The University’s leading role in defending diversity and academic freedom has placed our campus in the national spotlight. Our student body, starting with its elected student leaders, has historically led the nation in mobilizing students to participate in key domestic and international policies, not only for the universities but for the nation. We led Ivy League schools and other prestigious American institutions when we mobilized more than 50,000 people to successfully defend our university’s affirmative action policies at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003.

Following the state of Michigan’s 2006 constitutional amendment banning affirmative action, our elected student leaders should uphold the principles of diversity, democracy, student rights, intellectual freedom and debate. The current leadership of the Michigan Student Assembly is violating these principles by undermining basic democracy in the selection of delegates to a proposed constitutional convention. The current constitution requires that delegates be elected to any constitutional convention. But under the current plan, the MSA President would handpick the delegates based on an application and interview process.

This policy is completely unconstitutional and undemocratic. It would effectively reduce the diversity of ideas represented at the convention and make it even more difficult for minority students to be represented. This kind of selection process for a constitutional convention could allow the convention to amend MSA’s current constitution in such a way that the document restricts democracy and silences debate. The current executive board of MSA has already proposed anti-democratic measures and failed to win anti-democratic constitutional reforms. This is simply an attempt to win through the back door what they could not achieve in a democratically elected representative body.

A constitutional convention must include an open election to represent the diverse interests of our student body. Any amendments to our constitution that come out of this kind of an undemocratic process cannot be taken seriously by the student body and will have no legitimacy. We cannot allow the power and scope of our central student government to be narrowed and diminished by a few leaders who fear an open debate and transparent discussion of issues that matter most to students. Meaningful improvements in the lives of students are less likely to occur if democracy is curtailed.

It is becoming a common practice in American politics to establish anti-democratic regimes to attack the foundations of public education. At a moment when so much of the campus wants to stop more tuition increases, streamline the financial aid system and fight for increasing the amount of federal stimulus package funding earmarked for higher education, it is unacceptable for the MSA president to be leading the charge to shut down student democracy. This is especially troubling when the likely outcome of this policy will be to suppress the democratic rights of progressive, activist students and organizations, which should play a leading role in the mobilization needed to win victories for students.

Only students can provide the leadership needed to put the University back on the road toward progress and equality. MSA’s attempt to block democratic decision making must be ended now. If a constitutional convention is to occur, so must open and fair delegate election. In less than a month, elections for MSA representatives will take place. Convention delegate elections could be held then to save the time and the expense that holding a separate convention delegate election would incur.

Kate Stenvig
Rackham representative to MSA

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