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September 11, 2007

No Vacancy: Student Groups Struggle To Find Space In The Law Quad

By Mitch Holzrichter

Student groups play an increasingly important role at the Law School, but as their numbers grow, they struggle to find office and activity space. Student groups have last priority in the competition with faculty and administrators for limited space in Hutchins Hall and Legal Research.

Talk of a new law school building to be erected in the coming years offers a chance for the law school community to examine its policies on student group office space. LSSS and the Law School Building Committee recently established a committee to assess the needs of student groups and the criteria for determining which student groups receive the premium space in Hutchins Hall and the basement of the Reading Room.

The committee is comprised of 2L Tatiana Melnik, a student representative on the Building Committee, 3L Cisco Minthorn, a representative in LSSS, and one representative each from the Federalist Society and the Black Law Students Alliance. The committee, which met for the first time on Monday, September 10th, will work with Christine Gregory, Director of Student Affairs. Gregory had no comment on the issue at this time.

Growing Needs of Student Groups

“No one at the Law School today knows how current [student group] offices were assigned,” said LSSS President 3L Hadi Husain. “So many groups have formed in recent years that the current situation doesn’t work.”

Two student groups in particular, the Federalist Society and Student Funded Fellowships (SFF), have voiced concern over their space situation. Both groups have grown in size recently and have taken on more work for the Law School, but have done so without sufficient space.

The Federalist Society is hosting the national Federalist Society Symposium, which will bring as many as 1,000 law students and scholars from around the country to the Law School in March 2008. “Office space is a must to run a symposium expected to draw 800 to 1000 attendees,” said Symposium chair 3L Mike Ruttinger. The Law School has provided temporary space to the Federalist Society until the Symposium, but the Federalist Society will lose its office space again after that.

“We would like to see student group space allocated more widely, and well-articulated criteria set in place to determine which groups receive available offices,” said Ruttinger.

SFF has also criticized the current space allocations. SFF had an office, shared with the Native American Law Students Association, and storage space on the seventh floor of Legal Research. SFF uses its space for application materials and to collect and store auction items, among other things. But over the summer, SFF lost its current office and storage space. SFF received a new office on the tenth floor of Legal Research but was not given storage space.

In an email to SFF in May, Christine Gregory wrote, “[W]e cannot provide you with a permanent place to store your [auction items]. … I recommend that you go through the ‘stuff’ in the office at the beginning of the academic year (or sooner if possible) and identify items that can be thrown away, recycled or stored for future use.” The “stuff” referenced by Gregory is merchandise donated by alumni and faculty and collected by SFF throughout the year for the SFF Auction, which raises over $60,000 for public interest grants each year.

“Quite frankly, SFF needs space to store confidential applicant information, to have meetings, to work, and to collect items for our auction and other programs,” said SFF co-chair 3L Kate Redman.

Examining priorities

The new LSSS committee hopes to advocate for additional space in the new building and to determine criteria for the allocation of existing space.

“[The Building Committee is] considering ways to maximize the amount of space groups get going forward,” said Melnik. “The Building Committee recognizes that student groups bring life to the law school and want to help foster this life as best it can. But, because the planning of the new building and the re-organization of the current building is very early in the planning process, I can’t really give any specifics about the amount of space that will be allotted to groups. I know it will be more space, but how much more, I don’t know.”

However, faculty offices and classrooms will continue to take priority. “Clearly, classrooms are first priority because there is always a struggle to find room for all the courses,” said Melnik. “Faculty space is also important because professors don’t want to come teach here if they can’t have an office. But, space for students is definitely on par with those concerns.”

Husain noted that the committee will not rearrange current space allocations in the next few years, but will develop allocation criteria for future use. He personally believes that three criteria should be used: the size of the group, how active the group is, and how the group would use the space.

Husain also explained that although the committee will look at peer schools’ policies, many such law schools have entirely new campuses with new facilities and new space. Those other schools are not confined within an architecturally beautiful, but cramped, quad.

“Student Group space is indeed a priority for not only LSSS but the law school in general,” said Minthorn. “Our student groups are among the most active anywhere and are key to making the Michigan Law community the vibrant place it is. We are excited to delve into this multifaceted issue and to work out a solution to the space problem that is fair and equitable for all.”

Mitch Holzrichter is a 3L and a member of SFF. He can be reached at mholz@umich.edu. Res Gestae currently shares space in 116 Legal Research.