At the Central Student Government Assembly meeting on Tuesday night, the Assembly voted to indefinitely postpone Assembly Resolution 3-050: A Resolution for the University of Michigan to Divest from Socially Irresponsible Companies that Violate Palestinian Human Rights. The resolution was brought forth by a student group, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE). A majority of the Assembly representatives voted not to vote on the resolution, arguing that divestment was an issue outside the scope of CSG business. From SAFE’s perspective, CSG effectively stated that debating and voting on these students’ concerns was outside the scope of student government. As a result, the 250 students present at the meeting to show support for the resolution, along with 37 co-signing student organizations, feel that CSG is not willing to listen to their concerns. While I do not vote on the Assembly, I do regret the aftermath of this vote. I do not, and the members of CSG do not, ever want any student to feel their elected representatives will not listen to them. I believe even when there is disagreement, even intense disagreement, the student government has an obligation to hear out our constituents.
To be clear, I do not believe any member of the Central Student Government intended to silence students. I believe the representatives who voted to postpone A.R. 3-050 indefinitely did so with the best intentions and did not want to cause harm to anyone. I believe the representatives who voted to postpone A.R. 3-050 did not feel it appropriate for CSG to take a position on the subject matter in the resolution. And I think the representatives who voted to postpone felt they did listen to the concerns of the students bringing the resolution forth over the last couple weeks, through community concerns, an introduction of the resolution last week, an opportunity for Q&A with the authors of the resolution last week, and an opportunity to speak with the authors while the resolution was in committee.
But SAFE had more they wanted to say, and they do not feel CSG provided the opportunity. The leaders of SAFE indicate they invited members of CSG to a Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) teach-in so they could present their side of the argument outside a CSG meeting, and CSG members did not attend. They feel there should have been more time for community concerns last Tuesday, so that more students could directly address their elected representatives during the meeting. They indicate that most of all, they wanted CSG to vote on their resolution they spent several months crafting.
While I am not personally supportive of the resolution—or any divestment resolution, as I have made clear throughout my time in CSG—I do believe this resolution should have gone up for a vote. Never before, to my knowledge, has the Assembly voted to indefinitely postpone a resolution. The Assembly typically just votes “no” on resolutions it does not feel are the place of CSG to debate.
Since Tuesday’s meeting, members of the SAFE and their supporters have staged a sit-in in the CSG offices. They have submitted a list of 5 demands. I have spent the last several days working tirelessly with the leaders of SAFE, the members of the Assembly, and other student groups to find a solution that can end the sit-in and address the concerns raised by students. But before I step through each of these requests and the steps we can take to address them, I want to be clear about one thing:
A group of students cannot simply stage a sit-in and get CSG to acquiesce to their demands. The act of sitting in disrupts the functions of the student government and the services it provides to the campus. The Central Student Government is made up of more than just the Assembly. There are 23 executive commissions, each of which has a different issue they focus on in order to improve student life at Michigan. The Student Organization Funding Commission, SOFC, allocates hundreds of thousands of dollars to student organizations each year so that student organizations can hold events and lower their costs of membership. Assembly representatives are working to draft new curriculum requirements to help foster a more diverse and inclusive University and have passed multiple resolutions aiding student organizations in pursuit of their goals. Vice President Bobby Dishell, the rest of the executive committee, and I, have held hundreds of meetings in these offices throughout the year to work towards accomplishing some of our goals. These have included installing a 24 hour café on North Campus, forming a first-of-its-kind student presidential search committee that reported to the Board of Regents on the qualities students desire in the next president of Michigan, designing, implementing, and funding a late-night off campus bus route in partnership with the Interfraternity Council, strategizing to help the Black Student Union in their goal of increased transportation to and from Ypsilanti, so that students who live there can more fully engage in campus life, and reversing the unpopular general admission student football seating policy after collecting feedback from nearly 10,000 student season ticketholders.
This sit-in is unique, though, and goes beyond a protest of a CSG decision. The sit-in itself is a symbolic gesture to give voice to the students who felt silenced. The Central Student Government needs to take steps to resolve this situation not because there is a sit-in, but because students feel that CSG will not listen to their concerns. The decision to indefinitely postpone A.R. 3-050 is unprecedented during my time in student government. Therefore, no action taken during the aftermath can set precedent. Moving forward, if the Central Student Government votes “no” on a resolution (I reiterate that did not happen in this instance), the issue should be considered settled. A sit-in cannot change that.
The leaders of SAFE have outlined 5 demands. I will step through each of these below:
1.That the Central Student Government repeal its decision to postpone the presentation of the divestment resolution indefinitely. The leaders of SAFE do not believe there was adequate time for them to introduce, discuss, and debate their resolution. As noted earlier, these students feel silenced. Because of the unprecedented nature of CSG’s vote to postpone A.R. 3-050 indefinitely, a motion will be made at the upcoming Assembly meeting to reconsider this vote.
2.That the Central Student Government make all of its meetings open. Central Student Government Assembly meetings are already open, and anyone may attend. They are held at 7:30 PM every Tuesday on the 3rd floor of the Michigan Union in CSG Chambers, barring exceptional circumstances. The Assembly may, however, vote to enter closed session to discuss sensitive or private topics. This proved useful earlier in the year when Vice President Bobby Dishell and I wanted to discuss possible amendments to the football seating policy with the representatives on the Assembly without the press present. Had the press picked up on our conversation, it would have jeopardized our negotiations with the Athletic Department. The Assembly is committed to keeping as much of its discourse as reasonable open so that students may hear their elected representatives and hold them accountable. I have objected to moving to closed session during debate in the past, and I believe CSG should be as transparent and accountable as possible. I will continue to do so unless the argument for a closed session is particularly compelling.
