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Administrators react to demands

In response to a list of demands proffered by community members following a controversial Sigma Chi fraternity party, administrators expressed support for principles of inclusion and communication but generally reaffirmed existing University policies.

The response--which was signed by President Nan Keohane, Provost Peter Lange, Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education William Chafe--promised only two changes in direct response to the demands and left a third open as a possibility.

Firstly, Moneta and other student affairs administrators will now meet regularly with the Presidents' Council, which is composed of several student organization leaders. Despite a demand that the meetings be open, monthly and that they include top academic administrators, the response said the meetings would generally be closed, held twice a semester and would only be visited by other senior administrators when their presence is appropriate. The meetings will be held in this fashion at least through this year.

Secondly, the Office of the Dean of Students will draft language clarifying the Community Standard and conditions that warrant punitive action. The letter stated that "verbal expressions and other forms of expression, however offensive, are not likely to be actionable under our Community Standard nor our published Rules and Regulations." Administrators also wrote they "would be happy" to organize a new task force to review event registration processes. However, such a group would have to honor free expression, so its usefulness might be limited.

On balance, the administrators cited the University's existing commitment to diversity and either stated that the community members' demands were already being addressed or rejected the demands outright. A call to endow new student scholarships for Latinos, Asian Americans and Native Americans was denied, with administrators citing recent University of Michigan legal decisions that discouraged the establishment of such programs. They also declined to establish separate Latino, Asian American or Native American cultural centers, pointing instead to the existing Center for Multicultural Affairs that may be expanded to include support staff for all three ethnic groups and "physical elements that will signify the distinctive nature of each of these communities."

The administrators wrote that they could not publish a one-page advertisement in The Chronicle and The Dialogue each semester detailing University policy on "hate crimes" because the University has no such policy, leaving that delineation to criminal and civil law. Information about rules and regulations, they wrote, is readily available and published annually.

In many cases, the community members' "demands" or some variation thereof were already addressed by ongoing initiatives. For example, in response to the demand for programs in Native American studies and Asian American studies and the strengthening of Latino studies and the study of sexualities program, administrators pointed to existing initiatives like the "Americas studies" program and a cluster of courses in Latino studies and possibly soon in Asian American studies. The sexualities program is being strengthened, they wrote.

However, administrators did not promise to create Native American or Asian American studies programs. "We are not supportive of separate programs or majors, believing that the interactive approach is more challenging and intellectually productive," they wrote.

Regarding demands for increased recruitment and retention of minority faculty and administrators, the response confirmed that pro-diversity hiring initiatives were already underway, in keeping with the recent recommendations of two task forces. The administration responded similarly to a demand for more recruitment of minority students.

Whilst the community members sought the "replenishment, extension and updating" of Latino, Asian American and Native American collections in the library system, administrators responded that physical collections are less important "in the information age" than ensuring access to a wide array of sources through electronic and other means.

They wrote that Perkins Library recently expanded the availability of databases relevant to Latino, Asian American and Native American cultures and has directed special efforts toward identifying books, journals and films that will facilitate the study of these areas. Furthermore, they wrote, specialist librarians are paying attention to the increased interest in ethnic studies as they select materials for purchase.

Requests for an "immediate conference" and a biannual progress report were satisfied, respectively, by the initial meeting between administrators and community members Oct. 1 and by a promise from administrators that progress reports will emerge from the twice-a-semester meetings.

Members of the community submitted their list of demands to University officials following a Sigma Chi fraternity party called "Viva Mexico," which purportedly made light of offensive stereotypes. Invitations were distributed in the form of expired green cards and a "border patrol" was present at the door.

Numerous individuals who participated in drafting the list of demands were either unavailable for comment or declined comment until they had further reviewed the response.

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