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James Nicita

Green Party Candidate for Wayne State Board of Governors

Jim Nicita (photo)


Birthdate: December 7, 1962, Wyandotte, Michigan

Age: 37

Bachelor of Arts, History, University of California at Berkeley, 1987
Master's Degree in Urban Planning, University of Michigan, 1994
Currently a 2nd Year Law Student, Wayne State University

Great Lakes Commission, 1994-1996
Huron River Watershed Council, 1997-1999.



My campaign slogan is "Build a living campus community, by design."

I. Defining a "Campus Community"

A. The fundamentals: quality instruction for students

Wayne State needs to renew its status as a premier teaching university. Historically, WSU was a place where, for a very affordable tuition rate, full professors taught undergraduate classes. Such creative programs as Monteith College typified WSU's high standards of education. The university provided students with the critical thinking skills necessary for them to be citizens and leaders in a democratic society and to advance economically in our competitive economy.

Things have changed, and not necessarily for the better. WSU's over-reliance on TA's and part-time faculty is a travesty. The university justifies this reliance by vague economic arguments but belies these arguments by its spending priorities - such as its new emphasis on athletics. The upper administration has made ongoing assaults on academic freedom, has crippled liberal arts education, and has promoted the corporate notion of education-as-a-commodity. A solution requires a tidal change in the university's academic politics, starting with the Board of Governors.

I will work to make this change happen. I will bring to the Board of Governors discussions of the many innovative ideas circulating through the nation's educational community. These ideas would include, for example, "freedom schooling," promoted by Detroit's James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership.

How do we fund an academic renewal? We can reorient our priorities within the budget we have, certainly. Further, however, I think the university could do a much better job of utilizing its statewide network of successful alumni to increase significantly its university endowment. I will be active in this effort, and I will be a tireless lobbyist in the legislature for increased state allocations to WSU. However, increases in tuition must be avoided: WSU must cherish and retain its role in providing education to those who would otherwise not be able to afford it.

At a national level, the Green Party's identity as a party of peace and nonviolence has tangible significance for education funding at all levels. Whereas both George W. Bush and Al Gore support maintaining and even increasing the current Cold War military budget, Ralph Nader and the Green Party are on record as calling for a 30% to 50% cut in military spending. We believe that the hundreds of millions of dollars saved should be used to provide for better campus facilities, smaller class sizes, first-rate instructors, scholarships, and salaries for faculty and staff - not just at the university level but at the primary and secondary education levels as well.

B. Social justice: labor relations and diversity

Wayne State has an abysmal record of labor relations. I am a student at Wayne State Law School, where former university president David Adamany was a tenured faculty member. The faculty of the Law School once voted to censure Adamany, one of their own colleagues, after he inexcusably suppressed the free speech rights of striking university staff and faculty. A professor of Constitutional law trampled on the constitutional rights of his own staff and faculty. Adamany has moved on, but his legacy persists on the Board of Governors that hired and refused to fire him. Establishing a better pattern of labor relations will require committed new Board members.

I pledge to be an unapologetic labor advocate, for example by insisting that WSU pay staff the Living Wage and that WSU's contractors provide the Living Wage.

Diversity is an essential element of a campus community. Regarding our student body, in order to counter historical patterns of imbalance in access to higher education, we must aggressively defend affirmative action policies.

Regarding staff and faculty, recently the evidence has mounted that the university administration has denied tenure to, or failed to rehire, faculty and staff based on considerations of race, gender, or sexual orientation. If elected to the Board of Governors, I will undertake a thorough investigation of this issue. I will call on the Board and President Irvin Reid to take swift and forceful corrective action to end such discrimination at WSU.

C. Campus democracy: from the grassroots up

My status as a student at Wayne State University particularly qualifies me for the position of Governor. I have the responsibility and experience that came with 10 years of a professional life prior to law school. I add to this, however, my perspective as a student. The student body constitutes the most important constituency on campus, but student interests have not traditionally been directly represented on the Board. Grassroots campus democracy demands that students have one of their own on the Board that makes the decisions that so affect their academic lives.

Grassroots democracy also demands open access to information and decision making. I have been an open government activist for over a decade, beginning with my successful and precedent-setting case under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): Nicita v. City of Detroit, 194 Mich. App. 657, 487 NW2d 814 (1992); 216 Mich. App. 746, 550 NW2d 269 (1996). I am also a longstanding member of the Michigan Freedom of Information Committee.

Over this time, I have witnessed the erosion of the public's right to know through the emasculation of the state FOIA and the Open Meetings Act (OMA) by the Republican legislature and now the Republican Supreme Court. Another particularly distressing legacy of David Adamany's tenure as WSU president was his personal lobbying in the legislature to weaken the FOIA and OMA to close off from the public the presidential search process of the state's public universities. However, exemptions under the FOIA are permissive, not mandatory. WSU may still hold an open presidential search if the Board of Governors chooses to do so. If during my tenure it becomes necessary to hire a new university president, I will insist on an open and transparent presidential search.

A final issue relating to campus democracy is media access. WSU has a significant asset in radio station WDET, but the station provides very little if any campus access to its airwaves. Aside from brief "public service announcements," WDET features little if any in-depth news of campus events, faculty and staff initiatives, or student organizations. WDET does not provide individuals - including WSU Board of Governors candidates! - or organizations time to express opinions on campus matters of the day. The metropolitan nature and extent of WDET's broadcast cannot serve as an excuse: so is WSU's student body. Access to WDET must widen to include more campus programming and local community programming.

