From the Editor
Because of his pending membership in the group formerly known as Michigamua, Donn M. Fresard, The Michigan Daily’s fall/winter editor in chief, was not involved in the editing of this article. Fresard will also not edit any articles about the group in the future.
– Jeremy Davidson
Summer Editor in Chief
Donn Fresard, The Michigan Daily’s fall/winter editor in chief, recently announced plans to join the campus society formerly known as Michigamua.
His decision has sparked a blaze of controversy at the Daily and prompted the second highest-ranking fall/winter editor to resign her post.
Ashley Dinges, who was the paper’s managing editor, resigned July 2 on the grounds that Fresard’s membership in the group – which is composed of some of the campus’s most influential student leaders – will be a conflict of interest.
The Daily often covers those leaders’ organizations and teams and also covers the group itself.
“I am very sad to leave the Daily, which has been my second home since I came to the University,” Dinges said. “But the main reason I work at this paper is my love of journalism and I am not willing to compromise my journalistic integrity or my ethical beliefs.”
Many top fall/winter editors have expressed their displeasure with Fresard’s decision for the same reasons. For years, no Daily editor in chiefs have been known to be in the society, but Fresard said it is now appropriate because of the group’s recent reforms.
For decades, the group formerly known as Michigamua kept its elite membership a secret and used the name of a fictional Native American tribe. The group also appropriated Native American rituals and artifacts and used Native American nicknames for its members. The society says it has since changed its ways.
It recently stopped using the name Michigamua and released its membership for the classes of 2006 and 2007.
“After discussing it with some people at the Daily and in the group, I decided that this would be an appropriate time for me to join and the right thing to do,” Fresard said.
Fresard has argued that his membership would not constitute a conflict of interest.
Andrew Yahkind, a member of its class of 2007, said Fresard is not currently a member of the society, although there are discussions underway regarding his membership. Fresard said he is not sure when he will join, though he expects it to be soon.
Because the time commitment required by the society is not extensive, Fresard said he will be able to fulfill his duties as editor in chief. He said his involvement in the group will also boost his effectiveness as an editor at the Daily.
“I think that this group serves the benefits of diversity in a lot of ways, by pulling together athletes and editors and leaders of multicultural groups – people who have a lot to learn from each other,” Fresard said. “I believe soundly in the group’s mission and that it gives me an opportunity to serve the campus in a different way than the past.”
Dinges and several others have maintained that the editor of a newspaper should not be involved in a group the paper covers heavily, neither should they form close friendships with campus leaders whose own events and groups are also covered, she said.
Fresard disagreed, saying that it is more dangerous for the editor to spend more time holed up in the Daily’s offices and not understand what is happening on campus and with student groups than it is for he or she to become to close with other campus leaders.
As a member of the group’s class of 2007, Fresard joins leaders like Interfraternity Council president Jon Krasnov, Panhellenic Association president Lauren Kraus and Michigan Student Assembly President Nicole Stallings.
“It is really not uncommon for newspaper editors to see a lot of these people in social situations anyway and if you take your job seriously as an editor, you’re not going to let your friendships affect what you do,” Fresard said.
Fresard said he will not edit stories about the group in the future.
“I plan to have the managing editor handle those stories,” he said.
Fresard said he will appoint a new managing editor, and that there may be additional leadership transitions. No changes have been made thus far.
“It is unfortunate (Dinges) decided to leave, but it is her decision and I wish her the best,” Fresard said.
In early April, Management Desk – the Daily’s governing board comprised of managing, senior and assistant editors – held a vote to determine whether Fresard’s involvement in Michigamua would constitute a conflict of interest.
According to the Daily’s bylaws, a two-thirds vote must be reached to render a binding decision that forces Fresard to choose between his position as editor in chief and membership in the group.
Although a majority voted against Fresard joining the group, the two-thirds requirement was not met.
Daily staff editorials, expressing the views of the Daily’s editorial board only, have traditionally been critical of the group formerly known as Michigamua and have called for reforms, such as a name change and transparency about the group’s activities.
The group, now described as a senior honor society, has not yet adopted a new name, but intends to register as a University-recognized student organization in the fall.
Mark McDonald, seasoned journalist and Howard Marsh, a visiting professor of journalism at the University, said the decision whether to join certain organizations can be difficult for campus leaders, particularly because situations involving campus life often spark high tensions.
“Because you’re the editor of the university newspaper, does that mean you automatically exclude yourself from all activities, societies, events and campus life? Is this the best and only way to present yourself as ‘impartial’? I think not,” McDonald said.
But McDonald said that the issue becomes more complicated when the society in question is racist or ideologically radical in some way.
Regardless, editors and reporters must not cover groups with which they are affiliated, he said.
“They should be open and upfront about their membership. If this is prohibited by the society’s rules, then (they) probably shouldn’t join,” McDonald said.
Although he expects to hear concerns about his involvement in the society due to its past, Fresard said he believes within a year the group will not be considered controversial.
“In more recent decades, as the group began to come under scrutiny, the editors at the Daily rightly stayed out of it,” Fresard said. “There is nothing objectionable about the group anymore, and so I think now it is appropriate for the editor of the Daily to be in the group again.”