4A - Monday, November 30, 2009
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
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GARY GRACA ROBERT SOAVE COURTNEY RATKOWIAK
EDITOR IN CHIEF EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR MANAGING EDITOR
Unsigned editorials reflect the official position of the Daily's editorial board. All other signed articles
and illustrations represent solely the views of their authors.
Students, faculty, employees deserve better DPS oversight
t appears that some leaders of the Michigan Student Assem-
bly don't understand the difference between appointments
and elections. Appointment is the method by which MSA
leaders have been choosing people for the Department of Public
Safety Oversight Committee and the assembly's Constitutional
Convention delegation. Election is the method that is required
per state law and MSA bylaws, respectively. But after weeks of
heightened attention to issues with the DPS Oversight Committee,
MSA President Abhishek Mahanti has announced that the assem-
bly will hold elections to determine student representation. MSA
must make sure such an election materializes, and the University
must push faculty and employees to establish similar procedures
for electing representatives to the committee.
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efending his decision to give
civilian trials to five suspect-
ed terrorists, Attorney Gen-
eral Eric Holder
his full confidence
that the govern-
ment had ample
evidence to convict
"Failure is not
an option," Holder
told the Senate IMRAN
Judiciary Commit- 5YED
tee on Nov. 18.
That was an
ment, and the sentiment it express-
es has been repeated constantly by
Obama administration officials and
other Democrats over the past few
weeks. That sentiment is problem-
atic, and it made me rethink my ini-
tial reaction to these five men being
tried in a civilian court as opposed to
a military tribunal.
On the campaign trail, President
Barack Obama promised openness
and justice on various fronts. The
most significant among his promises
was to close Guantanamo Bay, give
fair trials to those prisoners who can
be charged and properly treat those
who cannot. I was relieved to hear
that America would finally emerge
from the blind vanity that sanctioned
perpetual detainment of alleged mili-
tary combatants. We finally realized
America is better than that, and it's
time to prove that to the world by
having real, fair trials.
But when deciding whether to try
these particular terrorism suspects
in a military tribunal or in a civil-
ian court, the Obama administra-
tion missed the point entirely. In this
case, and under these circumstances,
military tribunals should have been
the obvious choice.
To achieve justice (uphold the
law, abide by the Constitution) the
prisoners must receive as fair of a But it's something else entirely in
trial as possible. There's arguably no the case of these five suspected ter-
greater element to a fair trial than the rorists. We may all know that these
principle of "innocent until proven people are guilty. But under no cir-
guilty." Even the brutally reaction- cumstances is it appropriate for a
ary post-Reconstruction Supreme prosecutor (which is what Attorney
Court agreed that the presumption of General Holder is in such cases) to
innocence is crucial to the Constitu- guarantee a conviction, which cre-
tion's exposition on the rights of an ates a scenario where no other out-
accused, as shown in Coffin v. United come is conceivable. It's never okay
States (1895). But it's clear from the for everyone to assume that a convic-
statements of those who support tion will happen, at least not if you
trying the five suspects in a civil- believe in fair trials.
ian court that they pay absolutely no
heed to this Constitutional concern.
Now, I'm not so naive as to think These suspected
that the presumption of innocence
is treated as God's word in the aver-
age criminal trial. I've read enough terrorists shouldn't
transcripts of jury selections and jury
instructions to understand that many go to e er court.
judges, prosecutors and jurors see the
presumption of innocence as a trivi-
ality - not a supreme declaration, but But such an assumption is integral
rather an inconvenience they must to the Obama administration's deci-
get around. sion to try the suspects in civilian
Potential jurors who are ques- court. Indeed, administration offi-
tioned during jury selection often cials have repeatedly defended that
espouse amusingly abhorrent notions decision by assuring everyone that
of the rights of the accused. "Why convictions will happen. That puts a
on Earth was he arrested if he is unique pressure on the federal court
presumed to be innocent?" jurors to convict, one that probably won't
might ask. Judges will repeat that matter but certainly shouldn't exist.
an arrest is not an indicator of guilt, A far better option would have
and neither is the fact that a trial is been to try the five men in a mili-
being held. But jurors will often give tary tribunal, a more controlled set-
a knowing smile and proceed to do ting where the accused have ample
exactly what they are told not to do rights and where improper political
- use circumstantial perceptions as pressure to convict is absent. We'd
part of their finding of guilt or inno- surely get a conviction in either type
cence. of court, but the one in a controlled,
This is a deep, perplexing prob- un-sensationalized military tribunal
lem. Anyone who disagrees should would be far more legitimate.
read the transcript from an aver- if the whole point is the integrity
age criminal trial to see what pa- of the process, then bringing these
try evidence jurors will convict on. suspects to a civilian court under
It's simply undeniable that they let these circumstances was absolutely
their preconceived notions about a the wrong decision.
suspect, his background or even the
nature of the crime undermine their - lmran Syed can be reached
mandated presumption of innocence. at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DPS owes its existence to a 1990 state law
allowing four-year universities to estab-
lish their own police departments. This
law stipulated that universities that form
campus police departments must also set
up oversight committees with elected stu-
dent, faculty and employee representation.
