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The Coke Coalition Responds

12. April 2006 • Ari Paul
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Here is a selection from the UM Coalition to Cut Contracts with Coca-Cola’s official statement:

The University of Michigan’s decision to immediately reinstate the Coca-Cola contracts is nothing short of an affront to democracy, justice, and accountability. Not only was the decision made without the mandatory consent of students as required by the Dispute Review Board recommendation; but by making this decision with a complete lack of transparency the administration violated its own established due process.

...Coca-Cola has had to do nothing to get this contract back, aside from calling their friends at the International Labor Organization to create the façade of an independent investigation. Ed Potter, Coke’s Director of Global Labor Relations and author of the full-page ads placed (at great expense) in the Michigan Daily, is a long-time employer-representative to the ILO. He has worked for the ILO for decades. This personal and financial relationship alone completely erases any possibility for a truly independent investigation on the part of the ILO. Even if the investigation uncovers Coke’s true crimes, bringing back Coke’s contract before an investigation is even formulated provides Coke with absolutely no incentive to take any corrective action. The administration has been made aware of the conflict of interest between Ed Potter and the ILO.

The members of the Coalition to Cut Contracts with Coca-Cola have engaged constructively with the administration on this issue for over a year. In our most recent meeting on March 31st, students were assured that: 1) no action would be taken regarding the Coca-Cola company without first consulting with students, in accordance with the Dispute Review Board recommendation; 2) the administration would outline in writing the procedure by which Coca-Cola would be eligible for renewing its contract with the University; and 3) that the University would not renew the contract unless plans were formulated and implemented for investigations into both Colombia and India. No such plans exist. “Active dialogue” does not constitute a meaningful commitment to a comprehensive, independent investigation or by any stretch of the imagination meet the requirements set by the University’s own Dispute Review Board.

  1. Like I said (heh).

       —David Boyle    Apr. 12 '06 - 09:44PM    #
  2. “Even if the investigation uncovers Coke’s true crimes, bringing back Coke’s contract before an investigation is even formulated provides Coke with absolutely no incentive to take any corrective action.”

    People who didn’t support the contract suspension in the first place are going to jump all over that statement.

    Up until now, defenders of the decision have been able to argue (rightfully) that the University cut its contract not because they found Coke guilty, but because Coke wasn’t following its contractual obligations. Because Coke didn’t follow DRB deadlines and submit to an audit, the University cut its contract.

    That’s a defensible position that doesn’t presume guilt prior to investigation.

    The quote I lead into this discussion with, however, seems to put the pressure on Coke to prove its innocence – not the other way around. That’s going to open the Coke Coalition up to attacks from conservatives who have, ever since December, been crying that the University punished Coke without offering due process.

       —Suhael    Apr. 13 '06 - 12:15AM    #
  3. Possibly, although re due process etc., UM is not obliged to invest in Coke, at least not obliged in the way that the police are obliged to avoid arresting people without evidence; that is, Coke is not being “punished” per se, one could say, by any refusal to invest in Coke—especially since Coke would probably not be bankrupted by UM’s non-investment! (Coke isn’t being rewarded, either, by any refusal to invest, of course…)

       —David Boyle    Apr. 13 '06 - 12:46AM    #
  4. Recently there have been a lot of issues that highlight how the University has been systematically ignoring student input when they are critical stakeholders. The financial aid restructuring is one instance—there is no committee for the administrators to judge student reaction. In some instances students are brought to the table only to be ignored. At the last MSA meeting we voted on a resolution pertaining to how the University failed to solicit feedback from the Michigan Union Board of Representatives (containing students) on moving the current Michigan Union director. The Michigan Union Board of Representatives is consulted in hiring staff, and although they acknowledged that the decision to move the Michigan Union director was ultimately a managerial one, they were still upset that they hadn’t been utilized at all in the decision. Another problem is that the MSA President isn’t even given speaking rights at the Regents meetings; she sits in the audience, not at the table, and is only given the opportunity to deliver a brief report of student issues.

    Students are the most important stakeholders at a university. It’s frustrating that they are shut out from even giving their thoughts on important topics and issues, especially when there are institutions in place to gain student feedback.

       —Rese Fox    Apr. 13 '06 - 11:35AM    #
  5. Oh, here’s another instance of the University ignoring student wants: getting rid of the Spanish minor, not due to floundering enrollment, but due to its popularity.

       —Rese Fox    Apr. 13 '06 - 11:59AM    #
  6. Whaaa? I always thought the response to high demand was to increase supply.

