OU community reacts to East Campus development

From current students to faculty members to alumni, Oakland University community members are sharing their thoughts and reactions to the potential development of East Campus. Even without plans being finalized, there is a large number of people who oppose such advancements.

About a month ago, The Post was able to meet with Vice President of University Advancement Mike Westfall, who answered questions regarding East Campus. One update provided since revealed there will now be a Board of Trustees (BOT) meeting in April to finalize the proposal, in addition to the February meeting.

Another update revealed the OU Police Department (OUPD) will not be the leading police force for the area if it is built upon. This update came from Westfall’s meeting with Student Congress (OUSC) on Oct. 28.

Student responses

One of the biggest shows of opposition to the project came at OU’s sustainability rally on Oct. 4 when a group of silent, student protestors arrived with cardboard signs. One protestor was quoted stating President Pescovitz and the administration “care more about their profits than their university community.”

The pushback from students found its way to local news stations, with OUSC president Andrew Romano and sophomore Randilynn Heichel sharing their thoughts. Students were also unhappy with the way they found out about the developments, with Heichel saying she only found out through social media.

“We’re a largely commuter campus here, so no matter what you’re always going to have traffic concerns,” Romano said on WDIV Local 4, “and we don’t have any public transit on campus, so you just have a lot of cars, and we’re dominantly a single-lane campus.”

OUSC stated three main reasons for their opposition to potential developments; traffic, sustainability and safety. They have already submitted an article to The Post sharing their thoughts, but to help create a voice for others against the development, they started a petition.

The petition currently has roughly 3,900 signatures and a goal of 5,000 signatures with the aim to cancel the entirety of the development.

As of now, there have been four letters to the editor from students regarding East Campus. Of those, there have been 35 comments — all of which agreeing with the sentiment stated in the letters — and a total of 80 likes on them, demonstrating opposition to the project.

Faculty & staff responses

In regard to faculty and staff, there have been three letters to the editor with a total of 26 comments — with all but one seemingly agreeing — and 68 likes. One of those letters was from the Campus Alliance for Sustainability & the Environment (CASE).

Professor Lily Mendoza, a member of the steering committee for CASE, spoke at the aforementioned sustainability rally. At the rally, she discussed the importance of sustainability and CASE-OU’s beginning, but specifically mentioned East Campus.

The following is a snippet of her speech from the rally:

The task is complex and daunting, requiring courage to explore uncharted territories and governance strategies that fully recognize the stakes involved. As such, we are having to ask really hard questions about our received, exclusively human-centered paradigms of economic growth and development.

“How do we show our commitment to disinvesting from old notions of land and nature as “exploitable commodity” — mere “resource to leverage income”— and begin seeing, like our Native kin do, that the more-than-human-world is, literally, womb and mother of this wonder called “Life,” at every level?

“Woodlots, marshes, forests, grasslands are not “undeveloped assets” awaiting chainsaws and concrete to secure a status quo future — and a short-sighted calculus in an accounting office — but an intricately complex web that knows how to care for and heal itself if not pillaged and wrecked.”

On Nov. 17, the OU Senate passed a resolution calling for a withdrawal of current plans for East Campus. The OU chapter of the American Association of University Professors (OU-AAUP) released the following statement after the decision:

Today Oakland University’s Senate responded to a Board of Trustees initiative to develop a hotel and retail space on the northeastern corner of campus.  The Senate overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on the Board of Trustees to ‘abandon this ill-conceived proposal and any future development proposals that do not align with the goals and mission of the university and to work instead on elevating OU’s profile as a living example of a university seriously committed to sustainability.’

“This University Senate action correlates with an initiative by Student Congress to voice concerns regarding East Campus development.  A petition recently launched by Oakland students also calls for an end to the proposed East Campus Development project, citing deep concerns for its environmental impact, diversion of campus resources and the potential threat to the safety of the campus.  This petition calls on OU to ‘invest in community initiatives that will improve campus, not further corporatize and commercialize a non-profit university.’

“Faculty and student opponents of East Campus Development have stressed how proposed construction on this parcel would violate the university’s commitment to sustainability, and conflict with the traditions of using campus property to cultivate scientific understanding, regional history and natural aesthetics.  Moreover, opponents argued that the resources used in this development project would inherently divert from teaching and research, and muddle the image of Oakland for the surrounding community.

“Oakland’s University Senate is responsible for ensuring that the academic mission of the university is central to our activity.  The faculty has made it clear that the proposal to develop East Campus will divert from OU’s instructional mission, undermine our efforts to lead the community in a drive for sustainability, and permanently destroy the unique natural environment at the university.

“As the collective bargaining unit that represents the faculty, the AAUP will continue to support our members’ efforts to focus the university’s attention on its mission to ‘be recognized as a strong research and scholarly environment focused on creative endeavors and on the discovery, dissemination and utilization of knowledge.’ The plans for development on the university’s East Campus do not support the academic mission of Oakland University.”

The Post is aiming to work with OUSC to create a student survey asking those in the campus community their thoughts on potential East Campus development plans when more specific information is released. The survey will most likely take place in January to gather feedback ahead of the BOT meeting in February.