But earlier this month, a special report
by the Daily discovered numerous prob-
lems with the DPS Oversight Committee,
including infrequent meetings and student,
faculty and employee representation that
failed to meet the expectations of internal
bylaws and state law. The student seats, for
instance, were simply being appointed by
MSA even though state law mandates cam-
This process represented a gross misun-
derstanding of simple government terms.
It would be false to say that U.S. Supreme
Court justices are elected simply because
the entities that appoint and confirm them
were elected. This is a distinction that one
would not expect high school civics stu-
dents to struggle with, let alone college
students in an elected student government.
But even the University's General Counsel
- a body that consists of adult, professional
lawyers - foolishly reiterated this false-
hood when they dismissed University Prof.
Doug Smith's concerns with the committee
member selection process and told MSA to
do the same.
But regardless of how wildly these enti-
ties erred, fixing the selection process for
the DPS Oversight Committee should be the
current priority, and Mahanti's announce-
ment that MSA will hold elections for the
seats is a positive development. Now he
must make sure that the assembly follows
through and establishes a sustainable elec-
tion protocol. This shouldn't be difficult,
as the Daily reported today, such a proto-
col did indeed exist from 1992 until at least
1999. MSA must do all that it can to ensure
that students have consistent, legally com-
pliant representation on the committee,
because giving students a check on the
police department they interact with is of
the utmost importance.
But the student seats on the commit-
tee aren't the only ones in need of atten-
tion. The processes for selecting faculty
and employee seats are similarly broken,
though not to the same extent as the stu-
dent seats. The Senate Advisory Committee
on University Affairs and the University's
office of Human Resources - the respective
authorities for faculty and staff elections
- should immediately get to work improv-
ing their election processes. In SACUA's
case, that means holding annual elections
as the group's bylaws specify. In the case of
Human Resources, that means revamping
the process so both union and non-union
members can vote every year, instead of
And the University administration, for
its part, should prevent the DPS Oversight
Committee from collapsing into irrelevance
as it has over the last decade. Instead, it
should push for an empowered commit-
tee that improves the relationship between
DPS and the campus community.
The Daily is looking for a diverse group of strong, informed, passionate
writers to be columnists for the winter semester. Columnists write a
700-800 word column every other week on a topic of their choosing.
If you are an opinionated and talented writer, consider applying.
E-MAIL RACHEL VAN GILDER AT RACHELVG@UMICH.EDU FOR MORE INFORMATION.
EWAN COMPTON AND PATRICK JULIUS
Deranged criticisms of Darwin
EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBERS:
Nina Amilineni, Emily Barton, Jamie Block, William Bulert en Caleca, Nicholas Clift,
Michelle DeWitt, Brian Flaherty, Emma Jeszke, Sutha K Kanagasingam,
Erika Mayer, Edward McPhee, Harsha Panduranga, Alex Schiff, Asa Smith,
Brittany Smith, Radhika Upadhyaya, Rachel Van Gilder, Laura Veith
SEND LETTERS TO: TOTHEDAILY@UMICH.EDU
University should consider
ment a monorail. About 16,000 people per day
ride the monorail in Morgantown, W.Va. - home
of West Virginia University. Imagine a mono-
rail system in Ann Arbor: It may not be pretty,
but I think it would work efficiently. Setting up
TO THE DAILY: a Maglev train an:
In response to the article about new trans- would be too cool to
portation to North Campus (University officials
talk campus's transportation future at meeting, Jeremy Drager
11/24/09), 1 think the University should imple- EngineeringJunior
d calling it "the Maize-ly"
E-MAIL HARUN AT BULJINAH@UMICH.EDU
~jj, ~Wf fxr
In last Monday's issue of the Daily, Ben Caleca wrote
a response to Ray Comfort's shenanigans regard-
ing "The Origin of Species" (Survival of the creation-
ists, 11/23/2009). It's important to note that his actions
weren't limited to our own campus: Comfort handed out
his augmented "Origin" at dozens of universities across
North America. We felt that Comfort got off too easy with
one essay of criticism, so we're here to offer more.
