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UM Regents meeting disrupted by diversity protesters

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Mayhem broke out at the University of Michigan's Board of Regents meeting Thursday when protesters demanded greater minority enrollment, halting proceedings and prompting officials to move the session.

About two dozen students and protest organizers engaged in a litany of chants, broke through barriers separating the Regents from the public and spoke individually about their anger and disappointment with UM's minority enrollment, and the response from the university.

"Today we are saying there will be no more business as usual as the numbers of enrollment keep dropping," said Jose Alvarenga, an organizer of the protest, spearheaded by the activist group By Any Means Necessary.

"The leadership of the Regents and administration have shown to be inadequate, unsuccessful and in fact have completely given up on the task of fighting for public education and racial equality," Alvarenga said.

Regents and university officials left the Anderson Room at the Michigan Union, and reconvened in the Regents Room in the nearby Fleming Building, where security officials locked doors to the building and allowed only reporters inside.

It was the first time in recent memory that an official meeting had to be relocated, observers said.

"I am disappointed that they disrupted the meeting, but we were able to conduct business in this separate venue," UM President Mark Schlissel said after the meeting, speaking briefly with reporters.

Asked if he had any comment on the nature of the protest, Schlissel said no.

The protesters — none of whom had been arrested as of late Thursday — called for more minority students at UM, including greater representation from Detroit.

They shouted, "We don't need another committee. Open it up to Detroit city!"

Among the group's demands: doubling underrepresented minorities and admitting 10 percent of the graduating class of several Detroit public high schools.

Alvarenga, an organizer of the protest, said demonstrators intended to shut down the meeting so their voices could be heard.

He said when students spoke last year about their concerns, the Regents didn't pay attention.

Kevin Wolf, a Jewish freshman, said all minorities are connected and should stand up.

Regent Andrea Fischer Newman questioned whether the group members attend UM.

"I am not sure those were students," Fischer Newman said. "We take their concerns literally and we need to continue to consider their concerns. I understand the message. I think it could have been delivered in a more effective manner."

Regent Denise Ilitch added it was a new experience to feel physically threatened.

"The message gets lost because the listener is more concerned about physical safety than listening to what the message is," Ilitch said.

Regent Laurence Deitch said he questioned the tactics of the group even as he empathized with their concerns.

"It's been a long time since we had a good protest," he said.

UM's black student enrollment has fallen since the state's voters approved a ban on affirmative action in college admissions in 2006, dropping from a range of 6-9 percent to 4.8 percent last fall.

Alvarenga said black freshman enrollment fell this fall to 3.8 percent.

Earlier this year, UM officials agreed to initiatives aimed at increasing black enrollment and improving the campus climate for minority students after talks with the Black Student Union.

UM said it would partner with black students at university-sponsored events that encourage African-Americans who have been admitted to the UM to enroll.

The university also pledged to launch a pilot transportation project for black students living in more affordable housing outside Ann Arbor; earmark $300,000 to improve security at the Trotter Multicultural Center; and create a website for emergency funds available to students.

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