V V V V V V
4B y p 4,12013/The Statement
ednes eptember 4, 2013 // The Statement 5B
TUIT IO N AEQUALITY
H OW A SM A LL G ROUP OF ST UDENTS
UT BEHIND FRINGE ISSUE AND
CHANGED UNIVERSITY POLICY
By Sam Grin glas
tion's member organizations such as the Col-
lege Democrats and the ACLU, held up signs as
Morales spoke. Then, the students walked out.
"We had no idea what we were doing. It was
the first direct action any of us had ever done,"
At the time, granting in-state tuition costs
to Michigan's undocumented residents was a
virtually unknown issue on campus. But with
sharp focus on a singular goal - securing in-
state tuition fees for undocumented students
- CTE soon packed regents meetings so tightly
they were moved from a small room inside the
Administration Building to one of the Union's
ballrooms. CTE, and what they stood for,
However powerful the coalition's strategy,
its platform was not void of controversy. Tuition
equality, as the issue became branded by advo-
cates, is complicated; it is an issue that tested the
University's ability to respond to student griev-
ances and forced a community to take a hard
look at ideas of citizenship and scholarship.
At the July2013 regentsmeeting, after consis-
tent protests and months spent pouring over the
issue in a task force, regents passed new tuition
equality guidelines bya 6-2vote fromthe regents.
Set to take affect in January2014,undocumented
students who graduated from and attended three
years of a Michigan high school and two preced-
ing years of middle school at a Michigan school
will receive in-state tuition. Under the new
guidelines, military veteranswill also receive in-
state tuition fees, regardless of residency.
In a matter of two years, a small group of
students took on what had been a fringe issue,
rallied support, built their case and ultimately
changed University policy. So how did they do
MAKING A MOVEMENT
In February 2011, Mersol-Barg was gearing
up to run for president of Central Student Gov-
ernment and looking to build a platform that
addressed issues of social justice and diversity.
After attending an event sponsored by student
organization Human Rights through Education,
Mersol-Barg found an issue for his platform.
At the event, a former student fromAnnArbor
spoke about being denied in-state tuition once
the University discovered his undocumented
status. Shortly after the conference, Mersol-
Barg began thinking of ways to engage issues-
facing undocumented students on campus.
To form CTE, Mersol-Barg laid out three
main factors that helped set up a successful
First, Mersol-Barg chose a coalition structure,
an entity made up of many existing University
groups, which today includes 32 member organi-
zations. He said the coalition was crucialin involv-
ing a large and diverse cross-section of students.
Second, Mersol-Barg said the coalition was
better able to "harness the power of members"
by avoiding leadership hierarchy.
By focusing on a singular goal - one where
students had a tailored perspective to contrib-
ute to the conversation surrounding immigrant
rights - members were able to keep the coali-
By June of 2012, it was clear CTE's presence:
at regents meetings would not quietly disappear.
Students showed up to CTE events in droves,
regardless of their relation to undocumented
students. Many viewed CTE's platform as an
issue perfect for student activism - it was a
problem within the larger immigration debate
where student voices mattered.
After Regent Julia Darlow (D-Ann Arbor)
asked the University to explore the issue at the
March 2012 regents meeting, then-Provost Phil
Hanlon created a task force to examine the Uni-
versity's residency guidelines that dictate how
the University grants in-state tuition.
Led by Lester Monts,Vice Provost of Academic
Affairs, the task force included two other admin-
istrators and four CTE members: Mersol-Barg,
Lieberman, Luz Meza, then an LSA senior and
Sanjay Jolly, then a Public Policy senior. With the
goalofproducingareport to present to the regents,
the task force began meeting twice a month.
In interviews with The Michigan Daily,
Monts and the student representatives said they
viewed the task force as an open, collaborative
working environment, while Lieberman and
Jolly said its creation was initially a mechanism
"When Phil Hanlon proposed this task force,
it was 100 percent a measure for the University
to drag their feet," Jolly said. "They didn't want
to touch this. They wanted to show the world
that they engage our students and we have a task
force just for this issue."
However, Jolly and Meza said Monts and the
other task force administrators were entirely
genuine throughout the process.
"I don't have words to say how much I appre-
ciate them for working with us," Meza said.
Jolly said Monts encouraged the task force to
leave no stone unturned and to take a meaning-
ful look at the University's undocumented popu-
lation in realms such as campus life, financial
aid and admissions.
