In its final meeting of the winter semester, the Senate Assembly voiced its opinions on recently proposed state legislation targeted at public university policy.

The legislation was part of a budget recommendation passed three weeks ago by the state House Appropriations Subcommittee for Higher Education that seeks to prohibit state universities from working with nonprofit organizations that show public opposition to a Michigan business.

Senate Assembly member John Carson, an associate professor of history, said the proposed legislation is invasive and directed at a specific program within the University’s School of Social Work.

“(The legislation) seemed to be a direct intrusion into internal affairs, an attack on a placement program from the School of Social Work and completely problematic,” Carson said.

Carson said the lawmakers proposing the budget recommendation are upset with the program’s affiliation with the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan, a Detroit-based nonprofit organization that represents restaurant workers in Southeastern Michigan.

The Michigan Restaurant Association, which supports the state’s hospitality industry, brought the relationship to the attention of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Higher Education earlier this year, the Lansing State Journal reported on April 6.

In his testimony to the committee, Justin Winslow, the MRA’s vice president of government affairs, criticized the program for its relationship with ROC-Michigan, according to the Journal.

“They have what we believe to be a really inappropriate relationship with this organization,” Winslow said. “And while this organization fully has the right to exist and to pursue whatever goals it wants, we just don’t believe those goals should involve public taxpayers dollars.”

State Rep. Bob Genetski (R-Saugatuck), chair of the subcommittee, told the Journal he doesn’t want to allow students to receive academic credit for activities “that will ill affect Michigan businesses.”

Senate Assembly member Karen Staller, an associate professor of social work, alleged that the recommendation was in reaction to incidents of student organizing while participating in the program.

“Apparently, some sort of protest or some sort of community-organizing that was happening with students there is what the Legislature is reacting to,” Staller said.

Senate Assembly member Ed Rothman, a statistics professor, said a response from the faculty body to the state government should be broad and focus on the University’s independence rather than a reaction to the specific legislation.

“I hope that if we have a response, it will not have too narrow a focus on this particular issue; that we say we are an autonomous unit, get off our backs,” Rothman said.

Rothman added that the University should work with other institutions in the state to increase efforts to overturn the targeted legislation.

“Perhaps we could have a bigger impact if we come together with other schools and colleges to formulate a particular position that says we are independent, autonomous organizations,” Rothman said.

Barbara Garavaglia, chair of the Senate Assembly’s Government Relations Advisory Committee, said the University is working on publicizing its image as a research institution to avoid similar legislative issues in the future.

“We have to be cognizant of the fact that state legislature is comprised of men and women who are from Michigan — many in smaller areas all around the state — and one of the things we are looking at is to discuss ways in which we can have more of a PR presence in the state,” Garavaglia said.

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