Snyder accepts invite, students plan protest

Students+from+the+%E2%80%9CProtest+Snyder+at+Graduation%E2%80%9D+Facebook+page+meet+in+Jamrich+to+discuss+possible+protest+options+for+the+commencement+ceremony.+Photo+by%3A+Lindsey+Eaton

Students from the “Protest Snyder at Graduation” Facebook page meet in Jamrich to discuss possible protest options for the commencement ceremony. Photo by: Lindsey Eaton

Trevor Drew

The same day NMU officials announced Gov. Rick Snyder will speak at NMU’s May 5 commencement, a Facebook group was created to organize students who want to protest his address.

Since its creation on Feb. 2, the protest group has grown to over 200 individuals who are interested. The group was organized because there were many students who felt administration disregarded the opinion of the students, senior political science major Connor Raak said, citing a petition signed by approximately 400 students presented to the Board of Trustees urging it to rescind its invitation to Snyder to speak at commencement.

The petition listed the governor’s involvement in the Flint water crisis as well as “attacks” on public education, labor and the democratic process as reasons the undersigned rejected Snyder’s invitation.
“The university didn’t listen to us,” Raak said. “We know he’s going to be speaking, that’s a fact, so we can’t stop that. But the university is using their free speech to have Snyder come and the students who protest are using their freedom to make sure we don’t approve of that.”

Raak added he hopes one result of this initiative is a more student-involved process of selecting a commencement speaker in the future.

While the group has not decided on how it will protest, members agree the governor’s involvement in the Flint water crisis can be considered criminal, senior double major in sociology and environmental studies and group member Nathan Frishkorn said.

“We want to force the administration of this university to actually listen to the students,” Frishkorn said. “There is a complete lack of transparency, and there has been for several years now and no accountability. They never answer to the students, which ultimately comes down to the fact that they would not have jobs if it wasn’t for us.” When the petition was first presented to the board, trustees James Haveman and in balancing Michigan’s budget, keeping Upper Peninsula’s electrical prices under control and providing internet throughout the U.P. through the EAN project were reasons for inviting Snyder to speak.

NMU President Fritz Erickson said he was pleased to learn that the governor had accepted the invitation and added that moving forward, it’s important as a university to avoid censorship.

“We respect the free expression of ideas from everybody and a student who chooses to protest has every right to do that and I certainly support that right,” Erickson said Brent Graves, president of Northern’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said that as a result he would not be attending May graduation.

“The Board of Trustees should realize that commencement is not about their agendas, nor is it a platform for airing diverse political perspective,” Graves said. “It is about honoring the students and their families, and this does not.”