University graduate students buying their Michigan football student tickets for next season might be in for a surprise.

In an e-mail sent to students Friday, the Michigan Athletic Ticket Office announced that seating priority for next season’s student football tickets will give seniors priority over all other students, followed by graduate students who also have a University undergraduate degree. Graduate students who didn’t attend the University for their undergraduate years, though, will be given the lowest priority—- — below incoming freshmen.

In another change, the longstanding option for graduate students to purchase a “partner ticket” for their spouse, child or domestic partner has been cancelled for next season.

Though the policies were announced as permanent, a strong reaction by University graduate students prompted athletic ticketing officials to reconsider the decision. Marty Bodnar, the University’s athletic director for ticketing, said he received about 30 e-mails from graduate students upset with the changes after sending the e-mail to notify them.

But Bodnar said there was good reason to restructure the student ticketing process.

Bodnar said the new policy resulted from an increase in demand for tickets. Although the student section has a capacity of about 20,000 seats, more than 23,000 student tickets were sold for the 2007 season, he said.

Bodnar said eliminating partner tickets should help reduce the number of displaced students.

“We believe in retrospect that it was not fair to have freshmen sitting outside of the student section when a student was sitting inside the student section with a family member,” Bodnar said in an e-mail interview.

Bodnar explained the decision to give seating priority to incoming freshmen over graduate students by saying “we believe that undergraduates in this country generally have a greater affinity for their school than graduate students.”

Bodnar will discuss the changes in a meeting scheduled with students Monday.

After numerous complaints last season from freshmen and their parents regarding seating location, the University “decided that placing freshmen, ‘in no man’s land,’ was not a very welcoming experience,” Bodnar said.

About 3,000 students, most of them freshmen, were placed in seats scattered throughout the stadium last season.

LSA freshman Haley Briggs, one of those students, said that when she took her seat in Section 16 last year, halfway around the stadium from the rest of the students, she felt “angry and out-of-place.”

“I felt secluded because I was in row 92 and sitting next to old people and stuff,” Briggs said. Briggs stayed in her seat during the first game, but snuck into the student section to sit with friends for the rest of the season.

For Rackham student Ethan Eagle, though, the unexpected ticketing changes were an “outrage.”

The third-year doctoral student said he felt disenfranchised by the change and feels his age has allowed him to view the game as more than an excuse to socialize or binge-drink on a Saturday morning.

Eagle, who studied at the University of Maryland at College Park as an undergraduate, said he’ll always have a strong tie to that school, but thought it didn’t justify being given the lowest seating priority in the Big House.

“It’s not like I went to Ohio State,” Eagle said. “I came here from a different school, from a different conference and I’ll be as big a Michigan fan as I was a Maryland fan.”

Law School student Leslie Stierman said Law School e-mail lists have been abuzz with students angry about the decision.

“It seems like the administration takes an action and waits to see if they get a reaction from students,” Stierman said. “That’s something I’ll consider when I make a donation to the school down the road.”

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