Two weeks after the Department of Education sent a letter threatening to cut its funding to the University if Michigan Stadium isn’t made more accessible to disabled fans, the correspondence has continued with neither side backing down.
The department’s Office of Civil Rights sent a letter sent to the University on Friday rejecting the University’s response to allegations that it has failed to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Department of Education spokesperson Jim Bradshaw said in an e-mail interview that the University has until Monday to “submit an agreement adequate to correct the cited violations” or the department will refer the case to the U.S. Department of Justice, which could choose to sue the University.
University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham confirmed that the University received the letter and said the University plans to reply by the deadline.
A resolution between the University and the Office of Civil Rights seems likely to be particularly difficult, because the organizations disagree over a crucial distinction in ADA law.
While the Office of Civil Rights argues that the stadium fails to meet ADA requirements based on the reasoning that the project was a renovation, the University argues that the stadium is subject to a less stringent set of rules because that project was only a repair.
The University could voluntarily make changes without conceding that the concrete replacement was a renovation, but that could weaken its case in an existing lawsuit filed against the University by the Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America. That group has argued that the University has made renovations and intends to make further renovations without upgrading the facilities to meet ADA regulations.
Interim University General Counsel Gloria Hage declined to comment on the letter, saying it would be inappropriate to discuss it before the University officially responds. Cunningham said the University remains optimistic that it can negotiate a solution despite the office’s rejection of the University’s argument.
“We are very hopeful that we’re going to reach a resolution,” she said. “We’ve always worked to resolve this issue and that remains the same.”
The disagreement with the Office of Civil Rights began Oct. 29 when the office sent a letter ordering the University to bring the stadium into compliance. The letter, which described conditions for disabled fans as inadequate and often oppressive, also accused the University of ignoring the office’s requests for information about construction on the stadium.
The University replied last week with a letter contesting the office’s argument, arguing that the replacement of concrete should be considered a repair rather than a renovation because it maintained the original structure of the bowl. The letter also defended the accessibility of the facilities offered to disabled fans and maintained that the University has accommodated all requests for information by the Office of Civil Rights.
Bradshaw said in an interview that the Office of Civil Rights still hopes to resolve the situation without intervention by the Department of Justice.
“We’ve invited the University of Michigan to meet with us to negotiate a resolution to this case,” Bradshaw said.