Monday, November 29, 2021

Police infiltration hinders critical dialogue

April 19, 2001

It’s too bad this is my last column.

My education here is over and my stint in the college newspaper theater is drawing to a close. I have penned opinion columns for The State News for two and a half years and tried to cast light on the more wack elements of our lives. As $135,000 condos are springing up in the downtown area that students deserve to live in and university leaders are acting like a bunch of boobs, I have to sigh at the pontificating that still needs to be pushed.

But I know our readers hate preaching, so first I want to express my gratitude to MSU President M. Peter McPherson and MSU police Chief Bruce Benson for scheming to undermine Students for Economic Justice. Perhaps our venerable leaders thought placing an undercover police officer in the student group would reveal the students’ urges to bomb something, thus turning the apathetic campus against the charismatic, nonviolent group. Instead, news of the investigation has stirred a campuswide nod of solidarity. Even our student government, ASMSU, was summoned to the occasion and responded with articulate class. Now the administration is scrambling to justify its boo-boo and it’s pretty funny watching it stutter and blush.

The administration and police have unleashed a laundry list of reasons for placing an officer in the group and none of them stand up to critical thinking. Everyone peeping the president’s actions in regard to this scandal knows he OK’d the infiltration of this campus group because of his career agenda (he was slated for a cushy World Bank job) and that anti-sweatshop protester groups like SEJ have seriously endangered companies like Nike’s presence on college campuses. McPherson apparently would rather tamper with the reputations of sincere students than tick off Phil Knight or his World Bank crew.

And this university loves to wax poetic about treasuring diversity? MSU’s self-proclaimed commitment to diversity is a sham. Why would a politically or culturally diverse student want to attend this university, where violation of students’ constitutional rights is justified when the student is outside of the status quo and potentially threatening to our globalization-happy president’s career?

And by threatening, I don’t mean via Molotov cocktails. A vast majority of student activists in this country do not employ violent tactics, primarily because their fight is so compelling. McPherson and Benson’s fears about this nonviolent campus group really attest to their prowess: Their words are their artillery.

McPherson should just start grooming himself for a coveted spot next to Dr. Evil in the World Bank. He is misplaced in a university atmosphere, where exchange of ideas in an open forum is necessary.

What’s amazing is that according to SEJ members, activists met with McPherson just before news of the infiltration surfaced and asked him if he would ever employ such tactics. He told the group no, with a titter of a laugh that seems more offensive than his lie. Some speculate McPherson is winding down his career as MSU president, and what a way to bid adieu! He tried to riddle a student group with paranoia and turn the university population against it, but instead the group emerged stronger.

McPete, just bow out. There’s no need for an encore.

To local police departments that perceive politically active students as criminals, I feel like a broken record! The East Lansing Police Department, for instance, has a bloated $7 million budget to police 46,000 people (a huge portion of whom are not even year-round residents), but are largely preoccupied with stalking city residents they wouldn’t bond over a Labatt with.

While the cops are busy waiting for student activists to jaywalk and harassing high-schoolers, fraternities are still hazing, macho drunks play Caligula on city streets and pink-cheeked, sloshed women prance around with blank looks that just say “victim” or “incapable of consent.”

When I imagine the East Lansing streets of the future, the only thing I know will be here for sure is those shivering hotties, click-clacking their way to the bar. The city has changed so much in just the past few years. Now the tallest building in downtown East Lansing is the temple of the automobile - the parking garage - which looms and shields the sun over Albert Avenue. There is still no pharmacy or grocery store in the downtown area, but soon there will be luxury condos. My favorite downtown businesses, which gave this city its former, appealing countercultural vibe, have vanished, replaced by retail establishments that have made America homogenous from coast to coast.

Perhaps my biggest disappointment is in the very few students who care about anything outside of their television and bar scene. They approach quandary with flippant disregard. I have felt most supremely disappointed in the women of MSU, often caged by sororities that take their money and control their lives or drowning in the unchecked machismo of The Riv-type men who run like wild monkeys on our city streets. The coeds of East Lansing use their might for walking downtown in the winter in thongs and stilettos, not to challenge the patriarchal orientation of academics. How disappointing, because having intelligence and opinions is sexy.

Maybe it’s the agenda of leaders like McPherson that have made this campus barren when it comes to the critical dialogue that should be the centerpiece of university life. But I know there are still a few resilient students who will thrive regardless. What a relief because there’s so much left to write in this valuable space.

But so few students who give a damn.

Erica Saelens, State News wire editor, can be reached at


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