First of all, there are flaws with the campaign itself.
Handing out copies of "The Origin of Species" is a remark-
ably odd tactic that seems to be based on the idea that the
original words of Charles Darwin are important to evolu-
tionists in the same way that the original words of Jesus
would be to Christians or the original words of Muham-
mad would be to Muslims. This is blatantly wrong. Evolu-
tionary biology has advanced considerably since Darwin,
and false or immoral beliefs espoused by Darwin do noth-
ing to undermine the credibility of the Modern Synthesis.
If Darwin made errors about heredity and held racist
beliefs, so much the worse for Darwin. But evolution still
happened, and natural selection was still the primary
force. One might as well publish a version of Isaac New-
ton's Principia Mathematica with a preface saying, "See?
Newton didn't know about the Big Bang and thought
women were inferior to men! This proves that gravity is a
lie!" This is the level of scientific argumentation to which
Ray Comfort has reduced us.
Like most creationist farce, Comfort continues his
assault on evolution with statements that are at best
highly misleading and in many cases outright false. Most
significantly, Comfort blurs the distinction between
mutation and natural selection, a distinction which is
absolutely critical to evolution. He cites evidence that
mutation is random and non-directional, and then tries
to make it sound like this implies natural selection is ran-
dom and non-directional. This is patently false: Mutation
is random, natural selection is non-random and evolution
requires both. This is the sort of elementary error that
could have been corrected by reading the Wikipedia arti-
cle on "Natural selection" or skimming the introduction
to any textbook on evolutionary theory.
Comfort also quotes out of context.,He quotes Darwin
about the complexity of the human eye, but fails to men-
tion the subsequent paragraph in which Darwin explains
this complexity in light of evolution. Comfort quotes
scientist Stephen Jay Gould several times as challeng-
ing Darwinian evolution, when in fact Gould devoted his
entire career to supporting Darwinian evolution. Simi-
larly, Comfort cites anthropologist Roger Lewin as criti-
cizing macroevolution when Lewin has written several
books defending macroevolution, especially the evolution
of human beings from apelike ancestors. Comfort cites
the Archaeoraptor hoax as if it undermines the huge body
of evidence found since then on other feathered dinosaurs
like Shuuvia, Sinosauropteryx, Sinocalliopteryx, Yixia-
nosaurus and many others.
Comfort even quotes biologist Richard Dawkins -
yes, Dawkins - as if he was supporting creationism. One
might as well quote Ken Ham, founder of Answers in
Genesis, in support of evolution.
Worst of all, Comfort makes a disingenuous and
inflammatory association between Darwin and the Holo-
caust. He asserts that Hitler was Darwin's "famous stu-
dent," when in fact there is no evidence that Hitler had
even read Darwin and substantial evidence that Darwin
would never have supported anything like Hitler's geno-
cide. Yes, Hitler used (and abused) evolution to support
his claims. The Nazis also used a bastardized version of
germ theory to support their agenda. By Comfort's stan-
dards, this ought to discredit modern medicine. Hitler
also believed the Earth revolves around the Sun - does
that make heliocentrism immoral?
Comfort suggests that readers Google the phrase
"Social Darwinism," as if the mere use of the word "Dar-
winism" implies that such policies are a direct conse-
quence of Darwinian evolution. Just as Christian Science
is neither Christian nor scientific and the Democratic
Republic of Congo is neither democratic nor republican,
Social Darwinism is hardly social and scarcely Darwin-
ian. Social Darwinism was nothing more than an attempt
to graft modern scientific authorityontoracial prejudices.
Indeed, traditions of racism, misogyny, ethnocentrism
and anti-Semitism have existed in European society for
centuries. Such views can be found in the writings of
the Christian philosopher Thomas Aquinas, some 600
years before Darwin (we might say 600 BD). Tremendous
acts of brutality against groups of people were commit-
ted by Julius Caesar (1900 BD) and Genghis Khan (700 *
BD). Christians engaged in acts of violence against other
groups during the Crusades (600 to 800 BD) and the Con-
quistadores' invasions (100 to 400 BD). Where were the
"Judeo-Christian values on the sacredness of human life"
that Comfort describes in his publication in these cases?
Depraved bloodshed has been part of human history
from the beginning. We can no more blame Darwin for
the Holocaust than we can blame Newton for rape or Ein-
stein for murder.
Ewan Compton and Patrick Julius are officers of the
University chapter of the Secular Student Alliance.