BY ELYANA TWIGGS
Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 14, 2010
The Michigan Student Assembly gathered in MSA Chambers for their final meeting of the semester last night, and on its docket was a series of issues ranging from the campus-wide Smoke Free Initiative to the creation of a joint student governing council for all three of the University’s campuses.
At the meeting, the assembly passed a resolution in a 26-10 vote to push for more student representation in discussing the University’s Smoke Free Initiative, which is set to take effect in July 2011.
The University’s chapter of College Libertarians are spearheading the call for greater involvement because they say the smoking ban strips students and other members of the University community of their basic rights. The resolution states that MSA should appoint a representative to the smoking initiative’s Student Life Subcommittee in an effort to gain more information about the ban.
LSA junior Graham Kozak, the recently-elected president of the College Libertarians, helped draft the resolution. Kozak said at the meeting that he is frustrated with University officials — especially University President Mary Sue Coleman — who he says did not request enough student input before deciding to implement the initiative.
In a press release and columns in The Michigan Daily, members of the College Libertarians have identified Coleman as having an apparent conflict of interest due to her position on the board of Johnson & Johnson — a company that manufactures and markets smoking cessation products.
Kozack said if the allegations prove to be true, they could have large implications as Coleman is compensated for sitting on the company’s board.
He said the main reason for the resolution and the accusation of Coleman’s conflict of interest is that there is not enough information provided to the whole campus about the origin of the Smoke Free Initiative.
“We want to see what information the University has gathered in order to implement the plan and how the students and faculty stand on the issue,” Kozak said.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said in an interview yesterday that Coleman’s position on the board of the company doesn’t constitute a conflict of interest.
“We are absolutely confident that there is no conflict of interest with President Coleman with her service on the Johnson & Johnson board,” he said.
Fitzgerald added that the company does not make the types of smoking cessation products recommended by the medical community.
“The medical community tells us that the most effective medical intervention to help people stop smoking is the prescription cessation product,” he said. “Johnson & Johnson simply does not make any prescription cessation product.”
In addition, Fitzgerald explained that the University has not yet determined if, when the Smoke Free Initiative is implemented, it will subsidize smoking cessation products or simply negotiate a discounted rate.
Fitzgerald added that with implementation of the ban more than a year away, the University is still finalizing the details.
“We’re still more than a year away from implementing this policy so there are many details to be worked out just like all the subcommittees are still at work determining the best possible way to implement this policy for this campus,” he said.
He continued: “Subcommittees will report back by this fall … leaving plenty of time for people to understand what that implementation plan would be.”
LSA senior Jonathan Slemrod, former president of the College Libertarians, said at the meeting last night that the resolution is about transparency and obtaining information about the ban.
“The resolution has nothing to do with if you agree with the ban or not,” he said.
He said few students have been involved in the process, adding that the 1,500 students who were contacted for input on the ban do not accurately represent the 40,000 students on campus.
Kozak said that he hopes that through MSA, the administration may recognize students’ opinions on the issue. He added that students may benefit from trying to make their voices heard.
“Whether the University listens or not, I think we as a student body have something to gain,” he said.
MSA PASSES RESOLUTION IN SUPPORT OF LEO
At last night’s meeting, MSA unanimously passed a resolution to establish solidarity with the Lecturers’ Employee Organization, which is in the middle of negotiating a new contract with the University.
LEO represents about 1,300 lecturers on the University’s three campuses — with 900 members on the Ann Arbor campus, according to the resolution.
Currently, the University is proposing an increase in health care premiums by 240 and 300 percent for part time lecturers, which would result in a large pay cut, according to the resolution.
LSA Rep. John Oltean, an author of the resolution, said MSA is crucial in inspiring campus-wide support for University lecturers.
“Lecturers make up 30 percent of our college education time," Oltean said in an interview after the meeting. “We need to look out for our lecturers so that we can receive the quality education that we want.”
MSA PASSES RESOLUTION TO CREATE GOVERNMENTS COUNCIL
A resolution was unanimously passed at last night’s Michigan Student Assembly meeting to create a Michigan Student Governments’ Council that would promote a unified student voice across all University of Michigan campuses.
This resolution, drafted by MSA Rackham Rep. Michael Benson, is intended to encourage discussion between the Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn student governments.
“(The Student Governments’ Council is) nothing overly complicated, but something whereby individual student governments can reach out to each other and have a collaborative dialogue,” Benson said.
The three student governments are members of the Student Association of Michigan, which addresses issues within the state.
One of the main purposes of the Student Governments’ Council is to “encourage and facilitate open communication” between the campuses, according to the resolution.
Benson said in an interview before last night’s meeting that all the campuses are on board for more cohesion and governance so that they can tackle issues together.
“To be able to speak as a single council, it is now all the students at the University of Michigan speaking with a single voice on a single topic,” Benson said.
Benson said all three campuses need to have a mode for students to address the University administration and Board of Regents.
Owen Agho, current student government president at the Univesity’s Flint campus, said at the meeting last night that the resolution would benefit all University students.
“We will have a place to come together to talk about all different issues that affect all campuses,” Agho said. “We need a place for all Michigan students to come together and work together in a practical manner.”
Since MSA passed the resolution, Agho said the Flint and Dearborn campuses will now follow suit.
— Daily News Editor Kyle Swanson contributed to this report.