I hate to be the one to do this.
Truth be told, there probably isn’t one student at the University more thrilled to be here than I am. Everyone who has ever known me has known that I’m an exuberant champion of the University. But for all my fervor, I know this place isn’t perfect. As liberals have learned in recent years, if you truly love an institution, you will feverishly decry its wrongdoings and demand improvement. So, here it goes.
The University has finally settled the lawsuit filed against it by the Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America concerning the renovations to Michigan Stadium. The lawsuit alleged that the University broke the law by not bringing the stadium up to the standard mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
The ADA requires one percent of all seating in a public facility like Michigan Stadium be wheelchair accessible. Because the stadium was built before 1990, it was exempt from the ADA – until renovations were made deemed significant enough to require compliance with the ADA. The University until this week tried to skirt the ADA by arguing that this construction at the Big House – which was significant enough to deem the stadium unfit to hold commencement, as you might remember – still qualifies as “repairs” and not “renovations.”
The University finally caved earlier this week: The current renovation plan will now incorporate enough wheelchair-accessible seats to appease the MPVA. So we’re all good, right? No.
Wheelchair-accessible seats take up far more space than a regular seat. As a result, total capacity at the stadium will go down – far enough to make the Big House the second-biggest stadium in the country. And that’s going to be a problem.
As good Michigan Wolverines, we students often feel entitled to certain things. One of those things is that our stadium be the largest in college football. Another is that our commencement be held at the Big House, and you remember how touchy we got about that a few weeks ago.
From the grumblings I’ve been hearing around campus, I see that the frustration has started to flow. Already students are expressing dismay and outrage at the fact that the solution has made the Big House the second-biggest stadium in the country. A few have been na’ve enough to blame the MPVA and fans who require accessible seating (Blame fans in wheelchairs for lower stadium capacity, 03/12/2008) which, of course, is simply ridiculous.
This lawsuit with the MPVA, not to mention the uproar over the addition of luxury boxes at the stadium, had made this construction process a public relations disaster for the University. But all of a sudden, the mess is gone, and the University miraculously emerges almost unscathed. As much as I hate to entertain the thought, that seems like too much of a coincidence. Maybe the University knew what it was doing all along.
Consider this: In late January, the administration announced completely out of the blue that this year’s Spring Commencement would be held at Eastern Michigan University, not the Big House. It should have expected the astounding level of student outrage that followed. Then, seemingly as an example of responsiveness to student wishes, the administration announced commencement was coming back to campus – not to the Big House, but to the Diag. Students breathed a sigh of relief.
Did you catch the trick?
Had the administration announced right off the bat that graduation would be at the Diag because the Big House was not ready (due to a gross, and suspicious, lack of planning), students would have been upset. But how then would you mollify those students? The only possible solution would be to move commencement back to the Big House, and that was not on the table for the University. So, as the University, you give students a disgustingly outrageous option and then get them to play into your plan by accepting a compromise that you would have taken all along.
As unfortunate as it sounds, the settlement of the MPVA lawsuit reeks of the same ploy. Surely the University knew that with the addition of its luxury boxes, there would be no way to also accommodate the mandated number of accessible seats while ensuring that the Big House remained the largest stadium in the country. It then had two options: Either take the heat for its luxury boxes – those hated structures that are the true root of the dilemma we’re now in – or find something else to take the blame for the Big House becoming the second-biggest stadium.
For months the University dragged its feet about meeting the MPVA’s demands, despite the pending lawsuit. But, when the U.S. Department of Justice joined the suit on the MPVA’s side last fall, the game was essentially up. And now the University has finally shown its hand, having held out long enough to ensure that the ensuing outrage is targeted at the MPVA and fans in wheelchairs rather than at the administration’s stubborn insistence on haphazardly building luxury boxes.
I hope you readers are bright enough to see through the smokescreen.
Imran Syed was the Daily’s fall/winter editorial page editor in 2007. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.