The University’s Board of Regents meeting Thursday featured more than a $50 million donation. The meeting touched on topics of diversity through the lens of disability, the pitfalls of partisanship and transparency issues between the administration and student body.
University enacts additional security procedures
The meeting, held in the Michigan Union’s Anderson Room, was also marked by increased security in response to a protest last month that disrupted the meeting’s proceedings, caused a location change and subsequently called into question regents’ compliance with the state’s Open Meetings Act.
A sign outside the Anderson Room Thursday read, “The University of Michigan recognizes the right of dissent, but we also recognize the right of speakers to be heard.”
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the measures were put in place to ensure the meeting would run smoothly and prevent any interruption.
He said one of these actions was to have police officers in uniform — as opposed to plainclothes, which was traditionally the protocol regents meeting — to avoid any confusion.
“We wanted to be prepared, should that happen again, to make sure that the board would be able to get the business of the University done here,” Fitzgerald said.
Whether this will be an ongoing measure, he added, is unclear at this point.
Ultimately, there was no challenge to security; despite last month’s meeting, no supporters of By Any Means Necessary — a national coalition fighting for affirmative action, among other policies — were present at the meeting.
Speaker advocates disability education
In the absence of protesters, diversity was still a focus of Thursday’s meeting. Social Work student Lloyd Shelton, the 2014 recipient of the James A. Neubacher Award and one of the meeting’s keynote speakers, advocated for more University resources to cater to students with disabilities.
Shelton suggested the establishment of a center for the study of disability and society, to serve both as an academic and safe space where students could examine the impact of disabilities in the University community. He said race, LGBTQ and other issues of identity could fall under this umbrella.
Shelton added that the center could distribute scholarships for students either impacted by disabilities or interested in researching them.
“The (block) M doesn’t stand for mediocre,” he said. “We are the leaders and best for so many reasons around the world … I think that this is something we could also take ownership of.”
Administrators and regents commended Shelton’s proposal. University Provost Martha Pollack said she’d follow up with Sheldon to talk about possible implementation of his ideas; Regent Kathy White (D-Ann Arbor) said his perspective was a very important one.
“We talk a lot about diversity and I think sometimes we don’t include disabilities as much,” White said. “We need to start doing that.”
Regents discuss professor’s controversial column
The regents also discussed Communications Prof. Susan Douglas’ recent column “Why It’s Okay to Hate Republicans.” The piece has received considerable criticism from the University community and nation.
Regent Laurence Deitch (D) said the article was “stupid and thoughtless.” Regent Andrea Fischer Newman (R) added that the apology Douglas released through the University Thursday was not sufficient.
Newman had earlier posted on Facebook about the article, writing that “this particular column, which expresses and condones hatred toward an entire segment of individuals in our society based solely on their political views, fails to observe an equally important value of our University — respect for the right of others to hold views contrary to our own.”
Regent Mark Bernstein (D) added his thoughts via conference call: “It’s really important that we distinguish between people and policy … we have to respect each other.”
CSG president talks Night Owl bus route cancellation
Central Student Government President Bobby Dishell, a Public Policy senior, also made remarks at Thursday’s meeting, delivering a semester-in-review to the board. He mentioned some of student government’s successes, including the negotiation of lower prices for student season football tickets and the provision of more healthy food options for students.
He also plugged Wolverine Support Network, a new, CSG-run mental support program that will officially begin at the start of the Winter 2015 semester.
Conversely, Dishell mentioned the impending cancellation of the Night Owl bus route after one year of service. Earlier, he wrote in a memo to the regents that the late-night buses will no longer run “as a result of no longer being able to financially support the service.”
The route costs are currently split between CSG and the Interfraternity Council — each contributes $15,000. The program was launched under former CSG president Michael Proppe, now a graduate student in the Ross School of Business, who originally hoped the administration would agree to fund the Night Owl.
“The areas and times where the bus ran went from receiving the most crime alerts to receiving none,” Dishell said in a statement to the regents Thursday.
He later added: “CSG hopes that the administration will take on costs come June so as to avoid this issue and keep the Night Owl operating and, most importantly, keep us safe.”
In a tweet earlier this week, LSA senior Tommy Wydra, IFC president, said the Night Owl’s cancellation indicated a “complete failure by the University to support student initiatives and student safety.”
Public commenters advocate for fossil fuel divestment
During the public comments portion of the regents meeting, discourse was focused on three students who spoke about the Divest and Invest Campaign. The students urged the University to divest from fossil fuels, or preemptively form a committee to address the potential of such an action.
The students made reference to Stanford University’s recent divestment from coal as inspiration for similar action from the University.
However, in a November interview with The Michigan Daily, Fitzgerald said the bar for divestment is set “intentionally high … to somewhat insulate the investment office from the political winds that could change from one direction to the other.”
“If we were to shift our investments based on the political perspectives of this group or that group, we’d essentially be undermining the performance of the overall goal … (to) maximize the return so that those disbursements can help pay for endowed scholarships and the operations of the University,” he added.