The University Record, March 20, 2000

Panel appointed to examine student group space allocation, other issues

By Joel Seguine
News and Information Services
and Jane R. Elgass

Three senior faculty and administrators were named March 15 to a panel that will examine both the allocation of space to campus student groups and the nature and scope of the University’s involvement with student organizations.

Formation of the panel follows a protest by the Students of Color Coalition (SCC), who took over space in the Michigan Union tower that is used by the student honor society Michigamua. The students, who occupied the space Feb. 6–March 13, were protesting Michigamua’s use of Native American rituals and artifacts and its affiliation with the University. Michigamua and two other organizations—Vulcans and Phoenix—have used dedicated meeting rooms in the tower for many years.

Panel members, announced by Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Royster Harper, are Patricia Gurin, professor of psychology and of women’s studies; Earl Lewis, dean of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies and professor of history; and Christina Whitman, professor of law and of women’s studies.

“The expertise in diversity research of Professor Gurin, Dean Lewis’ perspective as both a historian and senior administrator, and the legal scholarship of Professor Whitman make an excellent combination to address these very important issues,” Harper said.

The group will examine two issues:

  • The University’s policies and practices regarding space allocation to student organizations, with particular attention to the question of under what conditions, if any, a student organization should be entitled to space that is not subject to a periodic assignment process, review and potential reassignment. The panel’s findings and recommendations, due by April 13, will lead to a decision by the University on assignment and use of the Michigan Union tower space and any other exclusively assigned space that may exist on campus.

  • The proper nature and scope of University involvement with student organizations, and under what circumstances and in what ways the University, its administrators and faculty members should be associated with such organizations. Recommendations on this issue are to be made before Oct. 2.

    The panel is expected to solicit student, staff, faculty and community input by holding public hearings and utilizing any other methods the panel deems appropriate. A schedule for the public hearings will be announced within the next week.

    In a Feb. 17 statement on the students’ protest and occupation of the tower space, President Lee C. Bollinger said that “with rare exceptions, students, faculty and staff must not be treated differently because of their beliefs or the expressions of those beliefs. . . . 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.”

    However, he also noted, “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 another. . . .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.” (The full text of this statement is on the Web at www.umich.edu/~urecord/9900/Feb21_00/4.htm.)

    Bollinger announced the formation of the panel in a Feb. 25 statement, noting that, “Space allocation is a serious and important question for the University . . . and it is important for us to examine whether space is currently being allocated in a manner that is fair and equitable to all student organizations.”

    Commenting on future decisions based on the panel’s recommendations, the president also said that “those decisions must be made in a way that does not penalize any group for its views or beliefs yet fully considers history and past practices.”

    “The University must create a learning environment where each student is intellectually engaged and participates fully. This requires a climate of openness, respect and tolerance.”

    (The full text of the Feb. 25 statement is on the Web at www.umich.edu/~newsinfo/Releases/2000/Feb00/r022500b.html.)

    On March 13, Bollinger issued a statement that expanded the scope of the panel’s work to include the relationship between student organizations and the University, saying:

    “While this University honors the principle that individuals and groups within the University community must be free to express a wide variety of beliefs and ideas, it is also committed to ensuring that its own institutional voice on the subject of racial and ethnic respect be unequivocal. The University simply does not condone practices that denigrate the values or traditions of particular racial or ethnic groups.

    “The recent protests about the Michigamua student organization have raised important questions as to the proper nature and scope of University involvement with student organizations.

    “In considering this issue,” Bollinger said, “the panel will consider the concerns that have been expressed about whether and to what extent associations between the University, its administrators or faculty can or have given rise to the impression that the University endorses racial or ethnic ridicule, and whether and to what extent those associations can or have contributed to marginalizing or disenfranchising other groups or students. The panel will also consider applicable civil rights and anti-discrimination principles, as well as applicable First Amendment principles such as freedom of speech and freedom of association.”

    (The full text of this statement is at “March 13 statement by Lee C. Bollinger”.)