Following years of budget cuts, University administrators were pleased when Granholm followed through on the soaring rhetoric of her State of the State address. After emphasizing the importance of education to the state’s economic future in her speech, Granholm announced that despite a gripping budget deficit, she was sparing higher education any more funding cuts. In defending her decision, Granholm cited not only an agreement with public university officials — no funding cuts so long as tuition increases remained below the rate of inflation — but also her realization that Michigan’s economy, currently dependant on the shrinking manufacturing sector, had to be fundamentally altered.
Upon hearing the news, University President Mary Sue Coleman and the University Board of Regents applauded Granholm’s decision to increase funding, and pushed for further budget reforms to insulate higher education funding from future fiscal pressures. Recognizing that higher education is often cut to balance the budget, the University officials encouraged legislators to adopt a plan proposed by U.S. Rep. Joe Schwartz (R-Battle Creek) that would create a nondiscretionary fund dedicated solely to higher education. Despite dissent against the reform — which would likely increase the tax burden on Michigan’s citizens — the Legislature and Granholm took political hits and pushed the reform through.
In another principled stand, Granholm and Republican Attorney General Mike Cox moved to limit the fallout from the passage of Proposal 2. While many on the Left were concerned that the passage of Proposal 2, which bans gay marriage “or any similar union,” would threaten benefits for homosexuals and their partners, they were proven wrong. Even though Michigan’s American Family Association declared that Eastern Michigan University was violating the proposal by offering same-sex benefits, Cox, Granholm and legal scholars ridiculed the pronouncement. State leaders called out proponents of Proposal 2, who led state voters to believe that the proposal only bans gay marriage, and not domestic partnership benefits.
Meanwhile, the most recent signature drive for the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, another statewide ballot proposal, met an unexpected roadblock: an organized and highly energized coalition of affirmative action proponents. The alliance, separate from the visible yet polarizing group BAMN, has outlined a long-term strategy for keeping affirmative action alive and opportunities for education and employment in Michigan fair. Beyond concentrating on short-range legal tactics and temporary court injunctions to slow MCRI, the group has mobilized efforts to convince Michigan residents of affirmative action’s merits. Even though the actual ballot vote is still more than a year away, the foundation of a potent grassroots campaign has been laid.
There was also a series of great achievements by University administrators and students. For the first time in years, students witnessed a hotly contested Michigan Student Assembly election. Seeking to shed its status as a single-issue also-ran, the Defend Affirmative Action Party renamed itself Students for a Diverse Michigan Party and fiercely debated Students 4 Michigan presidential hopeful Jesse Levine. Levine and his running mate, Alicia Benavides, had no easy time winning the election, which had a turnout near 70 percent. A third party, Maize Rage, drew attention to the very disturbing possibility of cronyism among party ranks at S4M and promised to represent the “silent majority” of students who, until this captivating election, couldn’t care less about student government politics.
In the end, Levine and Benavides triumphed with a mere 34 percent of the vote. With such a low mandate, Levine promised to keep in close contact with students, fight for the issues he promised to fight for and, ultimately, achieve his goal of befriending every single person living in the city of Ann Arbor.
With students still struggling to recover from the bitter campus election, the new MSA officials proved themselves to be uniters, not dividers, by coming together to support a Public Interest Research Group in Michigan chapter on campus. Although PIRGIM met some obstacles along the road, its organized leadership was able to convince MSA of the importance of a PIRGIM chapter on campus. MSA Chief of Staff Elliot Wells-Reid called for an injunction against a vote on PIRGIM, claiming that funding the group may be in violation of the MSA’s tax-exempt status, and PIRGIM prepared admirably for the impending trial, even seeking the advice of a tax attorney. Yet the ever-competent Central Student Judiciary dismissed the injunction at the pre-trial hearing, noting that MSA’s long-standing practice of filing a 501(h) exemption rendered Wells-Reid’s concerns irrelevant. There was no need for an appeal, and PIRGIM got straight to work defending students from negligent landlords and rapacious textbook companies.
The semester was refreshingly calm on the labor front, primarily because the University administration bucked trends and worked constructively to reach and implement fair contracts with its employees’ unions. Though a one-day walkout last year by the Lecturers’ Employee Organization secured a contract, some academic departments were slow to provide LEO with criteria for evaluating lecturers’ performance, leading to speculation last fall of further unrest. Fortunately, this term University administrators put pressure on recalcitrant departments to comply with the LEO contract, and lecturers will be able to watch their students graduate without the need to even contemplate a job action during commencement.
Thanks to broad support from the campus community, the Graduate Employees’ Organization cruised to a new contract with the University in late January. Though the expiration of its last contract in 2002 had led to a walkout and unproductive preliminary negotiations this fall hinted that an open-ended strike might even be a possibility, the University was quick to address GEO’s concerns once it became unmistakably clear that students and professors alike would respect the union’s picket line in the event of a strike. Of many achievements in the swiftly and smoothly negotiated contract, perhaps the most important was GEO’s success in winning a true living wage — sufficient to meet the high cost of living in Ann Arbor — for its members.
These achievements paled in comparison, however, to the paradigm shift that transformed the Greek system. To the surprise of University administrators and students alike, the Greek system seems to be on its way to repairing its noticeably damaged reputation. After a rocky fall semester riddled with hazing allegations, the Greeks have evidently internalized the importance of rebuilding an environment of respect and brotherhood. It appears that the Greek scene is finally about to turn a corner –– both hazing allegations and sexual assault reports in connection with the Greek system have effectively vanished this semester.
What a year it’s been. From Lansing to Hill Street, the positive reforms have just kept coming. We can only hope that next year the campus community will give us half as much to look back and smile about.