Pig’s Head Meets the Head Pigs

I’ve been paying more than a little attention to the debate about just what to do with the Michigan State University’s Board of Trustees. There’s a strong chorus demanding that the whole lot of them be broomed for being asleep while the malevolent Larry Nassar molested hundreds of young women Spartans.  Only those with a lump of coal for a soul are not repulsed. The natural reaction is a demand that Nassar rot in the deepest hottest region of hell and that the heads of all those in charge should roll.

But I also can’t ignore a feeling that there but for the grace of God go I.

Michigan has fifteen state universities. The University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University are considered “flagship” universities because of their much larger campuses and student bodies. The very prestigious and fiercely non partisan Citizen’s Research Council of Michigan observes;

Michigan’s 15 universities are independent schools.  Each university board, irrespective of elections or appointment, is given general supervision of the institution and the control and direction of all expenditures from the institution’s funds.  Each board elects a president of the university as often as is necessary under its supervision.  The three flagship schools are given autonomy in their governance and operations.

Each Michigan university is governed by an independent board, but the means by which members come to serve on the boards of the flagship schools is different from how members come to serve on the boards of the other 12 universities.  The Michigan Constitution provides that UM, MSU, and WSU are to be governed by independently elected, eight member boards.  The Constitution later provides that the 12 other state universities are governed by their own eight-member boards that are appointed by the governor, with the advice and consent of the Michigan senate.  This makes the UM, MSU, and WSU boards accountable to the voters.  The boards of the other state universities are accountable to the governor.

The political bug bit me hard in the Detroit elections of 1969. I got involved in the political campaigns of Richard Austin for Mayor and Carl Levin for City Council. Austin lost and then went on to become the longest serving Secretary of State in Michigan and the first African American elected to state wide office. Levin won and went on to become s Michigan’s longest serving member of the U. S. Senate).

In 1972 I was a sophomore at Wayne State University’s Montieth College; a 70’s hippie who owned one suit.   I came up with the audacious idea of running to be a member of its Board of Governors. My high school classmate and political fellow traveler, Ed Bruley encouraged me. Ed has come to be a campaign impresario in Macomb County electing a very liberal David Bonior to Congress in a very conservative district eight times. The story of this campaign will be told at some future time. We were frighteningly unsophisticated as this brochure shows. But with perseverance I became one of the eight members of Wayne State’s governing board.

Michigan’s Constitution charges university governing boards with the general supervision of their institutions and the responsibility of appointing the President. Some believe that trustees should appoint someone they trust and believe in to be President and then let them run the university and stay out of his or her way. There is a very strong tradition in the academy of academic freedom. While the Board of Governors officially grants tenure and promotion to university faculty that is a mere formality. The tradition requires deference be given to the peer review protocols of any academic evaluation. If the board ever rejected a recommendation from the President and Provost for tenure or promotion or if they ever granted tenure or promotion to someone who didn’t have the appropriate recommendation there would be a riot.

Board members are volunteers. They serve without pay. They do not have their own staff. They are completely dependent on the President and his/her administration in providing the information that is the basis for decision making. The MSU Trustees likely only knew what President Lou Anna Simon and members of her administration chose to tell them. The operative question is that of Senator Russell Baker during the Watergate hearings. “What did the President know and when did (s)he know it”. I would add. When should she have know it.

Members of the “flagship” universities are only accountable to the voters. That’s a good thing. Imagine a time in which political forces begin to impose outside influences to academic judgments. Oh, how about a mandate that every political science major be required to read Ayn Rand.  Preposterous? Not in this political environment.

About the pig.

Early in my tenure as a Wayne State Governor I faced a proposal to abolish my own beloved Alma Mater, Montieth College. It received a temporary reprieve. But clever students engaged in some (with hindsight) fun political theater. When a vote was taken raising tuition a protester came forward and placed a pig’s head on our table. “Today’s pig is tomorrow’s bacon” they chanted. The photograph taken by Milard Berry captured the moment and appeared on the front page of the Detroit Free Press the next day.

Detroit’s alternative weekly The Fifth Estate also ran a similar picture. I was referred to as Swineheuser. I was not happy at the time. But it brings a smile today.  To my right is Max Pincus. He was a colleague but he was also a mentor. From time to time people would say unkind things about me because of my youth or inexperience. Max always had my back.

Millard Berry took this picture and holds its Copy Right. He has graciously given me permission to post it. Please check out his work here. He is both a photo journalist as well as an artistic photographer. We have been musing about the fact that we are not as young as we once were. Dear millennial friends, don’t take yourselves or others sooooo seriously. Things will look differently. You have my promise.

