Dissatisfaction with University purchasing policies has led President Mary Sue Coleman to take action.

Coleman recently formed the Task Force on Purchasing Ethics and Policies. In a written statement she instructed the task force to review current purchasing policies and report back whether or not they are consistent with the University’s core values and principles.

Task force membership includes three professors, four University staff members, and two students.

The task force has been working closely with Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality, a group dedicated to social justice issues.

SOLE member Michael Meadow said he feels optimistic about the task force.

“We have met four times and my initial impressions are very positive. I feel like (almost) everyone on the task force feels engaged with our task and has good intentions about it. I’m confident that we can produce a workable Ethical Purchasing Policy that everybody can be proud of,” Meadows said.

“We’ll know whether we’ve done enough after we’ve produced a draft policy and put it into action. In my opinion, we will have not done enough until our purchasing decisions do not produce oppresive conditions for workers, the environment and people in general,” Meadows added.

In addition to its meetings with SOLE, the task force also solicited the opinions of all other interested persons or organizations during a public forum on July 10.

“We felt it made sense to get the views of a wide range of interested parties before developing our own positions,” said Professor emeritus of the Law School and Task Force Chair Theodore St. Antoine.

“In light of this, there is nothing I can say at this time about our likely direction,” St. Antoine added.

The attendees offered their opinions and recommendations to the task force.

LSA junior Carmel Salhi said what might be needed is a system like Harvard’s, where “a committee meets on a regular basis to study areas of potential conflict between vendors and the University’s policies.” A student think tank that has the input of staff members is another possibility, Salhi added.

Director of Business Development for JL Judge Construction Services Raymond Henry provided a different perspective at the forum: that of minority-run businesses.

Henry said he would like future changes to policies to reflect the difficulties small, minority-run bussinesses have with competing against large, predominantly white-run businesses. He said large businesses have financial and social capital that effectively eliminates competition. “Not a single building on this campus has been built or designed by a minority firm … there are good (minority) architects and firms in Detroit and in the local Southeast Michigan area,” Henry said.

The next public forum is scheduled for this fall. After this forum and perhaps other information gathering sessions, Coleman said the task force should report back to her no later than the end of fall term.

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