The Michigan Student Assembly wants former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to speak at the University of Michigan in January while he’s in the state to give a lecture in west Michigan.
Musharraf will be in Grand Rapids on January 14th to speak at an anniversary dinner for the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan. The Pakistani Students’ Association came to MSA for help in trying to attract Musharaff to the University while he’s in the state.
Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless military coup in 1999, has always been a controversial figure. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Musharraf pledged support to the United States in its fight against radical Islamic terrorists, angering many of his own people.
In November 2007, Musharaff suspended Pakistan’s constitution, jailed political opponents and dissidents, and replaced the entire Supreme Court with his own appointees.
Threatened with impeachment, he resigned last August.
MSA Rep. Hamdan Yousef, who is Pakistani and said he has met Musharraf on multiple occasions, opposed the resolution. He said that the Human Rights Watch once called Musharraf a “military dictator,” and cited other examples of human rights abuses committed by Musharraf while president.
“We must not endorse and dignify such an individual,” he said.
Rep. Alex Serwer pointed to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia University last year as an example of how a reviled figure can provoke conversation.
“Things like this are really important for the educational experience,” he said.
“Personally, Musharraf makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable,” MSA Vice President Arvind Sohoni said. “And I think that’s a good thing.”
After about 30 minutes of procedural maneuvering, the authors of the resolution finally agreed to create a committee that will revise a letter of invitation and make it clear that MSA only intends to invite Musharraf, not to glorify or support him. The resolution passed with a vote of 25-7-1.
For the majority of the meeting, the body was taking care of “in/out” business—that is, out with the representatives whose terms expired and didn’t run for reelection, and in with the new and reelected representatives. No incumbent representatives were defeated.
After congratulating the new representatives, MSA President Sabrina Shingwani issued a stern ultimatum.
“You were chosen by the students to represent them,” she said. “If you’re going to come here every week and sit at the table and do nothing, get up and leave right now.”
“You’re not just here representing students,” she said. “You’re representing U of M students. And we’re the best damn university in the world.”
Student General Counsel Michael Benson warned the body about attendance rules. A representative who accumulates 12 absences is removed from the assembly and has two weeks to appeal at an MSA meeting.
MSA has long been plagued by attendance issues. Every semester, at least a handful of representatives are removed from the assembly for failing to fulfill their responsibilities.
MSA Chief of Staff Ashley Schwedt said in an interview after the meeting that she thinks representatives end up dropping out or being removed because of expectations.
“I think that a lot of people get really excited to win things, and to do things well,” she said. Also, says Schwedt, people tend to underestimate their course loads. She added that some just “realize too late that MSA is not for them.”
The new representatives were given a handbook with background information about the role. The packet included information about the assembly’s committees and commissions, the procedure for proposing a resolution, the structure and conventions of meetings, and the rules for debate during meetings.
The assembly held elections for 27 chair positions and vice chair positions for its committees and commissions.
Many of the elections were uncontested, but a few led to debate. Perhaps the most heated and topical contest was for the Rules and Elections Committee chair position. Reps. Jason Raymond, Ashley Schneider and Tim Hull were nominated for the spot.
Schneider, the incumbent chair, boasted that fall election turnout increased by 80 percent under her leadership.
Raymond, who won the seat, noted that while turnout may have increased, it was still only 9.6 percent, a figure he called “absolutely pitiful.”
“We shouldn’t be spending time at meetings debating code amendments or things that are internal in nature,” he said, adding that he thought he could bring the tangible progress that has been lacking in the past year.
–Vanessa Nunez contributed to this report.