The devil is in the details.
Originally part of Central Student Government President Bobby Dishell’s campaign platform last spring, the additional funding destined for the LEAD Scholars program from CSG has been canceled due to legal constraints.
LEAD is a scholarship program from the University’s Alumni Association, which provides merit-based scholarships to minorities. Under the 2006 Michigan Civil Rights Initiative — better known as Proposal 2 — the University itself is not allowed to give scholarships as an affirmative action initiative. However, because the Alumni Association is a 501(c)(3) separate from the University, they have been providing these scholarships themselves to help improve diversity on campus.
Dishell, a Public Policy junior, said he originally believed that because CSG is also its own 501(c)(3) that its funds could be given to the LEAD as part of Dishell’s efforts to reach out to underrepresented demographics. However, Dishell learned from the University’s Office of General Council that because the student government’s budget comes from student fees, it is part of the University’s funds, meaning a transfer of CSG budget money specifically for this scholarship would be in violation of Proposal 2.
Dishell said he started working on this effort at the end of the Winter 2014 term when he started communicating with the Alumni Association, but was informed of the legal issue early in the summer.
The original plan was to contribute $10,000 to LEAD, roughly the equivalent of two scholarships, and there was discussion of a matched donation from an alumnus to create a total of four new scholarships, Dishell said. He said it was intended to be part of a larger effort to improve diversity this year.
“The goal was not so much the amount as it was the act, the demonstration that CSG cares about this issue and this was a way that we knew was incredibly effective at getting underrepresented students to campus,” he said.
Dan Lijana, director of communications for the Alumni Association, said despite being unable to help fund LEAD scholarships, CSG can be a great ally to the association as they work on diversity. Lijana said there are still many other opportunities for the two organizations to join forces.
“We’re very open to continuing the kind of conversations that would be independent of needing an office of general council to get involved,” he said. “I think the best potential example of that is if there were a student initiative sponsored by CSG or sponsored by another student entity on campus that had an interest in raising money for LEAD that didn’t have some relation to University funding.”
Dishell said CSG alone will also continue to pursue their options for improved diversity. He said the efforts already underway have been effective and that CSG will research ways to improve and expand upon current diversity initiatives.
Diversity has been at the forefront of the University administration’s goals this semester, with University President Mark Schlissel identifying it as one of his top priorities. On-campus diversity issues became a major discussion point last year following events like the Black Student Union’s #BBUM campaign, which shed light on the experiences of Black University students, and the Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action decision, which upheld Michigan’s ban on affirmative action in public higher education institutions.
Because of these constraints, University administrators have noted the difficulty of trying to enroll more minorities, though some options have been explored.
Additionally, partially spurred by the BSU’s seven demands for administrative action last year and partly through efforts by CSG and LSA Student Government, policies such as the Race and Ethnicity curriculum requirement are being evaluated for their effectiveness in better educating students on and exposing them to other cultures and narratives.