While little is certain about the next
fiscal year, it is clear that to cope with the financial
constraints Lansing is imposing, the University will have to do
some drastic housekeeping. The budget shortfall will affect
students, staff and faculty to varying degrees. Yet despite having
a vested interest in this crisis, the administration has excluded
students from the decision-making process. Action is needed, and
some students have chosen to stand up on behalf of the student
body. In recent weeks, clad in bright yellow T-shirts, the group
Student Voices in Action has publicly demonstrated on behalf of
some student services that the administration will likely change
— most without any student input. From the re-organization of
the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center to the lack of
University initiative in renovating the William Monroe Trotter
House multicultural center, the group has filled a vacuum through
activism that aims to get students involved and to get
administrators to listen. But while the causes it defends are
worthy, the inconsistencies in its platform and its lack of
knowledge of many of the relevant issues threaten the group’s
ability to effectively articulate a pro-student agenda.

Beth Dykstra

Today at 11 a.m., members of SVA will march to the Trotter House
where they will wait for a response to their demands from
University President Mary Sue Coleman at noon. Coleman should take
these demands seriously and eschew the vague language she has used
to avoid the issue until this point.

SVA specifically targets a number of administrative actions that
have affected student services. By re-organizing the SAPAC and
Counseling and Psychological Services, SVA claims the University
has made it more difficult for the survivors of sexual assault to
receive needed services in a private and effective manner. Also of
note is its concern regarding the cuts to the Office of Lesbian Gay
Bisexual and Transgender Affairs and the Office of Multi-Ethnic
Student Affairs. These changes have real consequences for the
individuals who rely on these organizations for critical support
and guidance and reflect a mindset among administrators that they
do not need to consult students before making changes and cuts to
programs that directly affect the student body.

Any depiction or endorsement of SVA would
be incomplete without addressing the inconsistencies in its
platform.

Citing “deep cuts” to the office of MESA, as well as
a dilapidated multicultural center, SVA insists that this
year’s reported drop in minority enrollment is due to some
extent to a lack of commitment on the part of the University to the
cause of diversity. Such claims are highly speculative. Enrollment
is down to varying degrees at schools across the country, and a
drop in minority enrollment could be due to any number of factors,
not the least of which is a revamped application process just
introduced this year. It is unlikely, regardless of the financial
condition of MESA and Trotter House, that this phenomenon could
have been reversed, and saying that a new multicultural center is
the solution to all of the racial and ethnic challenges the
University faces is disingenuous and does not seriously address
these challenges.

Members of SVA have also been loose with the facts. They
complain that Coleman’s salary is excessive, but they fail to
mention that she has pledged to donate $500,000 to the
University’s capital campaign. They complain that football
coach Lloyd Carr and basketball coach Tommy Amaker’s salaries
are too generous, but they fail to mention the importance of these
two positions to the athletic department. The men’s
basketball and football programs need to remain strong in order to
fund the other, less profitable sports. Would SVA’s members
want to see funding for women’s field hockey cut or the
volleyball team eliminated?

Some of SVA’s members have subtly hinted that many of
these cuts have racial overtones and that the administration is
picking on marginalized communities. But the Greek system, one of
the groups SVA defends against the administration, is hardly
outside the mainstream of campus politics. At the same time, SVA
has also rightly taken issue with the secret society Michigamua
being afforded status as an honor society because of the
group’s offensive employment of Native American objects and
customs in its rituals. Which group is more outside of the
mainstream of campus politics: Michigamua or the Greek system?

SVA also complains that the University’s request that all
the sororities and fraternities have house mothers or fathers would
severely damage the Greek system because of the high cost, but they
never mention that all the sororities already have house
mothers.

Worse, SVA offers few concrete solutions as to how the
University should handle this impending crisis. This would not be a
concern if its platform simply consisted of a demand for greater
student involvement. However, if SVA is to be truly successful in
advocating on so many specific and complex issues, its message must
be equally specific and complex. Thus far, it has failed in this
regard, and in doing so has cast doubt on its ability to understand
the severity of the budget situation and to barter with a skeptical
and informed administration. SVA even advocates the formation of a
student committee vested with veto power to oversee the Student
Affairs budget. While creating this committee would be a welcome
step, suggesting such a committee, which would most likely not be
representative of the student body, should have veto power will
only elicit laughter from administrators.

The group does deserve recognition for
taking a stand against the cuts. Ranging from confusion to apathy
to sympathy, it is clear that those who work at the Fleming
Administration Building have not as of yet determined how they
should best respond to the demands SVA is making. But they have an
opportunity this afternoon to reaffirm their commitment to student
issues. Students deserve a voice in the administration, and the
administration should listen to the group’s demands and bear
them in mind as it draws next year’s budget.

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