The Issues that Really Matter to University of Michigan Students


By Alison Denton Unigo Campus Rep at the University of Michigan On October 9th, 2008, University of Michigan students gathered at the Ford School of Public Policy to hear representatives from two prominent political groups, the College Republicans and the College Democrats, debate some of the more important issues surrounding this year’s presidential election. The event, which was attended by 200 students, marked the first university sponsored open dialogue of the 2008 presidential election. Representatives from each party promoted the positions of their respective presidential candidates on issues ranging from the economy to foreign affairs. The debate was constructed around pre-submitted questions from influential student groups like the Black Student Union and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender group. Student and attendee of the debate, Sarah Shoemaker said, “the panel seemed really well prepared and was able to engage the crowd with each response”. Towards the end of the debate, representatives took some questions from the crowd. By far the most challenging question for the partisan representatives was posed by debate mediator and director of the University’s Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives, John Matlock.  When he asked representatives what disagreements they had with their candidate, each group had to take a few moments of deliberation to answer the challenging question. In response to the question, College Democrats expressed their wish for Obama’s full support of gay marriage instead of his support of just civil unions. College Republicans confessed their disapproval with each candidate’s health care plan, expressing their dissatisfaction with the quality of Obama’s proposal and with the limited coverage of McCain’s proposal. While the two presidential candidates touched upon a wide range of points during debates, ,  it seems as if the issues that have received the most student attention this year were left wholly untouched by Obama and McCain. Even though University of Michigan students are concerned with many political issues this year, one can pinpoint three unique issues that have played a prominent role in student affairs thus far. The sustainability of the environment is a high priority to university students. The issue coincides with the School of Literature, Science, and the Arts themed semester, “Energy Futures”, has played an important role in many student events this fall. Student groups including the Michigan Student Assembly have been interested in creating events that promote the discussion of alternative energy. In fact, MSA created its first ‘green’ homecoming this year where events that promoted the alternative energy were held throughout the weekend. Honorary guest of the weekend and keynote speaker, T. Boone Pickens, a celebrity oilman and energy entrepreneur, spoke to students groups at the Power Center to discuss his plan to reduce foreign oil imports in the US. Tyler Cavanaugh, a senior and environment major, said, “Pickens geared his speech towards the students in the audience, encouraging us to get involved in this issue”. Other events included a recyclable art fair competition held on the central campus’ Diag. “Green issues are unanimously important to students”, said Professor Wells, political science professor. “Yet, many students are still very interested in issues concerning educational equality.” While this issue may not be of central importance to the presidential candidates, educational policy has garnered its fair of attention at the university. Statistics published this year announced the overall decrease in minority undergraduate enrollment has sparked an interest by minority groups to promote educational equality. Two years ago, when the state of Michigan failed to pass legislature concerning affirmative action practices, many thought the buzz surrounding this contested topic would end. “Clearly, the debate over affirmative action is dying”, said Kenna Taylor, senior and political science major, “but the interest in educational equality is still very much alive”. Many believe that while affirmative actions as a means of educational equality may no longer be a viable solution, educational equality is still important to most students. Stem cell research is another issue that has taken the spot light at the University of Michigan. The controversial procedure which deconstructs a human embryo to obtain the stem cells is opposed by those who believe the procedure devalues human life. As a major research university, U of M has hosted some important fundraising events for the cause. While the university has shown much support for stem cell research, debates concerning how involved a state university like U of M should be in promoting stem cell research have also become an issue of debate amongst students. The state of Michigan heavily restricts stem cell research, so a state institution like U of M can only sponsor small, educational events on stem cell research. Many students against stem cell research feel that with all the activity in support of stem cell research at the university, stem cell research groups are over stepping their bounds when it comes to this contested issue. Nonetheless, generally students are in favor of stem cell research. With a long-standing history of student political activism, the University of Michigan, celebrates student interest in politics with an important monument on its central campus. The memorial which depicts legions of university students engaged in a demonstration during the 1968 presidential election greets students’ everyday as they enter central campus. It seems that student interest in and commitment to political issues is part of a greater tradition at the University of Michigan that has lasted over 40 years.

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