It can be difficult for the University to maintain a balance between protecting students and abusing power. This can become particularly complicated when political protests cross into disruptive or threatening behavior. Recently, the University has been criticized for its trespass policy — especially in regard to the Andrew Shirvell case. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has questioned the constitutionality and implementation of the University’s policy. While the power to issue trespass orders is an essential tool for keeping students safe, the University’s Department of Public Safety must re-evaluate its trespass policy to avoid giving DPS excessive power.

On Sept. 14, former Michigan assistant attorney general Andrew Shirvell was issued a trespass order that banned him from campus in response to behavior that DPS considered threatening to Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong. Earlier this month, the order was modified to allow Shirvell on campus except for at events at which Armstrong is likely to be present. Last week, the undergraduate chapter of the ACLU here on campus suggested that the trespass order threatens Shirvell’s First Amendment rights and asked the University to modify the policy. Shortly thereafter, the ACLU of Michigan said it was looking into the policy and is considering filing a lawsuit. University President Mary Sue Coleman told the Daily last week that it would be “appropriate” for the Office of General Counsel to examine the policy to determine if it needs revision.

The ACLU’s request to reconsider the trespass policy seems sensible — but its request to have Shirvell’s trespass warning reviewed or revoked is unwarranted. Shirvell’s increasingly extreme behavior this summer — including showing up at events Armstrong was attending and even showing up outside Armstrong’s house — justifies the trespass order. The modifications made to the order in early November are adequate to allow Shirvell on campus grounds while continuing to protect Armstrong.

There is merit to the ACLU’s claim that the University’s trespass policy gives too much power to individual DPS officers and lacks an appropriate appeal process. Currently, the University’s trespass policy allows all 56 DPS officers to issue a trespass warning at their discretion, which gives a fair amount of power to a lot of people, increasing the likelihood that it could be misused. Additionally, the warnings are lifetime bans. At Eastern Michigan University, bans expire after one year. A one-year ban on Shirvell would be sufficient to protect Armstrong, who is expected to graduate in April.

And only DPS Director Ken Magee has the power to overturn a trespass order. Those who wish to appeal a trespass order must meet personally with Magee to argue their case. While Magee has dealt appropriately with the Shirvell order, there is no guarantee that future directors will show proper discretion. And the director of DPS isn’t a disinterested third party. Though there’s no evidence that Magee has acted inappropriately, it’s concerning that there is clearly the opportunity to do so. The power to revise orders should be entrusted to the Department of Public Safety Oversight Committee, an impartial body that can make an objective decision.

The ability to enact trespass orders is important to protect students and other members of the University community — but it shouldn’t be abused. DPS must revise its trespass policy to ensure that orders are issued only for appropriate reasons.

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