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August 07, 1971 - Image 4

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1971-08-07

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SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET
'U'sex: Now you see it, now you don't

A Special Report
THIS IS THE STORY of how
a mountain of newsprint
(and, incidentally, money) was
made of a sexual molehill, and
how the University was buried
in the resulting avalanche.
The University community
thought the question of sex in the
dorms was settled back in 1968,
when open visitation rights were
won by a student movement that
realized its demand almost in-
stantly because the issue was so
potentially explosive.
At the time, the University
retained housing regulations that
prohibited premarital sexual in-
tercourse and cohabitation in
the dorms. Most dorm residents
never read the rule books any-
way, so keeping the regulations
was a device to make uneasy
parents and alumni happy. The
rule was unenforceable, and
everyone in the University knew
it.
BUT THIS YEAR, when stu-
dents took over a majority on
the newly-formed housing policy
board, the board decided to
abolish the sex regulations be-
cause members found them of-
fensive and unnecessary. The
board couldn't make cohabita-
tion legal, because state law pro-
hibits it, but they could cut out
what they considered an ob-
noxious rule.
The board was simply trying to
make dorm regulations conform
with reality, since state laws on
cohabitation have also proved
unenforceable. Like the Univer-
sity, the state finds it simpler
to keep the law on the books to
avoid offending the many moral-
ists in its constituency.
Board members reasoned that
the rest of the dorm rules might
be taken more seriously if such
clear nonsense was eliminated.
Since housing policy board
meetings are not notoriously in-
teresting, it all might have ended
right there. No press was in at-
tendance, and most alumni and
parents, like their children,
would never bother reading the
rulebook. Even if they had, they
probably would never have no-
ticed the lack of the prohibition.
BUT, BY CHANCE, fate, or
whatever, the board member
who initiated the action, Jerry
DeGrieck, happens to be friends
with two "stringers," part-time
reporters for out-of-town news-
papers, who cover Ann Arbor.
When DeGrieck mentioned the
board's action to them, two
weeks .ater, they remembered
the infallible adage that "sex
sells newspapers" and sent off
stories.
So, by June 30, eight days after
the action, there were stories in
both Detroit papers and The
Daily. "U-M Drops Its Ban on
Sex," heralded the Free Press,
unable to resist such a tantaliz-
ing headline even though the
story simply explained the

board's decision, with comments
from DeGrieck and Housing Di-
rector John Feldkamp.
The Detroit News got even bet-
ter material by choosing to play
up the student reaction angle.
"Students yawn as U. of M.
lifts sex ban in dorms," the
News reported, no doubt antici-
pating the reaction from its de-
cidedly conservative readership.
The News featured interviews
with students who laughed and
said they had been living with
boyfriends and girlfriends in the
dorm for a long time.
MUCH MORE BLASE, The
Daily carried a story simply de-
tailing the board's action. But
the controversy was already be-
ginning to mushroom. The Asso-
clated Press and United Press
International in Detroit soon had
the News and Free Press stories
rewritten and sent over on state
and radio news wires, ready for
the eyes and ears of the Univer-
sity's hordes of alumni and par-
ents.
All the stories carried quotes
from Feldkamp explaining that
the deletion of the rule was not
a change in policy. He pointed
out that the University does not
have rules against murder or
robbery either because such il-
legal acts are adequately cover-
ed by state, local, and federal
laws.
But the papers-or at least
their readers-were much more
interested in DeGrieck's asser-
tion that the "rule was never
enforced and cannot be en-
forced." Not only did DeGrieck
state that the rule had been abol-
ished, but he also led many
readers to believe that the resi-
dence halls are dens of the
darkest sin.
WHILE THE STRINGERS for
the News, Free Press, and UPI
- were counting their money, the
controversy was brewing. Papers
as far away as the New York
Times and Cleveland Press were
picking up the story.
Initial University reaction to
press reports was not forthcom-
ing for two weeks. The execu-
tive officers met a week after
the first appearance of the story,
but said nothing about the issue.
It was only upon President
Fleming's return from a Euro-
pean sojourn that the executive
officers discussed the situation.
The day after their meeting, and
three days before the July meet-
ing of the Regents, who have
always been very concerned
about student morality, Vice
President for Student Services
Rcbert Knauss issued a state-
ment designed to counteract the
press reports:
"Published reports recently in-
dicated that the Housing Policy
Committee of the University has
abolished a rule against cohabi-
tation and premarital sexual in-
tercourse in University resi-
dence halls. This implies the Uni-

