Every academic year begins with a sense of
familiarity and routine — books to buy, scheduling conflicts
and a State Street flooded with rowdy fans on the first football
Saturday. But underneath the monotony will inevitably lie a set of
issues and challenges that confronts the student body.

Janna Hutz

In the wake of last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court opinions,
the University was forced to abandon the old point-based admissions
system, which the justices found of unconstitutional. This
year’s freshman class was the first class directly affected
by the new admissions policy. The new approach requires applicants
to provide short-answer essay responses and a long essay response
detailing applicants’ experiences with cultural diversity.
This revised process benefits both the University and the
applicant, by providing space in the application for prospective
students to highlight their individual talents.

Yet the switch has not been without its problems, especially
with regard to minority admissions. Though the number of
applications has declined across the board, the proportion of
applications from minority applicants has fallen even further,
casting doubt on the new system’s ability to ensure a diverse
student body. University Housing is also feeling the sting of the
new system, having miscalculated the number of applicants who
would, if granted admission, matriculate. This year marks the
largest number of first-year students in the University’s
history, and the University struggled this summer to find space for
the new students. Whether these issues are merely fallout from the
short-term changes or whether they are symptoms of a larger problem
remains to be seen. Over the coming year, the University would be
wise to review and revise, and ensure that all prospective students
are comfortable with the new system.

 

Getting admitted is only half the battle;
the other half is paying for one of the most expensive public
degrees in the nation. In the middle of a budget crisis, tuition
will remain one of the issues to watch over the academic term. For
the moment, the University has stayed tuition rate increases by
declaring a 2.8 percent increase for in-state residents and a 5
percent increase for nonresidents. These relatively low hikes were
secured on the condition that the state government reimburses 3
percent of last year’s budget cuts. If the state wants the
University to continue to keep tuition under control, it must
follow through on this promise.

Though tuition can comprise the bulk of student expenses,
housing in Ann Arbor is a close second. The acute lack of low-cost
student housing and accessory housing units in Ann Arbor means that
many students will continue to pay unreasonably high rent.
Unfortunately, in the winter of 2003, the Michigan Student Assembly
cut all funding to the Ann Arbor Tenants Union, the city’s
leading advocate for tenants’ rights. In an encouraging move,
the president of MSA, Jason Mironov, promised in the campaign last
year to reconstitute the AATU. Unfortunately, the only step in this
direction thus far has been the introduction of a website which
allows students renters to rate their landlords on a 1-5 scale and
to post comments. Though beneficial, this website should not serve
as means for Mironov and MSA to dodge the issue of a full-fledged
tenants union.

MSA has, however, been instrumental in the fight against a
proposed ban on upholstered furniture on porches in the Ann Arbor
City Council. MSA engineered a campaign that helped table the
initiative, which would have forced many student tenants to remove
upholstered couches and chairs from their porches. Proponents claim
that the outdoor couches are a fire hazard. More likely, the city
is merely placating landowners concerned with maintaining property
values at the expense of student renters.

 

But the City Council is not the only group
to be aware of. Last year the University publicly stated its
intention to increase the number of police on duty during Welcome
Week. It appears that it has stayed true to its intentions:
According to a recently released Department of Public Safety
reports, there were 66 minor-in-possession citations issued during
Welcome Week this year, starkly contrasting with last year’s
total of 15. This dramatic upswing in citations is hopefully an
attempt to scare new students, not the sign of a more aggressive
enforcement policy.

Though the entire student body should take note of this increase
in enforcement, no group should be more concerned than the Greek
system. E. Royster Harper, Vice President for Student Affairs, in
her campaign to tighten the screws on the Greek system, is looking
for the Board of Regents to impose a new set of regulations on the
Greek community. Proposed guidelines include moving recruitment
activities and pledging from the fall to the winter semester,
mandating highly restrictive anti-hazing protocols and requiring a
live-in supervisor for fraternity houses. Even though last year was
marked by a series of high-profile debacles involving various
fraternities, the administration should not seek to strip the
system of its autonomy; these aggressive new measures threaten the
independence of the Greeks as a whole.

 

But no issue will be as important for the
student body as the coming November elections. In state or out of
state, all students should take a time at the start of the academic
year to ensure that they are well-informed about the issues and
that they are registered to vote. Reading and discussing issues is
important in raising awareness, but raising awareness alone does
not directly affect political change — only voting can.
Voters applying for an absentee ballot should make sure they do so
by Oct. 30, and new voters must register 30 days in advance of the
election.

In Michigan, culture warriors on the right — whether their
motives are sincere, politically charged or grounded in intolerance
— have succeeded in putting on the statewide ballot an
amendment to the Michigan Constitution that would ban gay marriage
and likely civil unions as well. Reacting to societal changes by
blurring the separation of church and state, while at the same time
isolating an oppressed minority for scorn is unacceptable and must
be met with fierce opposition.

The presidential and congressional elections this November will
determine the policies and values this nation prioritizes in the
foreseeable future. Americans will have to ask themselves whether
to continue along the course the country has been on or whether the
time has come to make corrections.

The country is at war, the economy is not fulfilling this
nation’s promise to its people and government efforts sold as
strategies to secure the homeland have weakened important
constitutional guarantees of civil liberties. This is no time for
students to remain idle.

This year, the University will bear witness to changes at the
local, state and national level, many of which will have an impact
on students, faculty and staff alike. In a time of change, we must
not fail to make our voices heard.

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