WDET should also broadcast a broader range of syndicated voices and opinion, beyond the centrist but somewhat elitist National Public Radio (NPR). Instead of, for example, broadcasting "Morning Edition" twice every weekday, WDET could provide variety by also becoming an affiliate of the progressive radio network Pacifica Radio, and offer such quality programs as "Democracy Now."

As an NPR affiliate, WDET should work within NPR nationally to promote democratic media opportunities such as Lower Power FM (LPFM) broadcasting, or "community radio." NPR has shamefully allied itself with the corporate broadcasters in the National Association of Broadcasters, in an attempt to undermine the FCC's recently adopted new rule to re-legalize community radio. As a member of the Michigan Music is World Class Campaign, led by Green Party congressional candidate Tom Ness, I secured a resolution in support of the new FCC rule from the Ann Arbor City Council. On the Board of Governors, I will similarly push WDET to support community radio by lobbying NPR to end its opposition to this rule.

II. What makes a "Living" Campus Community?

As a predominantly commuter school, WSU has made education affordable and accessible for thousands. However, we have lost an urban community surrounding campus in WSU's quest - frequently with an intentional "urban renewal" mentality - for surface and deck parking. It's time to rebuild a lively urban community and fill in these empty, "dead" spaces.

Sensitive planning can find the balance between parking needs and community. WSU must stop building freestanding parking decks. Sadly, it will soon construct another one at Cass and Warren. WSU could construct parking decks in the inner core of a block, or underground, while leaving the street frontage surrounding or above the deck to well-designed small shops and the floors above these shops to residences. The restored pedestrian street life would transform the campus community into an inviting place to live, work, and study.

The impacts of parking on the campus community raise a broader issue of enabling WSU's metropolitan constituency - students, staff, and faculty - to reach the campus through affordable and reliable public transportation. We must place this issue within the broader context of grossly inadequate public transportation in a city and metropolitan area crippled by the impacts of urban sprawl: Myron Orfield ably documents these impacts in "Detroit Metropolitics: A Regional Agenda for Community and Stability," published for the Detroit Archdiocese and MOSES (Metropolitan Organizing Strategies Enabling Strength).

I am a member of the Michigan Transportation and Land Use Reform Coalition, organized by the Michigan Land Use Institute, and co-authored the land use section of the national Green Party platform. I firmly believe that the most effective solution to metropolitan Detroit's urban sprawl problem is for the State of Michigan to adopt Oregon's extraordinary system of state-level land use planning, which requires that cities and metropolitan areas establish sprawl-limiting "urban growth boundaries." One of the singular benefits of this system is to steer much-needed resources back into central cities. On the Board of Governors I would advocate that WSU's College of Urban, Labor, and Metropolitan Affairs undertake policy studies on how these various growth management and transportation reform concepts would apply to Michigan and metropolitan Detroit.

Finally a '"living" campus community would also be ecologically sensitive. To give just one example, WSU could use proven ecology-based techniques to solve its severe campus flooding problems. Prior to entering law school I served as a watershed planner with the Great Lakes Commission and then the Huron River Watershed Council. On the Board of Governors I would advocate a campus storm water management plan that would consider, for example, use of "green roof" systems promoted by James Patchett of the Conservation Design Forum; "rain gardens" developed by University of Michigan professor Joan Nassauer; and the German architect Herbert Dreiseitl's ideas regarding storm water as a design amenity.

III. A Living Campus Community, "By Design"

The living campus community I have described must be created "by design:" intentionally, with commitment. But in the fine Michigan architectural tradition of Eliel Saarinen, I also refer to the art of urban design. Saarinen, like his mentor Camillo Sitte, felt that cities built along artistic and natural principles were much healthier for the well being and happiness of their inhabitants.

Consistent with WSU's historic role of serving the residents of the City of Detroit, I believe that WSU should establish of a college of architecture and urban design. This new college would, among other things, apply Saarinen's ideas to the process of urban reconstruction.

The college might develop particular specialties, such as designing and planning for distressed neighborhoods without having to displace existing residents. Another might be to develop techniques for replacing sterile modernist building facades with artistic/ecological replacements. A third might be the adaptive reuse of older buildings to function in a cyber-economy.

The college might also serve as a base for WSU's own campus design planning. If fašade replacement techniques become a college specialty, for example, the techniques could be applied to a number of WSU's own buildings, in particular the regrettable Student Center and the even more regrettable University Towers Apartments.

Finally, the college could advance the cause of historic preservation. A university should be the conservator of culture such as architectural heritage - not the agent of its destruction, as WSU has been regarding such treasures as McKenzie Hall and the Gleaners Temple. I credit President Reid and the current board for their decision to go in a new direction, in planning the new Technology Park, by retaining in the plan historic structures such as the original Cadillac Motors headquarters and the American Beauty Electric Iron Building.

WSU could go a step further by establishing the new architecture college in historic structures. Perhaps the best candidates are the collection of small, early automobile factories that stand in a row on Piquette Street between John R. and Beaubien. Within this group of buildings stands the very first factory Henry Ford built in Detroit, where he conceived his ideas of mass production that were later implemented at the Highland Park plant. The building is of immense historic significance, but stands mostly vacant. In acquiring the Piquette buildings, WSU would have a nucleus for future growth of an "East of Woodward" campus.

IV. Conclusion

Wayne State University is poised to become a campus reflecting community and sustainability. Let's "Build a living campus community, by design."

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