Erickson to invite Snyder for May commencement

Michigan+Gov.+Rick+Snyder

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

Winter Keefer

In a move that has sparked controversy among NMU faculty, President Fritz Erickson will soon extend an invitation to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to be the commencement speaker at next semester’s graduation.

“I am very hopeful that the governor will accept,” Erickson said, adding that he believes the governor has done a lot for the university and the entire Upper Peninsula.

Nominations for commencement speaker were sent to the NMU Commencement Speaker and Honorary Degrees Committee comprised of faculty, student, NMU Board of Trustee and administrative representatives. The committee voted on each nomination, and those with the majority vote were brought to the president. The vote for Snyder happened over email and was passed with a majority vote but was not unanimous.

After the vote, nominees were brought back to Erickson who deliberated with the NMU Board of Trustees and decided to begin the process of formally inviting Snyder.

“From my perspective, I think it’s good to have people with a wide range of views here to speak on campus,” Erickson said.

Brent Graves, biology professor and president of the NMU-AAUP, sent a mass email to NMU faculty members, addressing the invitation for Snyder to speak at May commencement. In the email, Graves expressed his belief that many people within NMU and the surrounding community, including himself, have been disappointed with the actions of Snyder during his term as governor.

“Some have been concerned with the use of emergency managers to take over local government,” Graves said. “Some are concerned with an outgrowth of that policy, specifically, the Flint water tragedy. Others are dismayed by the numerous members of his administration who have been criminally charged in relation to those events and the accuracy of Mr. Snyder’s testimony about them to Congress.”

Graves also cited issues that he believes make the invitation an affront to the education community.

“Personally, I am still floored by his signing of ‘right to work’ (for less) legislation just hours after it passed the state house, after repeatedly stating in his campaign that the issue was not on his agenda. I am sure that many in our community, such as the MGH nurses, steelworkers, K-12 teachers and many other union members, feel just as strongly,” Graves said. 

Graves continued to say he would not attend a commencement ceremony that honored Snyder. He encouraged other faculty in opposition to Snyder to sign up to attend the end of fall semester graduation because faculty are required to attend at least one commencement per year.

Though the governor, if he accepts Erickson’s invitation, would speak at May commencement, he would not be given an honorary degree, Graves said.

“This is an admirable acknowledgement of heartfelt concerns by President Erickson; I want to express my appreciation. However, I still feel strongly that I will not attend a commencement at which Rick Snyder is the commencement speaker,” he said.

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Kerri Schuiling chaired the Commencement Speaker and Honorary Degrees Committee. She said the committee took into account that Snyder is not up for reelection this year.

“This is not meant to be politically motivated,” Schuiling said.

NMU Archivist and professor Marcus C. Robyns will hold a discussion meeting at 4 p.m. tomorrow in room 311 of the Learning Resource Center, to address concerns over the invitation for Snyder to speak at May commencement. Robyns encouraged anyone from the NMU community to attend, and hopes the event will spark the creation of a committee that can further educate the campus and the outside community on current issues surrounding Snyder.

“I’m hoping that the group will be successful in either convincing the administration—in this case President Erickson—to rescind the invitation, and short of that, since we can’t prevent him from coming, I’m hoping the group will be able to organize a series of informational public events,” Robyns said.