Sunday, March 14, 2004The Detroit News published an editorial last Friday alleging the University of Michigan isn't doing enough to protect the rights of the people trying to get petition signatures to add to the state's constitution an amendment which would end all government affirmative action programs in the state. BAM-N has launched something they're calling "Operation King's Dream" whose suggestions seem to test political tactics one can legitimately equate with the Civil Rights Movement, including things like "Shadowing the signature gatherers for the racist campaign. Using our First Amendment right to vociferously dissuade people considering signing on to this racist, sexist attack." Anyone vaguely familiar with first amendment law will know there are a number of legal limitations including the right of public facilities and institutions to make time, space, and manner restrictions on speech. Here's some from the Detroit News editorial:
"... We agree with BAMN and other opponents of the anti-affirmative action drive that the initiative is both divisive and offensive, and a setback in the state's efforts to achieve racial equality.
Still, we respect the rights of those who are of the opposite opinion. They have a right to mount their petition drive.
MSU understands that and took swift action when BAMN invaded the Michigan State University student union, where Barbara Grutter, who sued the U-M law school for rejecting her application, was speaking. Campus police hauled the thugs away.
But U-M has done little or nothing to protect the rights of students who are working on behalf of the petition drive. Jeston La Croix, a U-M student assisting the initiative, says the group has made it virtually impossible to operate on campus, blocking access to petition tables and harassing those who stop by for information.
So far, campus police at U-M have not intervened. U-M spokesperson Julie Peterson says the university tries to manage these situations without trampling on the rights of protesters.
Everyone has rights, including the petition signature gatherers. They should be allowed to proceed with their misguided effort free from harassment and intimidation. The university has an obligation to protect the civil liberties of all students, not just the ones it agrees with. "
> DetNews: "U-M Must Protect Civil Rights of Its Opponents" (Via Chetly Zarko)
You might remember Jeston La Croix from last spring, when he angrly demanded the student busses to Washington D.C. funded by MSA for the rally in support of Affirmative Action during spring term be "viewpoint neutral." I would say younger people should keep their eyes on this young conservative activist, whom seems to be sliding into the angry-college-conservative role. The whole thing to me seems like an innocent organizing mistake, blown way out of proportion by the ability of angry white men to demand the administration meet with them. Here's a Michigan Review editorial from April 3, 2003 about last year's snafu, titled "MSA: Majorly Sketchy Allocation":
"AFTER SITTING LESS than two weeks as a new assembly, MSA has made its first highly questionable funding allocation. After being threatened with a lawsuit by a University student at last week's "in and out" meeting, MSA has crafted what can be construed by some as a money-laundering scheme at worst, and a waste of University dollars in times of budget crisis at best. This fiasco surrounds the 2002-2003 Assembly's funding of buses to travel to last Tuesday's Supreme Court hearing of the lawsuits against the University's race-based affirmative action admissions policies. Originally, $12,000 was allocated to fund four buses in conjunction with other buses being paid for by Students Supporting Affirmative Action.
The MSA buses were supposed to be issue-neutral according to the resolution passed by all but one of the representatives. Students Supporting Affi rmative Action (SSAA) was only involved because the group had reserved the buses in advance, guaranteeing a lower rate than if MSA were to secure its own buses. Thus, whether a student supported or opposed the University's admissions policies, he or she was could travel to Washington, D.C. to witness a historic time in University history.
The problems with the buses began last week when two poorly thought-out communications from the assembly revealed a severe bias in the bus organization. First, when anyone sent an email requesting a seat on the MSA buses, they were sent
a confi rmation email reading "Dear student supporting affi rmative action" from MSA Communications Chair and SSAA leader Pete Woiwode. By not separating the bus confirmations into SSAA and MSA seats, Woiwode alienated many conservatives from riding these buses, as they either thought they had signed up for buses that were not issue-neutral or were deterred by the fact that they would be in the midst of an SSAA rally for the entire 10-hour trip. In addition to confirmation email, the composition of the email list that the buses were publicized to was also extremely biased. Groups organized in support of race based affirmative action like BAMN, SOLE and College Democrats were included on the list, while student groups opposing the University's position on the issue like College Republicans and Young Americans for Freedom were not included. In fact, the only non-left-leaning email list that received the email was msa.info at umich.edu.
This action, again by Woiwode, pushed LSA Freshman Jeston La Croix over the edge. La Croix threatened MSA at their Tuesday meeting and called a meeting with University Vice President E. Royster Harper and Dean of Students Ed Willis. Also at the meeting were new MSA President Angela Galardi (Students First-Engin.), MSA Representative Paul Scott (University Party-LSA), and former Peace and Justice Committee Chair Jackie Bray.
The University recognized La Croix's concern as valid and requested that MSA allocate funds for additional buses to rectify the problem. Galardi agreed and said that MSA could cut into funds currently allocated to Budget Priorities Committee (BPC)
to pay the extra buses. Scott responded by saying that MSA had spent enough student dollars on this event, and opposed cutting into student group funding to "cover the butts" of SSAA leaders like Woiwode and Bray who had not recognized their own confl icts of interest in organizing the buses. Upon hearing this from Scott, Vice President Harper suggested that the University could reimburse MSA out of her "slush fund" to cover the $8000 BPC shortfall that will cover the buses.
All parties seemed to agree on this resolution of La Croix's complaint, and after a two and a half hour emergency MSA meeting, the deal was done. While La Croix may be happy with the result, this action by the University and MSA draws a number of questions.
First, the University cannot legally pay for buses sent to lobby for a court decision in a case that it sits in as a defendant. Thus, by MSA paying for the buses, and the University paying for student group funding, a soft-core money-laundering scheme is essentially at work. Secondly, this last ditch effort, being carried forward by a campus-wide email, to allow students a chance to get to Washington will not allow enough time for students who had given up on the trip, now tied up in class commitments, to drop everything and jump on a bus.
Finally, the University faces times of budget crisis, as the state of Michigan will cut $36 million, and while $8000 is a drop in the larger bucket, it is the one-year tuition of an in-state student. "Slush funds" available to the Vice President should be going to maintain quality class size and selection that were threatened by Provost Paul Courant last week. La Croix should be commended for exposing a corrupt allocation on the part of MSA, but the University and the Assembly should hold their ground and look at the bigger picture a bit more when correcting measures, to avoid shady, back-door dealing like the new allocation.MR" (See this editorial on the Review's site)
Posted by Rob at 6:28 PM