Michigan Student Assembly is fighting for a superior Student Legal Service

To the Daily:

On Friday, the Daily published an editorial titled Tenants’ Time (02/14/03), arguing that the Michigan Student Assembly should prevent the extinction of the Ann Arbor Tenants Union. The Daily’s editorial comments were uninformed and ignorant of the facts regarding the relationship between MSA and the AATU. Let’s clear some things up.

First, the AATU is horribly inefficient at providing counseling services to students. Every time the AATU counsels a student, the student body pays $85 to the AATU. This number is actually an improvement; last year, the student body paid $103 for every student counseled by the AATU. And 42 percent of the AATU counseling is done by email. These numbers are based on service reports from the AATU itself. Does the Daily really believe the student body should pay $85 for every e-mail sent by the AATU?

Second, let’s be clear that moving out of the Union has had absolutely no impact on the AATU’s ability to help students. Last year, when it had an office in the Union, the AATU counseled 45 students per month on average. This year, at the William Monroe Trotter House, the number is exactly the same: 45 students per month. Moving out of the Union has had zero impact on the AATU’s services.

Third, Student Legal Services is a better place for tenant counseling services. Since February, SLS has agreed to expand its services to include advice to students on landlord/tenant issues. And, since SLS is already paid for by students, this presents no additional cost to the student body. Better yet, the lawyers at SLS are actually lawyers, unlike the volunteers at the AATU who come dangerously close to the practice of law without a license. SLS can provide better service to more students at lower cost. It’s that simple.

Fourth, no one on MSA has suggested or wants the AATU to disappear. In fact, MSA has repeatedly asked the AATU to be involved in other projects, like a “rate-your-landlord” website and a door-to-door survey of off-campus housing conditions. The AATU has either ignored these requests, or has flatly said “no.” The AATU is clearly not a cost-effective way of counseling students. MSA has repeatedly asked, and is willing to pay for, the AATU to help students through advocacy, education and organizing. The AATU has refused.

MSA is entrusted with effectively spending student money on programs which benefit students. Spending $85 per email is simply not good enough; MSA should not be criticized for finding a better and cheaper way to help more students with their landlord/tenant problems. And the AATU, if it truly wishes to help students, must find a more cost-effective way to work with the student body instead of against it.

Sarah Boot

MSA president

Joe Bernstein

MSA student general counsel

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