       —Dale    Apr. 13 '06 - 04:13PM    #
  7. Rese:

    While I agree that students should have some role in the decision-making process, I do not find it surprising or objectionable that students have been shut out of these issues. (ie the coke decision, spanish minor, etc) Nor do I object to the fact that MSA isn’t allowed a voice at regents meetings.

    1) Public university is not a democratic institution. Regents and administrators are elected and selected to be in charge. Students pay to attend. Coke Coalition may be correct in saying that this decision to bring back Coke is an affront to justice/accountablity. But its not an affront to democracy. Which leads me to a second problem…

    2) Neither Coke Coalition or MSA can honestly claim to be speaking for the students. While I don’t have polling data, I doubt that CC has more than a fraction of student support. MSA was lucky to get the turnout that it did in this election. Even then, what was it? 20% or so? Of that, what was the percentage that supported Stallings? Say, 8% or so? Yeah, that’s a mandate that you can take to the bank. So go to the Regents and tell them that the 20% of students that voted demand to be heard. Tell them that by allowing Stallings to speak at meetings that they will get good feedback on the preferences of less than 20% of the student body. Fundamentally, access is about power. If MSA or Coke could claim to have widespread student support, it would be a lot more difficult for the administration to shut them out. But most students just don’t give a shit.

    3) Finally, what, over the past two months, has MSA done to deserve a seat AND speaking rights at Regents meetings? Spam most of the University? Run an election tainted with fraud and smear tactics? For what? A seat on student government? I’m not a regent and I have a hard time taking you seriously after all that.

       —Daniel Adams    Apr. 13 '06 - 04:59PM    #
  8. “Students are the most important stakeholders at a university.”

    Wrong – you are one set of stakeholders at the University. Unlike most stakeholders (administration, employees, faculty, taxpayers, Regents, Ann Arbor residents, Ann Arbor City, state of Michigan, etc.) students come and go. If you’re honest about it, most of the decisions that you as students make today have little impact on you besides the short time you are here at the University, if that. The rest of us often have to deal with those impacts for years to come. So while you may feel that your concerns are the most important, most of us don’t agree, mainly because we have to live with them long after most of you have left town.

       —John Q.    Apr. 13 '06 - 07:32PM    #
  9. Dams: Although MSA (candidate) behavior may not be perfect, I suspect that admin and Regent behavior may not be perfect either. Also, as for percentage of voters: our Dear Leader himself was arguably elected only by 537 votes in Florida, or maybe even just by 5 Supreme Court justices…

    Sloop John B: Students are the most important stakeholders at a university, I think, although you have identified other stakeholders. Students may not be the biggest stakeholders in ANN ARBOR, but, as Rese says, I think it’s fair to consider them the biggest single stakeholders at UM. ...that’s why they pay all that tuition!!! !

       —David Boyle    Apr. 13 '06 - 09:00PM    #
  10. David:

    I don’t mean to imply that the regents are models of ethical conduct or that low voter turnout is always correlated with political power. But in this case, in which the student body has been largely disenfranchised from the process, low turnout, weak support and childish antics are not the way one gets a seat at the table.

       —Daniel Adams    Apr. 13 '06 - 09:50PM    #
  11. Those things don’t help, that’s true.

    Still, there should be a student regent anyway, Iowa (the University of which Mary Sue was last at…) has had one for a while.
       —David Boyle    Apr. 13 '06 - 10:20PM    #
  12. John Q – Maybe I spent too much time in the student co-ops, but I’m inclined to disagree with your write-off of students. The students may not be able to initiate much change that has impact for themselves as students – they’ll be gone first – but they can certainly initiate change that benefits other students on down the line. The actual membership of the stakeholder group “students” changes perhaps more rapidly than that of some of the other groups you mentioned, but the stakeholder group “students” will always be around to be impacted by decisions, and, frequently, will be the group most impacted.

    (Of course, if we give students a regent position, then the “host community” stakeholder group will want one next…)

       —Murph    Apr. 13 '06 - 11:41PM    #
  13. Murph wrote ” ... if we give students a regent position …”

    Has a student ever mounted a campaign for straight-up election to the Board of Regents under the standard electoral process? How unrealistic would it be to run such a campaign (to win, as opposed to raise awareness on whatever issues)? On the assumption that a successful student candidate would require universal student support, what kind of issue would it take (I don’t think the Coke ban is it, but who knows) to inspire universal turnout among students?

       —HD    Apr. 14 '06 - 04:00PM    #
  14. Among possible other students in the past, UM student Susan Fawcett ran for UM regent in 2002 under the Green Party tent, and won over 120,000 votes. (I volunteered some for her campaign, by way.)

