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DEI, campus protests spark disagreement during Senate budget votes

Protestors call for Michigan State University to divest from Israel Friday, April 12.
Protestors call for Michigan State University to divest from Israel Friday, April 12.

The Michigan Senate approved another round of proposals for the state’s next budget Thursday, after debate in the chamber occasionally became tense.

A main source of conflict came during talks over Republican-proposed changes to the spending plan for Michigan’s higher education system.

Senator Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) tried unsuccessfully to add language that would have capped university spending on diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI, efforts at 2% of revenue.

“I support the goals of diversity and inclusion. And I’m all for equal opportunity. But we must be careful that the programs do not cross the line into initiatives that categorize individuals for preferential treatment into race, sex, or anything else,” Albert said.

The proposal and broader Republican criticisms of DEI programs drew the ire of some Democrats in the chamber’s majority, who panned the comments as “ridiculous.”

Discussions remained heated shortly after when debate over how to handle campus protests came up.

Senator Joe Bellino (R-Monroe) sought to take away funding increases from universities which allow student groups with a “history of supporting terrorist organizations or threats of physical violence toward others.” Democrats saw it as an apparent attempt to cut back on student protests of Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza.

“Students are choosing to set their education aside and instead stand in line with extremism, violence, and antisemitism,” Bellino said in support of his amendment.

Democrats rebuked the effort.

Senator Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), the only Jewish member of the state Senate, called it a “nakedly political” attempt to use Israel’s war on Hamas and allegations of antisemitic acts on campuses as a tool of division.

Moss abstained from voting — his first missed vote since joining the state Senate, he said.

“I’m super pissed off that you put me in this position," he said of Republicans who supported the amendment.

"You don’t really have a care for the Jewish students on campus," Moss said, accusing them of "using soundbites and budgets to exploit" divisions.

"There are avenues to resolve the antisemitic problem on our campus. This is not one of them,” Moss said.

Other Republicans, including Senator Ed McBroom (R-Waucedah Twp), defended the measure during debate.

“Why would we continue to use taxpayer dollars to fund the educational goals of those who are also supporting groups that are recognized terrorist organizations?” McBroom said.

But Democrats continued their opposition, also arguing free speech should be protected on college campuses.

Senator Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton) brought up examples of past protests like the civil rights movement, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, and the South Africa anti-apartheid movement.

“History repeats itself. And, like in every other social movement, attacking and misconstruing the message of student protestors by those in positions of privilege is a sad and time-honored tradition,” Camilleri said.

Republicans also attempted to withhold scholarship money from students who face discipline because of “the student’s support of a terrorist organization.”

That amendment to the higher education budget plan did not pass either.

The Senate plans to pass its remaining budget proposal bills next week.

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