Sometimes you need to negotiate
peacefully. Sometimes you need to sit down at a bargaining table
and hash out a deal. Sometimes you need to flip over the table and
get ready for a brawl.
In her letter to the many students upset over top-down changes
to student services, University President Mary Sue Coleman said,
“I am not interested … in responding to a set of
demands where no real discussion can take place. I believe that
progress on important issues can only come from dialogue.”
Coleman can spin it any way she likes, but when you read the rest
of her letter, you will realize that it is in fact a response to a
set of demands.
Making demands and following up with direct action like
protests, picket lines or sit-ins is often the only way to create
change. More confrontational tactics have a time and a place, and
should always come after negotiation and dialogue, but it is
through the exercise of non-violent direct action and through
demands that an institution as slow-moving and bulky as the
administration is changed.
Students need to snap out of the mindset that if we ask nicely
the administration will act more responsibly. The administration is
not our friend. It does not like change. It likes the status quo,
no matter how unjust. People need to stand up and demand justice
from the administration, not act as supplicants and beg for it.
Sure, Coleman doesn’t want to respond to demands.
That’s because she does not want us to remind her that we
hold the real power on this campus. Maybe if we students,
lecturers, graduate students and professors had more of a voice and
didn’t feel so disenfranchised and separate from the
administration of this university in the first place, it
wouldn’t have to be this way. But after a series of years
when student and teacher unrest and unhappiness with various
services were met with committees, advisory boards, lip service and
little to no real action, it should hardly come as a surprise that
real demands rather than gentle negotiations are necessary. It has
been too long. We have been ignored for too long. The
administration might not like it, but it will respond to our
demands and direct action.
The main victories in the last few years on campus and in Ann
Arbor came not through negotiation alone, but through demands and
direct action that confronted those who thought they were in
positions of power.
Borders’s employees negotiated for a year to get a fair
contract, and it was only after they went on strike that they
achieved their demands — even though Borders had said it was
impossible. The Graduate Employees’ Organization negotiated
with the University to no resolution for months, until they forced
the issue and held a one-day walk out — a week later they had
a contract with childcare. The University belongs to the Worker
Rights Consortium and has a code of conduct that helps to ensure
fair labor practices not because the University wanted to sign on
or because students asked nicely for it. Instead, after being
rebuffed by the University in negotiations, Students Organizing for
Labor and Economic Equality started a sit-in and demanded that the
University do it. The racist secret society Michigamua was forced
out of the Michigan Union and made to change some of their rituals
not because of students’ repeated requests, but because a
coalition of students engaged in a 37 day sit-in and forced the
University to act correctly.
The University will respond to demands and direct action and it
really doesn’t matter if they like to or not. This Thursday,
after nearly a year of weekly negotiations, the Lecturers’
Employee Organization plans to stage a one-day walk out. This
action is not rash, radical or reactionary. It is a thoughtful
escalation of tactics that is only necessary because the University
has continuously stalled and refuses to budge on several key LEO
demands — among them that the University pay lecturers with
doctorates more than untrained middle school teachers with no
The arts of diplomacy and negotiation are vital means through
which students and teachers can achieve justice. They are the
carrot that can lead administrators to build a better university.
Usually, direct action is not necessary. But sometimes a carrot
isn’t enough — sometimes students and teachers need to
use a stick to show the University who has the real power. Direct
action brings results far more often than the administration wants
us to believe.
We have asked nicely to no avail. Now we demand. We control this
University, not a committee-lovin’ president.