In a recent statement to the Daily, Monts
lauded the work of the student committee mem-
"Given the nature of the issues at hand, there
were often differences of opinion regarding the
interpretation of data and itsimplications for the
creation of a new policy regardingctuition equal-
ity," Monts said. "However, I'm pleased to say
that the report is a product of a consensus build-
ing process that was pervasive in our delibera-
But throughout much of 2012, University
President Mary Sue Coleman avoided any public
position on tuition equality while the task force
investigated the issue.
In a January 2013 interview with The Michi-
gan Daily, Coleman emphasized the importance
of immigration reform at a state and federal
level, rather than through University gover-
"It would be so helpful if we could change
things at the state level and do it as a comprehen-
sive plan because I feel it's just an issue this coun-
try has stuck its head in the sand about forever,
and it's not right," Coleman said.
Republican Regent Andrea Fischer Newman,
who voted against the final measure granting in-
state tuition fees along with Republican Regent
Andrew Richner in July, expressed reluctance
similar to Coleman's January 2013 stance.
I's possible that the Coalition for Tuition
Equality's defining moment was neither in
a University Board of Regents meeting nor
inside the Fleming Administration Building.
At his decisive junction, there were no micro-
phones, yellow shiA or senior University offi-
cials -instead, just two guys at a table in a quiet
section of the Shapiro Undergraduate Library.
At nearly four in the morning, Kevin Mersol-
Barg, then a Public Policy junior, and Yonah
Lieberman, an LSA junior at the time, were up
late studying like they did most Sunday nights.
"We'd be in the UGLi talking about stuff, and
Kevin mentions, totally offhand, 'Dan Morales
was speaking at the regents meeting on Thurs-
Ictober 26 - I e Loalition for Tuition
-quality is established.
day,' " Lieberman said in an August interview.
It was February 2012, and Morales, a then
LSA freshman and a current CTE spokesman,
was set to share his experience struggling to
afford a University education before he gained
Lieberman, ruminating on class readings
on the Civil Rights Movement, suggested CTE
allies hold up signs to represent the University
student organizations that composed the coali-
tion during the speech.
CTE had 12 members, and Mersol-Barg had
founded CTE only a few months prior to the
About 30 students, representing the coali-
January24 - Lentral Student Government unanimously
passes a resolution supporting tuition equality.
February16 - First CTE protest. During the public comments section at the University
Board of Regents meeting, CTE member Daniel Morales reflects on the challenges of
being an undocumented student before he achieved Michigan residency. Then, 30 sup-
porters carrying signs representing members of the coalition walk out of the meeting.
March 15 - CTE protests at the Regents meeting for the second time. CTE member Luz
Meza discusses how the University's residency guidelines have affected undocumented
students in her Southwest Detroit neighborhood. Students walk out after her speech.
Regent Darlow requests then-Provost Phil Hanlon provide further information on a
potential plan for tuition equality.
April 19 - CTE protests at a Regents meeting for the third time.
CTE assembled a large outdoor rally and nearly 200 students
march to the Regents meeting to support multiple CTE speakers.
I ne 2012 - The task force officially forms to examine residency guidelines
and the experience of undocumented students on campus. The task force is
nmnosed of students and administrators.
september 20 - Lit protestsfor the tifth time at the Board of Kegents
January 31- In an interview with The Michigan Daily, President Mary
Sue Coleman says reforms related to immigration should be enacted at
the state and federal level, rather than through University governance.
March - The task force presents their report to the Regents.
April17- CTE participates in a protest sponsored by One Michigan,
a Detroit-based organization of undocumented students. Protestors
march fromthe Michigan Union to President Coleman's house chanting
"Education, not segregation!" Later, eight students are arrested when
protestors block traffic on State Street and South University.
April18 - At the April Regents meeting, President Coleman announces
the University will have a"positive recommendation" on tuition equal-
ity in the coming months. CTE holds a"study-in" at the meeting.
July18- The Board of Regents pass new guidelines which grant
in-state tuition to military veterans and students who graduated and
attended three years of aMichigan high school and two yearsof a
Michigan middle school,granting tuition equality to undocumented
October 25 - Protest outside the Fleming
Administration Building. More than one
hundred students form a circle around
the building to raise awareness among
administrators. To show willingness to
collaborate with the University, CTE
hands out coffee and bagels to staff and
officials entering the building.