In a rare close vote, the Michigan Student Assembly narrowly struck down a resolution that would have opposed the University’s choice to invite Republican Gov. Rick Snyder to speak at this year’s Spring Commencement.
The resolution proposed that MSA send a letter to University administrators and several news outlets, including The Michigan Daily, expressing that the assembly felt Snyder wasn’t “an appropriate” choice for commencement speaker due to his “lack of commitment for accessible and quality education.” The resolution failed to pass by a vote of 14-9.
Snyder has proposed a 15-percent decrease in state funding of Michigan’s public universities and colleges for the 2012 fiscal year. Because of this, many students have reacted unfavorably to the University asking Snyder to deliver the commencement address. An online petition opposing the choice of Snyder as commencement speaker had collected nearly 4,000 signatures from students, alumni, faculty and staff as of 1:30 a.m. last night.
LSA Rep. Brendan Friedman, co-author of the resolution, said at last night’s MSA meeting that the petition indicates that the resolution represents the interests of MSA’s constituents.
“We believe that the commencement speaker should be someone that represents the values of students. And he does not advocate for students,” Friedman said of Snyder during the debate.
Friedman added in an interview after the meeting that he thought the University’s decision to have Snyder be the commencement speaker could act as a catalyst to spark discussion on the governor’s plans to cut state higher appropriation funding.
“I’m glad we had this debate, and I look forward to using this as a future juggling point in future debates on higher education funding, and how we can make the best of the situation we have,” Friedman said.
MSA representatives who opposed the resolution said it would be inappropriate to reject a commencement speaker based on disagreements over his policies.
“If you don’t like a budget, write a resolution to protest his budget, not a resolution to protest his return to his alma mater,” MSA Law Rep. Michael Wagner said.
Wagner also cited the University’s tradition of inviting governors to speak at commencement as a reason why Snyder should be welcomed. Former Michigan Govs. Jennifer Granholm, John Engler, James Blanchard and William Milliken all spoke at University commencements during their time in the Governor’s Mansion.
“The invitation of the sitting governor to address this university is a good and impressive achievement on the University of Michigan, not something we should condemn,” Wagner said.
Nate Hamilton, an MSA ex-officio for the University’s chapter of College Republicans, echoed Wagner’s objections to the resolution.
“This resolution is politically driven and intolerant, plain and simple,” Hamilton said at the meeting.
MSA speakers against the resolution also expressed concerns that the suggested letter from the assembly would alienate Snyder’s office and other Republicans in the state Legislature and would discourage future visits from political leaders.
Snyder’s policies weren’t the only turnoffs for some MSA members. Social Work Rep. Allison Horky, another co-author of the resolution, expressed doubt about Snyder’s oratory skills.
“I think he’s actually a bad speaker, which is actually just as legitimate a reason to not want to listen to him for 30 minutes,” Horky said at the meeting.
— Brandon Shaw contributed to this report.