WHEN THE BATTLE for open visitation began in fall 1968,
it ended almost immediately - the issue was too potentially
explosive.

versity condones such behavior.
This implication is incorrect."
KNAUSS CAREFULLY ex-
plained that, as a landlord, the
housing office was obliged to see
that state law was not violated,
and that cohabitation had not be-
come permissible in University
residence halls.
Knauss' statement did not ans-
wer any of the growing contro-
versy, or contain any new infor-
mation, so only the Ann Arbor
News bothered to print it.
When this move failed to pub-
licize the University's determina-
tion to protect morality, Flem-
ing came back with another
statement at the Regents' meet-
ing.
"I want to make it perfectly
clear what my own position is,
what the Regents' position is, and
what the University's position
is," Fleming said, no doubt
knowing full well that the De-
troit papers and the wire serv-
ices regularly cover Regents
meetings,
FLEMING BEGAN by accus-
ing the newspapers of lying. His
exact words were: "The news-
paper reports quite inaccurately
represented what happened."
But, he offered no examples of
what he considered to be the in-
accuracies.
Instead, he referred to Knauss'
statement that the University
would not condone cohabitation,
and threw in some personal
views to prove his own moral up-
rightness. He commented on
changing sexual attitudes in so-
ciety, saying, "Much of that is
healthy in the sense that it
brings out into the open ques-
tions that have been too long
hidden. On the other hand, in so
far as there is a view today that
emphasizes the purely physical
aspects of sex, I've said I'm very
old-fashioned on this."
Finally, he promised twice:
"We do not condone cohabita-
tion in the residence halls. That
will be made perfectly clear to
students and we will enforce that
rule to the best of our abilities.
"IF THERE IS ANY question
about our position on this, it
ought to be laid to rest and it
ought to be perfectly clear what
it is. We do pot condone this
kind of conduct and we will to
the very best of our abilities en-
force that rule in the dormitor-
ies."
With this statement, Fleming
not only took a much m o r e
authoritarian line than Knauss,
but also implied that the rule

had not been deleted at all -
which it had been.
Instead of resolving the real
issue, the unenforceability of
any ban on sex, Fleming manag-
ed to raise it anew. His state-
ment was basically a "gut
'reaction", shown by the emo-
tion of the moment, his unsub-
stantiated attack on the press,
his injection of his own moral
views, and the strongly author-
itarian stand taken.
While the press may be fault-
ed for its concern with sexual
comings and goings at the Uni-
versity, the news stories them-
selves cannot be faulted on the
grounds of accuracy. The hous-
ing board DID delete the rule,
and DeGrieck DID say that the
rule had never been enforced.
NEITHER KNAUSS, Feld-
kamp or Fleming attempted at
any time to refute DeGrieck,
nor could they. Unable to deal
with the issue of fornication
in the dorms in a direct man-
ner, Fleming chose instead to
attack the bearer of the news,
rather than the news itself.
It is equally important to
note that the need to mount
some kind of attack rested al-
most entirely with Fleming.
Nothing had been done before
his return, and nothing w a s
done afterwards except with his
direct involvement.
Certainly his concern with the
University's public image is
great, but so is that of the Re-
gents and other executive offi-
cers. Of the three administra-
tors who have made p u b l i c
statements on the matter, Flem-
ing alone felt compelled to in-
clude his own views on the mat-
ter.
After Fleming's statement, Re-
gent Robert Brown (R-Kala-
mazoo) then asked Knauss if
DeGrieck's honest statement
that enforcement was impos-
sible was the attitude of the
whole housing board. "If it is,
were in real trouble," Brow n
intoned. Knauss promised to
check, and said he would seek
a clarification by the board.
BUT CONCILIATION w a s
foiled again as neither Detroit
paper reported Fleming's state-
ment: it wasn't news., The Daily
alone carried the statement,
coupled with a report from the
Ann Arbor police that "we just
don't bother" with the cohabi-
tation law any more. The police
said they could not recall such
a case for at least 20 years.
If the police don't care about
cohabitation, a lot of other peo-
ple do. That was what De-
Grieck found out a few days lat-

