Amid recent concerns that the University administration is not receptive to the viewpoints of the student body, members of Central Student Government (CSG) have advocated for the creation of a non-voting student position on the Board of Regents. They hope that by having a representative on the Board, student concerns can be directly expressed to the Regents. Looking beyond the obstacles that would prevent such a change from even happening, recent decisions by both CSG and the Board of Regents regarding the issue of divestment demonstrate that the appointment of a student Regent position would be a complete waste of time.
On December 14th, the University of Michigan Board of Regents voted to reject CSG’s proposal to create an ad-hoc committee to “assess University investments in companies that conduct business with Israel.” Resolution (A.R. 7-019), which passed last month, was the first UMDivest proposal CSG has ever approved. In a joint statement, the Regents stated that they “strongly oppose any action involving the boycott, divestment or sanction of Israel,” and must uphold their responsibility of securing the financial interests of the University from political pressure. The Regents also commented that any “boycott, divestment or sanction” measure interferes with the University’s engagement with the outside world, and therefore undermines the “bedrock values of our great university.”
For those shocked by CSG’s decision to pass the BDS legislation last month, the Regents’ decision is a welcome relief. As I have written in the past, the BDS movement, which seeks to economically and politically isolate Israel through divestment and boycott measures, is a campaign of hatred with the stated goal of dissolving the world’s only Jewish state. Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE), the student organization that sponsored the resolution, insisted that they were not proposing a BDS resolution, despite having a “BDS Chair” in their leadership, citing BDS websites in their resolution, identifying themselves with the BDS movement in every previous resolution they have proposed, and calling for the divestment of businesses associated with Israel. Anyone with sense could recognize that this was a lie to assuage CSG representatives who did not want to be identified with the BDS movement. Whereas CSG was unable, or unwilling to recognize this deception, the Regents rightly rejected SAFE’s attempt to dissociate from the hateful movement.
Part of the disparity in action between CSG and the Board of Regents stems from the proximity of CSG representatives to advocates of divestment. When you have personal relationships with people that equate voting against divestment with silencing their voices, you may feel cornered into choosing an emotional versus rational decision. As a result, false ultimatums and emotional narratives without historical context led CSG toward a decision that directly opposes the University’s liberal and academic values, and counter to its financial interests.
CSG has shown that is unable to insulate itself from rhetoric, rendering them powerless to bring about policy change without approval from the Board of Regents. The Board alternatively draws some of its efficacy from its distance from the student body, so it would inevitably be weakened by the introduction of a student member. As the Regents note in their recent statement, they “must consider the broad landscape of university stakeholders including all students, our faculty, staff, alumni and the citizens of the State of Michigan,” when making decisions on behalf of the University. Although the Regents inevitably have their own biases and personal relationships that affect their decision making, as public officials that are held accountable by the multiple stakeholders they represent, they must provide substantive reasons to justify their actions. When serious decisions for the future of the University need to be made, it would be best if a potential mouthpiece for the most toxic and one-dimensional narratives on campus did not have a seat at the table.