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The Detroit News
By Marisa Schultz
October 23, 2007
More than 600 faculty and staff members at University of Michigan submitted a petition opposing the $226 million renovation to Michigan Stadium, calling its approval process "deeply flawed" and damaging to the university's reputation.
The renovation plan, slated to begin after Michigan's Nov. 17 home game against Ohio State, calls for the addition of 83 private luxury boxes, 3,200 club seats and many other upgrades.
It's drawn the ire of some fans, who say the luxury boxes undermine the egalitarian spirit of the stadium's original design. It's also prompted a federal lawsuit by a group of disabled veterans who say the plan doesn't provide enough wheelchair seating.
"We are calling for a reconsideration," Irwin Goldstein, U-M professor emeritus of biological chemistry, said before Monday's meeting of the faculty Senate Assembly, which passed a resolution urging the university to stop moving forward with the plan.
"We got 615 signatures without much effort. It shows how upset people really are about it," Goldstein said.
U-M President Mary Sue Coleman has not yet received a copy of the resolution.
"When she does she will give it careful consideration," said U-M spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham.
The faculty's concern goes beyond the creation of luxury boxes -- which cost an average of $85,000 a season to reserve -- and alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. They're concerned they weren't adequately consulted about the major plans of the iconic stadium.
"(B)y actively restricting the expression of opposing viewpoints and by shirking compliance with federal rules on handicap accessibility, the University of Michigan continues to damage its reputation, undermine public trust and saddle itself with a costly stadium plan that does not reflect U-M's traditional values or mission," the petition says.
Keith Riles, professor of physics at U-M, made an impromptu motion at Monday's meeting following a speech by Goldstein to urge the administration to reconsider. He faults the leadership for adding the renovation proposal to the Regents' agenda in June at the last minute, which precluded public comment and added to the sense that the administration was afraid of serious debate, Riles said.
"In short, U-M administrators behaved more like oil company executives evading environmentalists than stewards of this university community," Riles said.
Richard Bernstein, lawyer for Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America which sued U-M over the stadium design, said the faculty's action amounts to a vote of no confidence in Coleman's leadership on the stadium issue.
"They are expressing grave concerns that the university is not approaching this in the right way," Bernstein said. "They are saying the University of Michigan has lost the moral high road."
The veterans claim that the stadium plan is more than 700 wheelchair seats short of meeting the federal requirement of 1 percent of total seating. The ongoing case is slated for trial next year.
But Gloria Hage, Michigan's interim vice president and general counsel, has been optimistic a settlement could be reached before then.
"We're defending the lawsuit and contesting not because we don't provide access, but because we feel we already do," Hage said in a previous interview. "Today we meet the standard and exceed it."
Once renovations are complete to start the 2010 season, the stadium is expected to seat nearly 108,000 fans, with the capability of packing more than 111,000. It currently has an official seating capacity of 107,501.
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