If I were to mention “the Statement,” I imagine most of my friends would think I was referring to the Daily’s weekly news magazine. But, in fact, there’s a different statement that may have more of an impact on the lives of students here in Ann Arbor. Formally known as the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities, this document is the University’s official iteration of exactly that. The text of the document is available for anyone to read on the University’s website.
It’s odd, then, that many people don’t know about it. Such a significant document should be recognizable to all students at the University – not just those forced to read it after getting caught drinking Franzia in Bursley.
But I don’t blame students for their ignorance. Frankly, reading the statement doesn’t leave students with a better understanding of either their liberties or their duties on campus. Instead, through overcomplicated and patronizing language, the document likely evokes bitter memories of parental authority as it focuses on deeming certain behaviors as unacceptable.
Outlining inappropriate conduct is, of course, necessary. There are those on campus who probably need to be reminded in writing that burning down the Chemistry building is a bad idea. But the statement should take a more proactive approach to addressing students’ actions.
In its current form, the document supposedly intends to focus on “rights and responsibilities” but spends little time discussing either. Of eight rather lengthy sections, only one comparatively short article is reserved for enumerating students’ rights. In that section, the statement basically reiterates select liberties granted by the United States Bill of Rights, protects students from discrimination and creates a safeguard from “capricious decision-making from the University.”
To be sure, all of that’s key in such a document. But instead of merely reminding students that we have the right to speak our minds, the statement ought to encourage us to do so. Rather than simply affirm that students will be protected from discrimination based on our various self-definitions, the statement should challenge us to question labels and social norms and encourage us to critically examine ourselves.
And that’s where the “responsibilities” part comes into play. That section happens to be the shortest of the document’s eight, devoting only two sentences to what the core of the document ought to entail. It starts out with an important truth — that “along with rights come certain responsibilities.” And it concludes, rather abruptly, by reminding us of a student’s duty “to obey local, state, and federal laws.”
Yet rather than restating the rights and legal obligations that characterize everyday life, the statement needs to focus on the unique experience of being a student at the University. It should reclaim the ideal of the “Michigan Man” from its current usage as an athletic catchphrase and define it as an intellectual and ethical standard to which all students in Ann Arbor should be compared. It would remind us that though our classes teach us to talk the talk in all kinds of languages, we also have an imperative to walk the walk as members and representatives of our community. As the beneficiaries of a world-class education, we have a responsibility to change and repair the world. We have heard the stories of exceptional Wolverines who have come before us — Raoul Wallenberg, Clarence Darrow and Arthur Miller amongst so many others — and we have an obligation to raise the bars they’ve set.
By simply enumerating all the things the University doesn’t want students to do, the statement misses out on an opportunity to stimulate truly exemplary behavior from the student body. The current document implies that the University expects nothing more from students than to be law-abiding like all other people. Instead, it should encourage us to stand out.
I am reminded of the extraordinary character of this place all the time. Just recently, the stellar show of University students at the latest Winter Olympics brought even more pride to Ann Arbor. Those Olympians were keenly aware that wherever a Michigan student goes, as a representative of the University, his actions have a bearing on much more than just his own reputation.
It’s widely known that the University is dedicated to the academic growth of its students. But scholastic maturity, while clearly vital, cannot create an exceptional citizen alone. Ethical mindfulness and the tenacity to make positive change are part of the equation. The University ought to use the statement to remind students of that.
Matthew Green can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.