The Michigan Daily - Thursday, September 8, 1988 - Page 15
BY RYAN TUTAK
If you ever have a conversation with Michigan Stu-
dent Assembly President Michael Phillips, don't be
surprised if he doesn't look you in the eye. Or if what
he says offends you.
"He doesn't like to gloss things over with niceties,"
said MSA Vice President Susan Overdorf, an LSA se-
nior. "If he doesn't agree with what I'm doing, he'll let
me know it."
AND HE WON'T waste time doing it. Phillips,
an LSA senior, is a person of few and very select
words. He hates to be misconstrued. He's afraid to be
exploited. And he doesn't want to give himself away.
In fact, Phillips refused to be interviewed for this
profile. He said talking to other people would be the
only way to get his story. Knowing Phillips, that's
"When you approach him, he'll tell you what he
thinks," said LSA junior Zach Kittrie, chair of MSA's
External Relations Committee. "And it's hard to deal
with. But he's certainly not talkative. He's a man of
BUT PHILLIPS LIKES to know where every-
one stands, and he likes people to know where he
stands. He runs assembly meetings briskly and with an
iron fist. When he feels representatives are rambling or
making irrelevant comments, he'll cut them off and
move on. But some MSA representatives say his drive
for control goes too far.
LSA junior Sarah Riordan resigned as an MSA rep.
and chair of the assembly's Student Rights Committee
fast spring because she said Phillips is "sexist, manip-
ulative, and unnecessarily aggressive." She said his
leadership style creates an uncomfortable and hostile
environment at MSA.
No doubt, Phillips is often rude. He's told Overdorf
to shut up at MSA meetings more than once. Maybe
it's just a game; obnoxious rhetoric is the cornerstone
of his sense of humor. After a meeting with some of
the University's Board of Regents last winter, he said
flatly, "I've had better meetings with pigs."
"HE ENJOYS making statements that are going
to get people's attention and raise people's ire," said
Rackham student Bruce Belcher, MSA parliamentarian.
"But his comments can be subject to misinterpreta-
Phillips knows it. Sometimes he'd rather say noth-
ing at all than risk spewing offensive statements.
Overdorf said he hates to be "fake." But almost the op-
posite seems true. He is solemn and careful, as if
guarding against any slips he'll regret.
"It's a challenge to deal with him because he doesn't
make his emotions known," Kittrie said. "When he's
in a hurry, he won't sweat. He's not disoriented."
But he'd rather avoid pressure situations and take life
easy. "We have to walk slow so he can chill," Overdorf
told the Daily last winter, on the way to an interview
"He has done all he could to fight the code, and le
has taken some difficult stands," said Rackham student
Daniel Holliman, a United Coalition Against Racis 1
steering committee member. "But he has lost the re-
spect of most of the Black students on campus because
his stand on a racial harassment policy is unprinci-
"You can't simply say 'No Code.' You have to talti
the next step and say you are for the protection of'
Black students on campus."
Schnaufer, Phillips' cohort on many student issues;
said Phillips is strong-minded but will come around t&
seeing views other than his own. "Mike sees his job a
doing what's right," he said. "By the end of the year, he-
will be a better politician. He'll compromise more and
not make enemies."
OVERDORF SAID Phillips has started to move
in that direction. "Mike opposed any discriminatory
acts policy for a long time," she said. "But he has
agreed to accept a student-controlled policy, and that
was a big step."r
Phillips is slow to change his mind because he'
thinks he's on top of everything. He's a voracios,
reader and spends more than 50 hours a week at MSA'
researching current events, digging up dirt on Univdr
sity administrators, talking to students, and occasion'
ally meeting with state and national legislators about
campus issues such as rent control and financial aid.
"He is the only person I know that goes to MSA ht'
the crack of dawn and stays there all day," Schnaufer
AND PHILLIPS expects equal dedication from?
all representatives. But other representatives say the'j
are hesitant to confront him because they never know
what to expect.
"There's two Mike Phillips'," said former MSA re
and Music School graduate Marni Rachmiel. "There s
Mike the nice guy who is a lot of fun. Then there's the
Mike who refuses to apologize to Sarah and tells pe6o
ple to shut up and goes off on Grizzly Adams trips;
hiking off in his own direction not about to comprd
mise an inch about anything."
"It seems he doesn't listen. He's got his mind made
up about things. He'll make a decision that someone is
not worth bothering, and that's that."
It's just part of the Phillips mystique. When he
talks to someone, he can't sit still. He always seems
preoccupied, usually with his head hung low, some
times even shaking, but never still. When he can, he'll
walk in circles. And if he's at his office, he'll likely be,
carrying a broken goalie stick signed by past MSA
"He comes across as so above it all," Kittrie said.
"But he really listens and absorbs. He just doesn't
Hail to I
WHEN HE was chair of MSA's Student Rights
Committee last year, however, Phillips had no choice.
He was always in the spotlight, perhaps overwhelmed
but always rising to the occasion. At a protest or dur-
ing an assembly meeting, he could rally virtually all
representatives, liberal and conservative, behind him.
"He's best known at MSA for his analogies," Kit-
trie said. "He has a unique sense of circumstance. He's
almost like Jesse Jackson."
At MSA's first meeting of the winter term, after
Interim University President Robben Fleming proposed
a code of non-academic conduct, Phillips had to take a
THE HOUSE is on fire, Phillips said, and when
that happens, there are three options. You can sit on
the couch and watch T.V., run scared for your life, or
try to put the fire out.
He meant Fleming's proposal would put an end to
Ready to explode but carefully restraining himself,
Phillips said he didn't care how students chose to act
- as long as they didn't stop him from putting out the
"Mike is a leader," said recent Law School graduate
and former MSA representative Eric Schnaufer. "He's a
principled MSA president who doesn't compromise
when he feels that his position is clearly right. He'd-
rather lose and be right than win and be wrong."
BUT HIS fanatical commitment to certain issues
- his crusade against the code and his sustained hatred
for Regent Deane Baker (R-Ann Arbor) - has turned
off dissenting students. Phillips is impatient and ruth-
lessly efficient, tending to listen to people who agree
with him and ignoring those who don't. As MSA
president, however, he must be diplomatic. And that
hasn't always happened.
A cheap, yet tasteful, way to say .. .
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Students Dedicated to
Knowing and Communicating
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