U-M practice of banning citizens from campus faces scrutiny

When the hullabaloo erupted over Andrew Shirvell essentially stalked University of Michigan student president Chris Armstrong last year, one of the punishments Shirvell faced for his conduct was banishment from the campus.

Shirvell, a Michigan undergraduate alum, eventually was reinstated under the condition that he leave Armstrong alone after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) threatened a lawsuit.

The banishment should have been more controversial in the news, and might have been if Shirvell’s conduct left any room for him to be even the slightest sympathetic figure. After all, aside from circumstantial evidence suggesting that he may have used his position at the Attorney General’s office to illegally review the criminal records of Armstrong and his associates, Shirvell didn’t do anything illegal. And last time I checked, U-M was a public university (Not for long if the Mackinac Center has anything to say about it!) banning citizens from public property without review.

The Detroit Free Press reported that over 2,000 people have been banned from Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus over the last 10 years – far more than any public university in the state. Apparently, all that is required to be banned is a “trespass notice” by Department of Public Safety i.e. campus police. The officers issue the bans before any review is taken, so it’s up to the discretion of the department, rather than a judge or impartial authority. The DPS director does say bans can be reviewed by “the department’s civilian oversight committee, or up to the university president.”

The conduct of what receives a trespass notice is pretty broad. According to the story, a ban can be issued for “committing or being suspected of committing a crime on campus, refusing or failing to comply with university rules, disrupting the operation of the university or demonstrating a risk of physical harm or injury.”

For example, the Freep story said, if you are the chief operating officer of a company that makes “bioengineered medical devices” looking to meet up with one of your researchers, you’d better make an appointment first:

It was after hours on Oct. 14 when Deborah Buffington tried to enter an off-campus building leased by the University of Michigan to speak with a technician her company was working with on a study. She banged on the locked door.

The technician let her in, but the director of the program didn’t know her or the work she was doing there, according to Buffington. He asked her to leave. The next day, a University of Michigan police officer came to her office to discuss the incident and give her a trespass warning.

That’s how Buffington, chief operating officer of Innovative Biotherapies, an Ann Arbor company that develops bioengineered medical devices, became one of about 2,000 people issued trespass warnings since 2001, effectively banning her from the campus.

Buffington said she has no quibbles with U-M. She said the university has to look out for the safety of its community, and she believes it was miscommunication that led to the warning. “I completely understand why they did what they did,” said Buffington, who immediately appealed and on Oct. 29, the ban was modified to allow her on campus as long as she’s invited.

What crime Buffington was “being suspected of” is unclear. The employee let her in, the director said she couldn’t stay. She left. There’s no indication of misbehavior in the story.

This could simply be anecdotal. Later in the story, the Director of Public Safety said most bans are the result of criminal activity. But not all. In fact, in at least one instance, it was used against a former employee virtually moments after he was fired.

One of the more high-profile trespass warnings was issued in 2008 to Dr. Andrei Borisov, a 15-year employee of U-M who had been raising questions about how some grant money was being used in the pediatrics/cardiology department.

Following a meeting in which his superiors asked for his resignation, Borisov said he was escorted to his office by police officers who read a trespass warning to him and then arrested him when he attempted to take his briefcase. Borisov was acquitted of the charges he faced as a result of the incident, said his attorney, Deborah Gordon of Bloomfield Hills. He has subsequently filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against U-M, he said.

The ban from campus has since been modified, allowing Borisov back on campus, but not at the medical school.

Borisov described the trespass warning as “nonsense.”

“I was at my office legally as a faculty member and an employee of the University of Michigan,” Borisov said.

U-M officials declined to comment about Borisov’s case because of the lawsuit.

The story doesn’t say much about how the policy is being reviewed other than to say that is. Maybe the policy will change. Or maybe it’s the type of review that gets the ACLU off your case until it focuses on something else and nothing ever changes.

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