er from Feldkamp, who explain-
ed that some donors had stop-
pod giving money, that parents
were calling and writing Uni-
versity officials, and that some
students had asked if they could
room with members of the op-
posite sex in the fall.
DeGrieck reported the new
developments to his friends.
The next day, The Daily carried
a front page story, telling how
a member of the prestigious
President's Club, the Univer-
sity's top money-givers, had quit
and returned his plaque; how
the University had been written
out ofsa will; how a minister in
Birmingham had blasted t h e
University from his pulpit; and
how other administrators were
hearing from concerned citi-
zens.
THE FREE PRESS, News, AP
and UPI were quick to jump in
on the story, All three network
television stations in Detroit
got in on the act, too. The me-
dia again reported the denials
by the University that cohabita-
tion was permissible, but were
much more interested in the,
growing controversy itself.
So the next policy board meet-
ing was covered by all the med-
ia, including the three televis-
ion stations.
The board approved the min-
utes of their now infamous June
meeting, but decided to issue a
letter to all incoming dormitory
residents explaining that the
rule was deleted because it was
offensive, since other illegal acts
were not mentioned specifically..
The board felt that existing y
policies on the rights of room-
mates, the prohibition against
permanent guests written into
the lease, and the state statute
against "lewd and lascivious"
cohabitation gave sufficient
basis for the housing office
to deal with incidents of co-
habitation.
DeGRECK, whose term on
the board had expired, con-
tends, however, that the ori-
vina objection was to the pol-
icy, not the wording. The rest
of the board apparently believ-
ed differently or else found it
currently diantageous to issue
the letter,
That letter was the only re-
sult of the executive officer,
meeting, the Regents meeting,
and Fleming's nromises. Whet it
contains is really the same thin
Ferk-mp was saying all stng
- that the move was essentialty
administra tive, and did not re-
present a policy change.
Faced with the problm, the
University had onty one coin se:
to assure the public that the de-
letion of the rule constituted no
real chan'e. and to steer clear
of the fornication-enforcement
issue.
Along the way, the admisis-
tration wvas inept, v ui in.ult-
lug, in its handling of themed-
ia. It attempted, mainly throuh
Fleming, to go beyond main-
taining the status quo, and to
create the. impression that ac-
tive attempts would be made
to stop cohabitation and, by im-
plication, premarital sexual in-
tercourse.
IN THE UNIVERSITY, of
course, everyone knew the letter .4
would have no effect on dorm
residents. As Feldkamp s a i d ,
"We'll send it out and watch
the wastebaskets fill." And out-
side the University, the letter
also failed to have the desired
effect.
While the media gave cursory j
mention to the letter, Detroit
.television got right down to the
real issue in interviews w i t h
students.
All three stations opened with
stories on the controversy, com-
plete with freshman coeds who
said, invariably, "Every b o d y

cohabits, and there's n o t h i n g
anyone can do about it, or wants
0,,,
If it can be said that the
media made a minor adminis-
trative action a "hot story" for
the public, it is also true that
Continued on next page

420 Maynard Street, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Edited and managed by students at the
University of Michigan
Editorials printed in The Michigan Daily express the individual
opinions of the author. This rust be.noted in al reprints.
Saturday, August 7, 1971 News Phone: 764-0552
NIGHT EDITOR: TAMMY JACOBS
Stiut'e Edits/orial Staff
MARCIA ABRAMSON LARRY LEMPERT
Co-Editor Co-Editor
ROBERT CONROw ........................................ Books Editor
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NIGHT EDITORS: Anita Crone, Tammy Jacobs, Alan Lenhoff, Jonathan
Mitter.
ASSISTANT NIGHT EDITORS: Patricia E. Bauer, James Irwin, Christopher
Packs, ZacarSchtiller.

Summer Sper/s Staff
.......,....... .............. ........ Sports E ditor
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RICK CORNFELD
SANDI GENIS ....

Summer Business Staff
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FRAN HYMEN ,,,.............,,..........lasified Advertising
BECKY VAN DYKE ................................Circulation Depactment
BILL ABBOTT ..................... ....... ,......... General Office Assistant

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