Townies to Schlissel: You’re a Murderer

Early Friday morning (10/30), two banners appeared in Ann Arbor attributing the current rise in local COVID cases to the University of Michigan. One banner, flying near the intersection of State and Liberty, reads “UM BROUGHT THIS OUTBREAK HERE”; the other reads “UM FIRES, SUES, ARRESTS STUDENTS, FUNDS COPS. WHY?”

For months, many in the Washtenaw County community have been sounding the alarm about the University of Michigan’s irresponsible arrangements for bringing students back to Ann Arbor for the fall semester. The county health department’s stay-home order for all U-M undergraduates, issued last week, was the final nail in the coffin for the U’s claims that a “culture of care” is driving its approach to business in the COVID era. The greatest “care” taken by the University in this whole crisis may well be the care with which it guided the health department’s hand in drafting the stay-home order, ensuring that football could proceed and that class schedules would remain the same. 

The University has punished those who try and raise public awareness about its conservative approach to not only COVID, but other vital issues that we and our neighbors care deeply about. Campus is in the middle of an outbreak with no end in sight, an outbreak predicted by the graduate student union GEO in early September. They went on strike for all of our safety and were threatened with legal action that would have bankrupted the union; all President Schlissel would have had to do was actually listen to what GEO was saying and he might not have put us all in this situation. 

We know that campus is not nearly as separate from the rest of Ann Arbor as University administrators would like us to believe. U-M carbon emissions are a significant chunk of Ann Arbor’s emissions, and when students and community members protested the U’s approach to carbon neutrality last year, University police arrested them and charged them with trespassing. One of the key GEO strike demands was for defunding the campus police and reinvesting the funds elsewhere on campus, and while the University has set up a task force on campus policing, those of us who were involved with organizing around Ann Arbor’s task force for a police oversight commission a few years ago know all too well how stage-managed and undemocratic those groups end up being. We see clearly that the University of Michigan has a history of undermining activism and threatening students, and that is no “culture of care” we recognize.

In other words: care is not creating prison-like conditions in COVID isolation dorms until mass outcry forces a change; that’s laziness. Care is not planning that undergraduates will perfectly follow all of the COVID rules; that’s arrogance. Care is not threatening to sue your graduate student employee union out of existence for calling attention to your awful COVID plan and its intersection with a heavily policed and militarized campus; that’s panicked insecurity. 

Care is assuming the health of staff, students, faculty, and residents are worth the cost and complexity of a universal campus testing program. Care is acting on the knowledge that with football comes tailgates, parties, and the opposite of ideal conditions for preventing the spread of COVID-19. And care is the University doing what no other university or institution in this country has been brave enough to do: make the call that the risks attempting to do business as usual are too great to bear, shutter campus, and draw on its endowment and the billion-dollar loan taken out at the start of the pandemic to provide material security for those it employs—and reduce the risk to the community we live in—until there is a vaccine.


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