University officials have proposed changes to a highly criticized policy that has prohibited an estimated 2,000 people from stepping foot on the Ann Arbor campus in the last decade.
At a press briefing Friday, Suellyn Scarnecchia, the vice president and general counsel at the University, described six changes she is proposing to the University’s current trespass warning policy. The rule, which was developed 10 years ago, allows University Police to ban individuals from campus.
Among the proposed changes are a narrowing of what trespass warnings may be issued for, additional administrative review of issued trespass warnings, a faster appeals review process and the implementation of timelines under which trespass orders would expire.
Scarnecchia also proposed variations that would strengthen the power of trespass warnings. She said bans should be enforced on all three of the University’s campuses, not just the campus where the incident occurs.
The review of the Department of Public Safety’s current policy, according to Scarnecchia, was prompted after a University faculty member, who had been issued a trespass warning, raised concerns and after the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union decried the trespass policy issued against former Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell. Shirvell created the blog “Chris Armstrong Watch,” which accused Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong of putting forth a “radical homosexual agenda” in the student government, in addition to calling him a racist and elitist.
Currently, four criteria exist for when University Police may read a trespass warning: when an individual has committed or is suspected of committing a crime on campus, when an individual disrupts the operations of the University, when an individual poses a risk of physical harm to others or when an individual refuses to adhere to University rules.
Scarnecchia is recommending the last reason be amended to limit the scope of when a trespass warning may be issued to situations in which an individual refuses to adhere to University rules that “protect the health, safety and welfare of the University’s community members and property.”
“(We want) to link it to protection of the community’s safety and not to just any University rule, which could be read too broadly,” Scarnecchia said.
Scarnecchia is also recommending a more streamlined review process be put in place once a trespass warning has been issued. She’s proposing that all DPS officers must submit notice to their shift supervisor whenever they issue a trespass warning so that the supervisor may review it and recommend modification or rescission of it to the DPS executive director if the supervisor believes it is warranted.
“There’s nothing in the policy that required that, and we think that a second pair of eyes on the issuance of the trespass warning within a very short period of time … will help ensure consistency across the department,” Scarnecchia said.
Additionally, Scarnecchia is asking that all hearings of appeals be scheduled within 30 days of an appeal being filed and that the outcome of the meetings be decided within 10 days thereafter.
Currently, no time limit exists for appeals of trespass warnings. Some have suggested a procedure in which an automatic appeal be filed each time a trespass warning is issued, though Scarnecchia said she doesn’t know whether such a process would be in anyone’s best interest.
“I’m going to be open to that conversation and whether or not that ought to happen, but … sometimes people understand why they’re being trespassed and they are not inclined to appeal,” Scarnecchia said, mentioning other circumstances like criminal charges might also be a reason why individuals may not want to appeal their trespass warning.
People have also raised concerns over the appeal process because only the executive director of DPS or his or her designee can hear appeals. Critics have said the practice is not as accountable as an independent body like the DPS Oversight Committee — an advisory board of students, faculty and staff — reviewing appeals or having the appeals reviewed by a University office separate from DPS.
Scarnecchia is also proposing that a time restriction be placed on trespass orders, which would allow individuals back on campus once a set period of time had passed. Currently, trespass warning bans impose a life-long ban from campus, unless appealed and modified by the executive director of DPS.
“One of the biggest weakness in our current policy is that there is no time limit on the trespass warnings,” Scarnecchia said. “I think one of the problems has been that we haven’t done regular reviews. So once the warnings have been issued, they’ve sat in a database somewhere, and no one has looked at them again unless the person who receives the warning comes back and requests a change.”
Though Scarnecchia said putting a time limit on trespass warnings would be beneficial, she said it is unclear what type of limit may be implemented, since people concerned about the policy have varying perspectives and some incidents are more extreme than others. However, individuals with pending criminal cases would not be subject to the time limit while their cases are ongoing.
Other proposed policy changes would expand DPS’s ability to enforce trespass warnings by implementing the warnings at all University campuses instead of at the campus where they were issued.
“We did not have a good statement in the policy of the coordination of the three policies between Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn,” Scarnecchia said.
When the University’s Board of Regents met in Flint, Mich. last year for one of its monthly meetings, an individual banned from the University’s Ann Arbor campus due to a trespass warning was permitted to address the regents because she wasn’t explicitly banned from the Flint campus. Though the office that coordinates regents meetings approved the speaker in advance, Scarnecchia said the example showed the lack of clarity in the policy.
“There’s a lot of confusion about whether (trespass warnings) could be enforced at other campuses,” Scarnecchia said.
Scarnecchia said she is proposing is a clarification in language to emphasize the University’s commitment to its policies on freedom of speech and artistic expression.
“We want to have, sort of upfront and center in the policy, the acknowledgement that we care about (these policies), and the policy should be administered in the context of those other policies,” Scarnecchia said.
It is unclear how the policy proposals would affect about 2,000 people who have already received trespass warnings at the University’s Ann Arbor campus. Asked if the policy changes would be implemented retroactively, Scarnecchia said she’s not sure whether the University would be able to contact everyone on the list to inform them of a change to their trespass warnings.
The proposed changes have not yet been formally approved. Scarnecchia said she wants to collect input from the University community before she discusses the changes with the University’s executive officers. As part of this, Scarnecchia said she will be meeting with several faculty and student groups on campus, the University’s and state’s chapters of the ACLU and representatives from University Police on the Flint and Dearborn campuses.
After the changes are finalized, Scarnecchia will submit the final proposal to DPS for formal adoption and implementation. Scarnecchia said she hopes the final proposals can be officially adopted by May.