East Side Story

The Urban Consulate is a movement that describes itself as, “a network of parlors for city dwellers & travelers seeking urban exchange.” Operating in Philadelphia, New Orleans and Detroit they host conversations in a parlor environment with knowledgeable experts about important urban topics. In Detroit the Consulate’s proprietor is the genial but serious urban activist Chase Cantrell.

Chase is a friend who has been gently prodding me to attend one of these “conversations” and I did so last Wednesday. The topic was Who is it Built For? and featured a discussion regarding community engagement by urban planners Kimberly Dowdell and Steven Lewis.

The Urban Planning community is justifiably cautious in contemporary planning of grand redevelopments  in older neighborhoods. Author Richard Rothstein has been on the talk shows promoting his new book which is described on the Fresh Air web site.

Rothstein’s new book, The Color of Law, examines the local, state and federal housing policies that mandated segregation. He notes that the Federal Housing Administration, which was established in 1934, furthered the segregation efforts by refusing to insure mortgages in and near African-American neighborhoods — a policy known as “redlining.” At the same time, the FHA was subsidizing builders who were mass-producing entire subdivisions for whites — with the requirement that none of the homes be sold to African-Americans.

Detroit is a poster child for Rothsetin’s thesis. The Black Bottom/Hastings street neighborhood was wiped out by the construction of I-75, I-375 and the Urban Renewal along Lafayette and Larnerd just east of Downtown Detroit.  Urban Renewal came to be know as Negro Removal,

Dowdell and Lewis spoke passionately about the lessons learned and still being learned regarding the scope and depth of engaging the community from the very beginning of the planning process.  My ears perked up during one part of the exchange when Professor Dowdell reflected on her Detroit childhood and the family’s move from a home on east side to the more desirable area of the west side. I grew up on the east side just a few blocks from the City Airport (Coleman A. Young International Airport) at Gratiot and Connor. The east side of my childhood was strictly segregated.  As you walked south on Gratiot the color line was Harper Avenue. I spent many hours at the YMCA on Gratiot and Harper where whites and blacks mingled but no black family lived within a mile of my house.

Photo Credit Chase Cantrel

That got me thinking. All of the projects that are part of the Next Detroit or the New Detroit or what have you are happening on the west side. When the floor was open to questions my hand was the first one up. Why, I wanted to know, is all the attention west of Woodward and no buzz about anything east of Woodward. I was reminded of all of the projects along the river front many occurring within spiting distance from where I currently live. But here’s the thing. There are no formal redevelopment efforts north of E. Jefferson and east of Van Dyke. Professor Dowdell conceded some validity to my point. “I have to admit, we’ve always considered the east side a heavier lift”.

Why? I would contend it’s economics as much as race. All of Detroit’s traditionally affluent neighborhood except Indian Village are on the west side. Think Palmer Woods, University District, Sherwood Forrest, Green Acres, LaSalle Gardens, Virginia Park and Rosedale Park. The five Grosse Pointe communities are another thing all together. Another participant said he thought that the west side Jewish neighborhoods were more racially tolerant and consequently less resistant to integration. Also the more affluent are better able to move north to the emerging suburbs. As an undergraduate I studied social science under Otto Feinstien at Montieth College on the campus of Wayne State University. Otto’s parents brought him to this country from Germany a step ahead of the Holocaust. Otto’s scholarship traced the geographic movement of various ethnic groups through Detroit. He had lot’s of maps. The only good one I could find on the web was this which looks at Detroit area ethnic group in 1971

The brown area represents Black neighborhoods and the Purple are Poles, Italians and Germans. Follow Gratiot up from I-94 and you will see the east side of my youth.  On the east side the Black community remained south of I-94 while on the west side it went up to and over Eight Mile. My east side, while white, was solidly working class. Our parents were auto workers, cops and, like my father, firefighters. Every family had one car, usually a station wagon and a minority of the adults had a college education. You didn’t need one. The UAW made it possible to earn a very good living on the assembly line. These Poles, Italians and Germans eventually moved past Eight Mile to the Macomb County suburbs and became the Reagan Democrats in the 1980’s and the Trump Democrats in 2016

Detroit is now 84.3% Black. Do the east side – west side economic disparities matter today? I don’t know. But why does the east side continue to be a more heavy lift?

The Urban Consulate meets every Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. at the Mackenzie House at 4735 Cass Avenue on the campus of Wayne State University.  All are welcome.