Carrying signs and shouting “Open it up, or shut it down,” about two dozen members of the organization By Any Means Necessary shut down the University’s Board of Regents monthly meeting Thursday afternoon.
The protesters pushed past barriers intended to separate the public from the table of regents and University’s executive officers inside the Union’s Anderson Room. They refused to be seated after interrupting remarks by recently inaugurated Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor just a few minutes into the meeting.
“The University of Michigan can no longer ignore the growing segregation and intense hostility towards minority and women students unless they want a rude awakening on this campus,” BAMN organizer Jose Alvarenga said during the protest. “Actions speak louder than words.”
Several security officers struggled to hold protesters behind the ropes. Both plain-clothed and uniformed officers stood with their arms stretched out, at times pressing against the small crowd to keep them from approaching the boardroom table. After a few minutes of protest, University President Mark Schlissel asked if the students would step back from the rope, but apart from those comments, the University did not directly ask the protesters to sit down or stop chanting.
After staying for a few minutes of the protest, the regents and executive officers left the room at the recommendation of public safety officers. According to DPSS spokesperson Diane Brown, additional officers were dispatched to the Union but made no arrests or ejections.
BAMN — a national organization that advocates on behalf of affirmative action and immigration rights, among other issues — held a press conference near the entrance of the Union before the meeting and rallied on campus earlier this month, listing several demands directed toward the University’s administration.
Most prominently, BAMN has criticized the University for failing to increase minority enrollment. According to the Office of the Registrar, the University’s population of underrepresented minority students remained roughly stagnant over the past year, totaling just above 10 percent.
After about an hour, Schlissel reconvened the meeting inside the Regents Room in the Fleming Administration Building, noting the meeting had been adjourned for “public safety reasons” and a transcript of the reconvened portion would be posted online.
“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 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.”
The meeting in Fleming lasted about 10 minutes. The board quickly voted to approve the renovation projects listed on the November agenda, including schematic designs for the David M. Dennison Building and the new Biological Science Building.
Though staff members of the University’s Office of Public Affairs alerted the media to the venue change and noted a transcript of the meeting would be made available to the public, a general announcement regarding the venue change was not made inside the Anderson Room.
The University maintains that relocating the meeting did not violate Michigan’s Open Meetings Act, which specifies that decisions of public bodies — like the University’s Board of Regents — must be made at a meeting open to the public.
Across Regents Plaza, signs on the Administration Building doors read, “The building is LOCKED.” Security officials initially declined entry to Michigan Daily reporters until a regent told the officers to permit entry.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald confirmed that only news media were allowed into the meeting.
Apart from the regents and executive officers, the only members of the public present inside the Regents Room were members of the media, Central Student Government President Bobby Dishell, a Public Policy senior, and public affairs staff.
Though the Open Meetings Act says meetings must be held “in a place available to the public,” it is likely the University could have legally excluded the protesters from entering the new meeting location. The law states, “A person shall not be excluded from a meeting otherwise open to the public except for a breach of the peace actually committed at the meeting.”
After the regents had left the Anderson Room, BAMN group members shouted their demands to a half empty room for more than an hour. The group later marched toward the Student Activities Building, which houses the University’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions, and continued chanting as they moved up and down streets near the Union.
BAMN has called on the University to adopt a “10 percent plan,” similar to a policy in Texas, where the top 10 percent of every in-state high school graduating class is guaranteed admission to any of the state’s public institutions.
In addition to increasing minority enrollment, BAMN has demanded the University improve transparency related to sexual assault allegations.
“We don’t want to wait another year to see the results of another failure of another committee, another failure of another language campaign, and see those numbers of minority enrollment drop again like they have been doing over the last five to 10 years,” Alvarenga said at a press conference before the meeting.
He said the efforts the University has made in response to their other requests have been inadequate.
“The University’s solutions for this year are the same solutions the administration has been giving for years and years at this University,” he said. “They have just created more campaigns about inclusion but in reality they don’t address the real problem, which is that drop of minority enrollment.”
In an interview after the meeting, E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, said the board was trying to listen, but BAMN made it difficult.
“I was disappointed,” she said. “They are talking about issues that are important to us, but in a way that makes it hard for them to be heard. I’m not going to hear you if I’m scared that you are going to hurt me. I’m just not going to hear it. That is the downside of the strategy.”
BAMN has not requested a meeting with administrators, Harper said.
“If you want to sit down and talk about the issue we can create an environment to do that to,” Harper said. “This isn’t a situation where people have asked for a conversation and they have been refused.
“Beyond the noise and the chanting, very little got accomplished,” she said.
According to Dishell, the only involvement CSG has had with BAMN was funding a bus for them to travel to Washington, D.C. a few years ago.
“My experience working with them, they don’t necessarily want to work with someone as much as use them as a platform and there is not really a lot of give and take there,” Dishell said. “I don’t see us having a strong working relationship with them in the future.”
In an interview with The Daily after the protest, BAMN organizer Kate Stenvig, a University alum, said she thinks the group got their message across.
“We won’t accept another year of false promises,” Stenvig said. “We want results now.”