       —David Boyle    Apr. 14 '06 - 08:17PM    #
  15. Nat Damren also ran for regent on the Green Party ticket, also unsuccesfully.

    I would disagree that access is power. You can have all the access you want, but if you don’t have a way to incur costs on those who make decisions, or make the decisions yourself, you have no power. I prefer the classic organizing formulation:

    power = organized money + organized people (+ organized information)

    Stallings isn’t asking for a vote, is she? That would be power. Being able to speak at meetings isn’t power- it’s a voice, which doesn’t account for much if you can’t back it up.

    Why are people so threatened with students even having a voice at the regents table?

    Also, in reference to Dan Adams argument—power is not correlated to turnout, and one doesn’t necesarrrily need a whole bunch of votes to be legitimate.

    For example—in the 1998 UM Regent election (i just picked that one because it’s the first result that popped up after a google search) there were 5,271,820 votes cast.
    There were two open seats in a nine way race.
    The top vote getters were David Brandon (1,291,846) and Jesse Dalman (1,199,762), both Republicans. That’s 24% for Brandon and 22% for Dalman.

    3,027,104 people voted in that election (based on governors race), and you get (i think) two votes for regent, which means that a little less than a million people who voted in that election didn’t bother voting for UM regent. Assuming that everyone who voted in the regent election used both their votes, only about 2635910 actually voted for regent. If we translate vote percentages into number of supporters, Dalman won a seat with only 579,900 supporters.
    In a state with a population of 9,938,444 people and 6,859,332 registered voters (2000).

    So, Regent Dalman gets a vote, and he only has the support of 5% of the population and 8% of the electorate.

    Seems kinda silly to argue that students shouldn’t have speaking rights, huh?

    Additionally, I think it’s interesting that the two candidates with the names that would have appeared first in alphabetical order got the most votes. Do they randomize the name order in big fields?

       —bates    Apr. 14 '06 - 10:49PM    #
  16. Bates:

    “Seems kinda silly to argue that students shouldn’t have speaking rights, huh?”

    No, because you’re missing my point.

    The Regents have a legislatively-mandated and defined right to make these decisions. Accordingly, it doesn’t matter what the turnout is or what their share of the vote happens to be. Once elected, its their show. Similarly, it doesn’t matter what the turnout is in MSA elections. Reps and officers will be elected and will have control over the assembly.

    While an electoral mandate (or lack thereof) is irrelevant to the question of defined offices and powers, it is HIGHLY relevent when it comes to asking for additional, unspecified powers – like speaking rights at regents meetings. Any decision on by the regents to allow or deny another party access to their process would be based purely on how persuasive that group’s claim to power is. Currently, neither Stallings nor MSA as a whole can make a persuasive claim. Even if we were to assume that students should have a say in regents meetings (a very debatable proposition), MSA cannot, at this point, claim to be a responsible and represenative voice of the student body. Few students vote. Few students care. And the current assembly has not handled itself with dignity and maturity.

       —Daniel Adams    Apr. 14 '06 - 11:14PM    #
  17. If you think the current Regents and administration are responsible and representative…well.

       —David Boyle    Apr. 15 '06 - 12:54AM    #
  18. I didn’t say that.

       —Daniel Adams    Apr. 15 '06 - 01:34AM    #
  19. But if they aren’t great themselves, who are they to exclude students from…

       —David Boyle    Apr. 15 '06 - 02:29AM    #
  20. Their power is constitutionally mandated. It is not, in most cases, a function of their own behavior. Students, on the other hand, do not enjoy that luxury.

       —Daniel Adams    Apr. 15 '06 - 03:36AM    #
  21. Maybe they should.

       —David Boyle    Apr. 15 '06 - 05:50AM    #
  22. they do

       —peter honeyman    Apr. 18 '06 - 03:30AM    #
  23. Huh?

       —David Boyle    Apr. 18 '06 - 05:00AM    #
  24. they do.

    students can run for office just like anyone else. once elected, they have the luxury to exercise regental power regardless of their own behavior.

    (i can see it now: TOGAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!)

       —peter honeyman    Apr. 18 '06 - 10:23AM    #
  25. But there is no “student regent”, as Iowa has, and Michigan should have.

       —David Boyle    Apr. 18 '06 - 06:34PM    #
  26. The University’s decision is regretable, though it shouldn’t really be a big suprise for anyone.

    Who else is up for running around campus with a bottle of super-glue and jamming up the coin/dollar deposit slots on all the Coke machines?

       —Anonymous    Apr. 18 '06 - 07:09PM    #