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By Jerry Wolffe
October 25, 2007
The Senate Assembly that represents the University of Michigan faculty voted that U-M should stop any further construction on Michigan Stadium until a lawsuit about wheelchair seating and accessibility is resolved.
The proposal asked U-M President Mary Sue Coleman and the Board of Regents to halt further work on the $226 million stadium project.
Some construction on new concessions, lowering the field, putting in a new scoreboard and concrete began last year, but luxury boxes still need to be built.
Eighteen assembly members this week approved the proposal, seven rejected it and three abstained.
Professor Irwin Goldstein of the Department of Biological Chemistry presented a petition with 612 faculty signatures protesting the 107,501-seat stadium renovations, said attorney Richard Bernstein of Farmington Hills.
He had originally filed the suit on behalf of the Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America on April 17.
Coleman was sent a copy of the proposal, as were regents, but neither had responded as of late Wednesday.
However, a spokeswoman for Coleman said she hasn’t received the proposal.
“The president has not received a copy of the resolution yet,” a U-M spokeswoman said. “When she does, she will give it careful consideration.”
The lawsuit argued that the project was not a repair, as the university contended, but an alteration.
If it is an alteration, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, then 1 percent of seats must be available for wheelchair users — in this case, 1,075 seats. The stadium, or Big House, has about 90 wheelchair seats and recently offered to add 14 more, an action Bernstein called “incredibly insensitive.”
Under the lawsuit, there also would have to be unobstructed access to such seating, accessible seats would have to be dispersed throughout the stadium, and wheelchair users would have to have independent access to restrooms, concession stands and parking.
The stadium project includes construction of luxury boxes, creating a new scoreboard, lowering the field, adding regular seats and adding new concrete, asphalt and concession stands.
“In its totality, it indicates it is an alternation and not a repair as the U-M contends,” and ADA accessibility guidelines apply, Bernstein said.
The faculty resolution also asked the college to upgrade the stadium by adding seating available to all fans, including those with disabilities, and include more faculty input in the decision making.
“The faculty is saying the university needs to make the stadium ADA compliant,” Bernstein said.
“The proposal is saying (faculty) will no longer tolerate the intellectual and academic dishonesty of Coleman’s argument that work being done on the stadium is a repair and not an alteration,” he added.
“Ultimately, the faculty is expressing that it doesn’t have any confidence in the way Coleman has handled the stadium issue of accessibility and complying with federal law on civil rights for the disabled,” Bernstein said.
“The faculty is showing moral integrity while Mary Sue Coleman is showing she’s out of step with the values and priorities of the U-M faculty.”
A trial date is set for September 2008 on the accessibility lawsuit.
“Coleman’s behavior in this matter has resulted in a lack of confidence from within her own faculty,” said Bernstein.
“The faculty also presented the notion that Coleman’s leadership has taken the U-M off the high moral ground.
“It’s difficult to teach students social justice when the university is being blatantly hypocritical,” said Bernstein, who teaches a class on social justice at U-M, titled “Law and Social Change.”
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