3.That the Central Student Government does not limit student speaking time. The Community Concerns portion of the Assembly meeting contains two time limits: one on individual speakers (3 minutes), and one on the overall time for community concerns (30 minutes). Both of these are extendable twice by a majority vote of the Assembly. Furthermore, the Assembly Operating Procedures explicitly bar the Assembly from voting to reduce the time limit for community concerns. In theory, as long as a majority of Assembly members are willing to extend Community Concerns time, there is no limit on student speaking time. Additionally, students may directly contact their representatives outside of CSG meetings, and no time limit exists on these interactions. I agree that a motion should be made to extend community concerns time when the list of student speakers is not exhausted at the end of 30 minutes.
4.That all Central Student Government representatives and executives participate in a “divestment teach-in.” Following the #UMMockEviction campaign in December, members of SAFE spoke during community concerns about their intention to bring forth a divestment resolution to CSG the following semester and invited members of the Assembly to engage with SAFE during the process of writing this resolution. Several months later, on Sunday, February 23, at roughly 11:45 PM, representatives on the CSG Assembly received an email from BDS Chair Yazan Kheralla titled: “You’re Invited: SAFE teach-in and discussion on divestment Wednesday @ 8:30.” The email reads as follows:
I hope your are all doing well. As you all know, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE) is a Palestinian solidarity group on campus that advocates for Palestinian rights and educates about the occupation.
We have attended several CSG meetings to speak about Palestinians’ call for BDS and divesting our tuition from unethical companies that profit from and facilitate the Israeli occupation. It is our intention to put for a divestment resolution to CSG this semester. We would like this to be a cooperative process. So, SAFE is inviting you all to attend a discussion on divestment at UM this Wednesday at 8:30 in the Parker room of the Union.
It’ll be an opportunity to discuss divestment in more detail and raise any concerns you may have. Let me know if you have any questions and as always, feel free to reach out to SAFE at any time. I hope to see you there!
SAFE asserts that no one from CSG attended the teach-in, which would have been an opportunity to answer questions about BDS in more detail. I expressed to the leaders of SAFE that CSG representatives receive invitations to dozens of events each month, in addition to their mandatory attendance at CSG Assembly and committee or commission meetings each week. One meeting with only a few days’ notice is typically not enough to engage with a broad base of CSG representatives; their schedules are quite busy and fill up quickly. I explained there was no way to make attendance of representatives at a teach-in mandatory. We compromised and agreed SAFE could take time as a guest speaker during an upcoming Assembly meeting.
5. That the Central Student Government issue a public apology in writing and in-person. The Central Student Government is not a monolithic entity. It is made up of three separate branches of government: the legislative branch (made up of the Assembly and the University Council), the executive branch (made up of the Executive Committee and the executive commissions), and the judicial branch (made up of the Central Student Judiciary). Just as the entire United States government cannot issue an apology for an action taken by the House of Representatives, the Central Student Government cannot issue an apology for actions taken by the Assembly.
That said, I, as the President of the Central Student Government, have a duty to recognize and respond to the state of the student body and the climate on campus. I do not think there is anyone who feels good about the aftermath of Tuesday’s meeting, and I think an apology is due.
I apologize to the students who worked for months on their divestment resolution, only to see it tabled indefinitely before it could go up for a discussion and a vote. I apologize this action made you feel silenced and personally hurt you. CSG’s power is derived from the consent of the student body, and we have an obligation to listen to our constituents.
I apologize to the students who opposed the divestment resolution, that the resolution did not get a vote on the night it was introduced and you did not have a chance to explain your opposition outside of a limited community concerns time.
I apologize to the students who attended Tuesday’s meeting, that I did not better prepare the Assembly for the large attendance and the lengthy list of students wishing to speak. I apologize that not every student who wished to speak during community concerns was able to.
I apologize to any Assembly representative or student-at-large who has been threatened, intimidated, or otherwise made to feel unsafe as a result of Tuesday’s meeting. I further apologize to any student who has felt unsafe throughout their entire time at Michigan because of their identity. That is unacceptable at Michigan. No student should be made to feel unsafe because of his or her stance on an issue or because of his or her identity. The student leaders on this campus have an obligation to speak out against personal attacks, harassment, and threats. We Expect Respect at Michigan, and we all need to live up to that.
I apologize to the student body that I did not do more throughout my term to foster a campus climate where the student government could discuss an issue this controversial without the sort of aftermath we have seen in the last week.
I apologize to any student who has been personally affected by this issue. The issues raised in the resolution extend thousands of miles beyond Ann Arbor, MI, and no student government resolution can bring about any sort of solution. But for thousands of students on this campus, the issues raised are intensely personal and hit close to home. We can, and should, do more so that students can voice their concerns and be listened to, even and especially by those who disagree with them. We should do more so that students feel safe describing their views and sharing their experiences.
I recognize that not everyone will walk away happy with the decisions made by the Central Student Government or by myself. But I pride myself on the ability of the Central Student Government to listen to our constituents and to speak up on their behalf. Clearly there is more work to do. We need to find a way to have these conversations in a productive, rather than destructive manner. It will take the collective action of the entire student body to commit to this goal of an open, inclusive, and safe dialogue. Students at Michigan are capable of amazing things when we are united, rather than divided, in our efforts.