Last night, the Michigan Student Assembly voted to reject a resolution that would have placed restrictions on community members who come to speak to the assembly during the “community concerns” portion of its weekly meetings.
The proposal failed after the assembly voted 17 in favor, 16 opposed, with one member abstaining. The resolution needed a two-thirds majority to pass because it involved changing the assembly’s code.
The proposed resolution would have required speakers to present a valid, unexpired MCard to the assembly in order to speak. Those unaffiliated with the University would have to request permission to address the assembly from the executive board at least two business days prior to the meeting.
The resolution would have also shortened the time allotted to each speaker from five minutes to three minutes and the overall time for community speakers from an hour to 30 minutes.
MSA President Abhishek Mahanti voted “yes” on the resolution, but feels that even though it failed, the assembly took part in an important debate.
“I think all the points were presented very well,” he said. “And it came down to a vote that I may not agree with personally but I’m glad that it did come to the outcome that it did and we are stronger as an assembly because of it.”
In the past, community concerns have consumed large portions of meetings’ time, with many community members speaking about topics some argue are not specifically relevant to the University community.
Mahanti said this resolution would have given the assembly more control over its agenda and a greater ability to focus on issues that MSA can effectively address.
“This issue at hand is about our community — whether or not it’s about our constituents or our community — and in the end it comes down to items that we can act on,” he said. “And time and again it’s proven that there are some things that we can’t act on.”
Opponents of this resolution said it restricted community members’ right to free speech. Rackham Rep. Kate Stenvig said MSA doesn’t operate “in a bubble” separate from national and international topics.
“We are leaders not just for day-to-day goings-on of the University, but in a larger society and in a larger world, and these things do matter,” Stenvig said. “There’s a reason why this assembly has for years been open for community members coming to speak to us. We have a connection to the outside world.”
Public Health Rep. Hamdan Yousuf said even though the resolution would have continued to allow any student to come in and speak, it could cause hesitation.
“Show us your ID, that’s a demeaning rule,” he said. “We’re here to serve the students. This resolution is demeaning to the students.”
Rep. Andrew Chinsky, in an attempt to demonstrate the inconvenient nature of the current policy, showed off some acting skills.
Holding a sign that read “we are Penn State,” Chinsky, who was in favor of the proposal, played the part of Joe Paterno, the Nittany Lions’ long-time head coach. He proceeded to trash-talk the University of Michigan.
Afterward, Chinsky explained that he was illustrating how anyone can come in and address MSA about any topic under the current code.
He said the assembly needs to focus on the concerns of its constituents: the students.
“We’re talking about democracy and free speech but we have to make sure that it’s not watered down and not given to people who don’t need it,” Chinsky said. “We are here to protect the democracy and free speech rights of our students.”
Rep. Michael Benson, chair of the Rules and Elections Committee, which sponsored the resolution, said he was pleased with the debate, even though the outcome was not what he had hoped for.
“I think that there were some issues that were blown up and some other issues that were understated, so I imagine the committee will take the issue up again at some point in the future,” he said.
Chinsky said the resolution was widely supported by the Michigan Vision Party, but that the party does not yet have enough seats on the assembly to pass it.
“This is definitely going to be a campaign issue in the upcoming November elections,” Chinsky said. “This is something that we care very deeply and passionately about.”
— Heather Poole contributed to this report.