on the nature and gravity of the offense, the timeliness and accuracy of the disclosure and the relevancy to the role held at the University.
HR’s statement explains the policy is meant to preserve a safe University community.
“Information about a faculty or staff member’s criminal activity helps the University maintain a safe community and prevent putting people at risk of harm,” the statement reads.
At the CSG meeting, the Carceral State Project, an initiative focused on issues of mass incarceration and immigration detention in Michigan, had representatives speak against the University’s new policy. In an open letter to the University, the Carceral State Project describes how they believe the policy has negative social and economic consequences for those on campus.
“Taken together, these policies promote over-criminalization rather than public safety, reinforce the racial and economic inequalities in the criminal justice system and on our campus and have other devastating collateral consequences,” the letter reads.
Community member Patrick Bates, who spent 17 years in prison, described his personal disappointment with the University after hearing about the new policy.
“At a very young age I caught a felony, and due to that, I couldn’t get any job, I couldn’t get into really good schools or anything like that …” Bates said. “I’ve been trying to better myself and I’ve been coming up here three times a week from Detroit, and I hear about this (the new policy); I’m just so appalled about what’s going on with this policy … I know while I was inside, I got an associate’s degree and I did everything I could to better myself, and I came home and the conversation we had was for me to come home and come to the University of Michigan and do the right thing. But, now with this policy that’s being enforced, what am I supposed to do?”
Ashley Lucas, associate professor of theatre and drama, also spoke about the new felony policy. She described how at last Wednesday’s town hall meeting, many faculty and staff members thanked her for what she and others are doing to push back against the policy. However, her colleagues said they would not sign the open letter against the new policy due to their fear of losing their jobs.
“One of the things that’s really frightening about this policy is that it has frightened so many of the people that care about you as students on campus,” Lucas said. “So, the only reason that I’m here tonight is to support the student voice … but I’m also here to represent the people that told me they were too frightened to speak.”
CSG Vice President Isabel Baer said she heard that the new policy was partially created in response to faculty who have been accused of sexual assault charges. If the University chose not to implement the policy, she asked the proponents of the resolution what solutions they had to address faculty members accused of committing sexual assault.
In response, Public Health junior Zoe Gerstle, a member of the Prison Creative Arts Project, described how she believed the University should discuss with experts on how to best deal with issues of sexual misconduct, rather than suggesting this new felony notification policy as the main solution.
“It’d be great if they (the University) consulted the experts at this university who study things like this,” Gerstle said. “They could create a policy that’s going to be more effective, as opposed to just handing something down. So we don’t necessarily have an answer on how to deal with sexual misconduct at this University, but a great start would be opening it up to the community forum to see what people have to say who are experts on this.”
Shifting gears, guest speakers from 1U discussed the drastic disparities among the Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn campuses, financially and demographically.
According to the group’s presentation, the median family income for University students in Ann Arbor is $154,000, compared to $84,000 in Dearborn and $77,000 in Flint. In addition, there is a large gap in the percentage of students eligible to receive the Federal Pell Grant at each campus, a grant in which the government provides funding for students in need of financial support for college. According to the presenters, in Ann Arbor, 15 percent of students are eligible for the grant, compared to the 39 percent eligible in Flint, and 42 percent in Dearborn.
To resolve these issues, LSA junior Sharif-Ahmed Krabti and members of the campaign proposed several solutions. One was to ask the state to equalize funding for all three campuses. Another was to encourage the University’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative to donate funding to the other campuses, seeing that out of the $85 million funneled into the program over the past few years, none of the money was dedicated toward Dearborn or Flint, according to Krabti.
“I think there’s a duty for Ann Arbor students here on this campus who are closest to the administration to really speak up the loudest about this issue,” Krabti said.
When asked about what suggestions the Assembly had to promote equality across all three campuses, LSA freshman Sujin Kim, CSG Ethics Committee chair, responded by encouraging the group to spread awareness of these disparities among the student body.
“So, telling people what the actual deal is, because people are just operating entirely off of assumption, or at least I’ll just speak for myself because I was operating entirely off of assumption, so getting information out … and telling people what the deal is would be your good first step,” Kim said.
Further along in the community concerns portion of the meeting, John Meluso, guest speaker and engineering doctoral student, described his disapproval with students’ chants to the Michigan Marching Band’s song “Temptation.” After attending a football game last year, he felt upset upon hearing the line, “You suck, bitch,” claiming the chant made community members feel unsafe.
“I want to make sure that it’s clear that that kind of language in such a public form is not acceptable,” Meluso said. “I’ve spoken to more than a dozen people from minority backgrounds … and they’ve all communicated to me that they feel unsafe in an environment like that, that it doesn’t reflect well on the University, and that they would like to see change in that.”
He said he is proposing to keep the tune of “Temptation” and encourages the marching band to continue to play it as it upholds tradition, but would like to change the lyrics that currently go along with the song.