Students and Ann Arbor residents involved with Occupy U-M claimed the University was failing at its mission as a public institution in a boisterous protest at the University’s Board of Regents meeting Thursday.
The group of about 30 University students and Ann Arbor residents interrupted University President Mary Sue Coleman during her opening remarks . For about five minutes, the protesters chanted back and forth as the regents and the University’s executive officers sat silently.
“You tell us state de-funding creates difficult challenges,” the protesters said in union. “We agree. But you have responded to this challenge by stripping benefits from workers, raising tuition and decreasing tenure-track positions. You say cut back, we say fight back.”
Regent Denise Ilitch (D–Bingham Farms) filmed the protest on her cell phone as the group exited the Fleming Administration Building chanting, “Instruction, not construction.”
After the protesters left, Coleman carried on with the meeting as scheduled without acknowledging the disruption.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily after the meeting, Coleman said the University was working to ensure the affordability of the University.
“I know that this is a really tough time economically for everybody and we are very concerned about access and affordability and we’re working really hard,” Coleman said. “That’s what we’ve been doing ever since I came to Michigan and we will continue that sort of work.”
Though she said she thought not everything the protesters said “made sense” Regent Andrea Fischer Newman (R–Ann Arbor) said she wasn’t bothered by the protest.
“I though they were fine,” Newman said. “I thought they were well organized, well mannered and respectful.”
Brendan Flynn, a 23-year-old Ann Arbor resident who organized the rally, said the protest was held to address conflicting ideals held by the regents and the University community, particularly regarding budget allocation decisions.
“This is the beginning of the public declaration of reclaiming the University for public use … The regents have a vision of the University that diametrically opposes the vision of the students and faculty,” Flynn said.
The group began congregating by the Cube at 2:30 p.m., posting flyers and attracting support from passersby.
According to an Occupy U-M press release, University tuition has risen 233 percent since 1990. State Representative Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) said he is working to reverse a 15 percent cut to higher education funding that Republican Gov. Rick Snyder enacted earlier this year.
“My focus is in trying to reverse the Republican effort to defund education at all levels … Michigan’s higher education system was one of the jewels nationwide, that’s not the case anymore,” Irwin said.
He added movements such as Occupy U-M demonstrate a move toward mobilization among Michigan citizens to enacting changes that benefit the state’s students.
“What’s happening is across the state more people are waking up to the bad decisions being made in Lansing, especially in regards to education,” Irwin said.
LSA senior Lea Selitsky said she was satisfied with the turnout of the rally, and said she hopes to see the Occupy U-M movement continue to grow and attract a diverse group of people.
“(The rally) was really successful … we hope to grow in size and expand to different sectors of the University, including the faculty and staff,” Selitsky said.
Jessie Dee, a 30-year old Ann Arbor resident, said she is an active supporter of the Occupy movement and is glad to see its capability to raise awareness about important issues.
“What Occupy has been doing is bringing fear to the one percent and bringing awareness to the people that are sitting around,” Dee said.
—Daily News Editor Paige Pearcy contributed to this report.
Correction appended: A previous version of this article misspelled LSA senior Lea Selitsky’s name.