The University Record, April 15, 2002

U-M responds to Call to Service Act

By Kara Bomzer
Record Intern

U.S. Senators McCain and Bayh speaking at the Michigan Union April 8. (Photo by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services)
Continuing the legacy of John F. Kennedy and his announcement of the idea of the Peace Corps on the steps of the Michigan Union, Senators John McCain and Evan Bayh visited U-M to promote their Call to Service Act and to receive feedback from those involved in U-M’s volunteer programs. The act aims to improve AmeriCorps, Senior Service and implement a plan titled 18-18-18.

McCain said that young people became disillusioned after 9-11 because when they asked what they could do to help, they were told to “take a trip, go shopping, get on an airline.” The Act provides a better answer to young people by encouraging them to become involved in organizations such as AmeriCorps, a volunteer program that involves students in community service. The Act would increase AmeriCorps to 250,000 volunteers by 2010, link the program to Homeland Defense, and abolish the tax on AmeriCorps income. Such aims are encouraging to those in U-M’s volunteer programs, but many staff members involved with AmeriCorps feel more needs to be done to improve the state of such volunteer organizations in our country.

Student and staff representatives, who met with McCain and Bayh for a special roundtable, had great praise for increasing the number of Ameri-Corps volunteers, as well as eliminating the tax. There was, however, concern expressed in regard to the inadequacy of funding provided for administrators of AmeriCorps and programs like it. Pamela Fowler, director of financial aid, said people are being turned away from programs because there is not enough money to accept all the students who want to participate in a volunteer program. Without adequate personnel to find work projects and monitor students involved, Fowler says they have been forced to deny students an experience.

In addition, Fowler says those who are involved in the program face risks in their volunteer environment because there is not enough staff available to monitor students closely enough. Such deficiencies have, in the past, put students in danger as they go out into difficult areas of the community, she says.

David Scobey, an associate professor in the college of Architecture and Urban Planning and director of the Arts of Citizenship program, said that improving options for students to be involved with volunteerism is positive because he senses that young people want to help. Of more concern, he says, is that their interest in participation ends with volunteer service. According to Scobey, participation does not spur students to political action, such as voting. McCain and Bayh said they were encouraged to draw this connection so that the country doesn’t end up with a generation of wonderful volunteers with poor political ties.

The 18-18-18 aspect of the Act received criticism from some students during the town meeting that followed the roundtable discussion. This plan allows young-people to serve 18 months active duty service, then 18 months military reserve service, in exchange for an $18,000 bonus payment at the end of service. Students told the senators that they see this as a conflict of interest—that war and peace can’t effectively be promoted within the same Act. McCain countered saying the goal is to provide “different choices for different types of people.” Senator Bayh added that it is “necessary to combine idealism with practicality and realism.”

McCain and Bayh address student concerns

In an unusual bipartisan event, U-M College Democrats and College Republicans co-sponsored a town hall meeting April 8 with U.S. Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), who were making U-M their first stop in a nationwide tour to promote a new volunteer service act. The event, which allowed students to voice their opinions on such issues as campaign finance reform and the new Call to Service Act, drew students from across campus.

Each senator began the meeting with a few opening remarks before taking questions that they fielded together. In his comments, McCain discussed the “respect and love for the ‘Greatest Generation,’” and how this admiration is translating into civic activism for a younger generation. Senator Bayh echoed this sentiment as he stressed the need for society to be “more decent, just and compassionate” and to “better the community” we live in. Both echoed the sentiment that now, more than ever, it is crucial that Americans, in the words of Bayh, “defend our principles and values here and abroad.”

Several elements of the Call to Service Act were also stressed throughout the meeting. According to Bayh, as no major wars have been fought since Vietnam, we as a country are lacking citizens who understand what it is to fight in a war. For this reason, he says the 18-18-18 component of the plan is necessary. This aspect of the plan encourages young people to serve 18 months active duty service, then 18 months military reserve service, in exchange for an $18,000 bonus payment at the end of service.

Public comment relative to the Act focused on the obstacle of getting the current generation to participate when its members are viewed by many, including some students present, as apathetic. Senator McCain says that he sees young Americans not as apathetic, but as frustrated. He feels that young people simply want an answer to their question of “what can we do” and that this Act provides such an answer.

Students also had questions concerning the myriad of events that have recently occurred in our country and around the world. One such inquiry regarded the current situation with Iraq. There was curiosity over whether a showdown with the country is imminent in light of current problems. Bayh acknowledged that the U.S. has to deal with Iraq. Bayh further stressed that “it is not a question of whether, but when.” He admitted, however, that dealing with Iraq will be more difficult than dealing with Afghanistan because the political framework of the country is very different. More work needs to be done to seek out opposing factions and find out exactly what Sadaam Hussein is doing.

Senator McCain also fielded questions about his recent success with the Campaign Finance Reform Bill. The senator said he is confident in the constitutionality of the bill. He cited failed efforts to defeat reform initiatives as the basis for his belief that the bill will hold up.

Another hot-bed issue raised was that of the current violence in Israel. Both Senators agreed with the president’s sentiment that the suicide bombings need to stop before peace can be attempted in Israel. They felt that it wasn’t hypocritical of the president to push for negotiations as long as there is an end to such violence first.