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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas WiertellaApril 30, 2024

BOT emails reveal several voices reached out against Snyder speaking


Leading up to the 2018 May commencement, the NMU Board of Trustees (BOT) received negative feedback over the selection of Gov. Rick Snyder as a speaker from the NMU chapter of American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the Academic Senate, one NMU alum and a student petition with over 400 signatures.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, The North Wind obtained several emails to and from the BOT regarding Gov. Snyder speaking at May commencement.

In a statement from the BOT, Chair Robert Mahaney said diversity and inclusion are qualities the trustees strive to uphold at
NMU, and that includes the diversity of thought and opinion.

“We are proud to say the First Amendment of the United States Constitution is alive and well on our campus today. We are proud to say speakers from the liberal left and the conservative right all have the right to speak here,” Mahaney wrote. “We have not attempted to silence any voices. A tolerance for diverse viewpoints on our campus distinguishes this university.”

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He also noted that the BOT recognizes that much of the backlash regarding Snyder as commencement speaker revolves around his involvement in the Flint water crisis.

“Mistakes were made in Flint by a multitude of parties and agencies at the local, state and federal level,” Mahaney wrote. “Governor Snyder has acknowledged these mistakes and has worked diligently to solve Flint’s problems. Our hearts go out to our fellow Michiganders who were harmed by the events of Flint.”

On Oct. 24, after Snyder’s invitation was announced, AAUP NMU Chapter President and biology professor Brent Graves sent an email to AAUP members expressing concern over the governor’s invitation, citing his involvement in the Flint water crisis and his passing of “right to work” legislation.

“My perspective is that our commencement speaker should be someone who brings our university and community together, who helps us celebrate our students’ accomplishments and the value of higher education in our society,” Graves wrote. “I think that Governor Snyder would be a divisive speaker who would detract from a day meant to honor our graduates.”

Further in his letter, Graves explained he appreciated that Snyder would not be an honorary degree recipient in light of concerns on campus. However, Graves said that he would not attend May commencement, and because faculty are required to attend one commencement per year, encouraged members who felt the same way to attend the December ceremony instead.

During the span of the fall semester, senior sociology and environmental science major Nathan Frischkorn gathered approximately 400 student signatures, including 116 seniors graduating in May 2018, for a petition urging the BOT to rescind its invitation to Snyder.
Frischkorn presented the petition to the BOT during its December meeting.

“Ultimately, we feel that the selection of a politician, especially one with such a polarizing and tarnished reputation as Governor Snyder, reflects a level of ignorance regarding our current political climate,” Frischkorn said in his petition. “While we recognize the importance of open dialogue and of listening to opposing viewpoints, we also recognize that commencement is neither the time nor place for that. Commencement is supposed to be a celebration of students, and of the hard work that we have put in to make it to this day.”

After the open address portion of the meeting, Trustee Jim Haveman explained he had been a member of Snyder’s cabinet for two years and said he felt the governor had done more and had more bipartisan support in the Upper Peninsula than any governor he could remember.

Among many things, Havemen cited the governor’s successes in balancing budgets, preventing massive electric rate increases in the U.P. and his $9.7 million investment supporting NMU’s Education Access Network (EAN) as reasons for his invitation.

On Jan. 5, a few weeks after their meeting, Haveman sent an email to BOT members containing a list of positive achievements by the governor consisting of approximately 23 items under categories including economy, U.P. energy and NMU initiatives.

“I thought you would like to see some of the items I was referencing at our December board meeting per Gov. Snyder’s activities and commitment to the U.P.,” Haveman wrote in his email. “I am very happy he will be our commencement speaker.”

When it was announced on Feb. 2 that the governor had officially accepted his offer to speak at May commencement, it prompted more negative feedback from the NMU community.

The same day of the announcement, NMU alum Saige Mattson, who graduated in May 2017 with a B.A. in sociology, sent an email with a letter attached for Erickson and the BOT expressing disappointment in the decision.

“There has been such a distinguishable shadow of shame cast on Northern Michigan University today, as the news of Governor Rick Snyder accepting an invitation to May’s commencement (that he never should have been offered) has been released. I am shocked. I am horrified. I am disappointed,” Mattson wrote in the letter. “The office of the President of Northern Michigan University has several core values that are being tossed aside recklessly in order for a ‘big name’ to come and speak.”

In a statement from the Academic Senate to Erickson and the BOT sent out on Feb. 6, it described the choice of Snyder as “inappropriate.”

“Given the controversies that surround his administration, honoring him in this way brings unnecessary discord to a ceremony that honors our students, their families and their supporters,” the senate said in its statement.
Also following the announcement of Snyder’s acceptance, Graves issued a statement clarifying NMU AAUP’s opposition to the governor.

He wrote that the AAUP supports the free exchange of ideas and opinions, however, resistance from the union and others on campus comes from concerns over the meaning of commencement.

“So why, if not for the benefit of our graduates, is Snyder giving our spring commencement address? All of our Board of Trustees were appointed by Snyder, and his vocal advocate at their last meeting used to work for him,” Graves wrote. “The Board has abrogated their most central duty—to do what is best for NMU rather than what furthers their own agendas, personal relationships, or societal perspectives. This decision damages NMU; it seems that the Board of Trustees did not think this through or simply did not care.”

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