The University Record, February 21, 2000

Statement by President Lee C. Bollinger

Editor’s Note: The following statement was issued at the Feb. 17 Regents’ meeting prior to the public comments session.
Read about the Students of Color Coalition and Michigamua's public comments at the same meeting.

“For the past ten days, we have been engaged in discussions with students including the students occupying the tower of the Union. We do not believe that occupation is the way to resolve issues within the University. In this instance we felt that it was in the best interests of our educational process for the University to pursue that discussion to a reasonable resolution.

“Any conversation must have starting points. For a University, a fundamental principle is that, with rare exceptions, students, faculty and staff must not be treated differently because of their beliefs or the expressions of those beliefs. That principle has direct application to this controversy. Some have argued that one of the societies using the Union tower space, Michigamua, should be stripped of its University affiliation and lose its exclusive use of that space because it has a history of practices that demean and degrade Native American culture and spirituality. Under our principles it is clear that student organizations must not be recognized or de-recognized, or suffer any other penalty, because the ideas they espouse or beliefs they adhere to are offensive, or even dangerous, to our community. I have spoken to leaders of the groups occupying the tower, other students and faculty, and they, too, value this principle.

“Neither viewpoints nor legacy necessarily entitle any group within the campus to privileged space. We will address, in a neutral way, the process of space allocation among student organizations within the University.

“It must be said, again and again, that responsible membership in our University community implies caring about the perceived impact of one’s actions on others. Of particular importance are perceptions, however unintended, of cultural offense, and those behaviors that cause others in the community to be excluded and unappreciated. Whether conscious or not, practices that negatively stereotype groups in our society cause unjust pain and humiliation. I believe such practices are not acceptable behaviors in a University that values and fosters diversity. We must never take lightly the effects of such perceptions and behaviors.

“Current students of Michigamua acknowledge that its history has included practices demeaning of Native American culture. None of us, however, can count ourselves free of embarrassment and even shame for what we have once believed or practiced, not even the University of Michigan.

“Our students are continually reminding us of the challenge embedded in Pascal’s enduring words, inscribed on the walls of our University, ‘Justice and power must be brought together so that whatever is just may be powerful and whatever is powerful must be just.’ ”