Cover image: The student movement gained moment over the course of the fall semester, 1990, culminating with the Regents’ vote to deputize campus security. On November 16 protestors blocked the main University thoroughfare, State Street in front of the Michigan Union, the day after 16 anti-deputization activists were arrested. Source: The Michigan Daily, November 17, 1990.

By Kathleen Brown

On November 15, 1990, the Board of Regents at the University of Michigan voted to establish an armed, on-campus police force for the first time in University history. Their vote was the culmination of years of effort to reconstitute administrative power. Alongside the deputization of campus police, the University pursued a code of non-academic conduct for students. In order for both to succeed, the Regents overturned Bylaw 7.02, ending shared governance at the University of Michigan. This decision disregarded student, faculty, and community opposition, and by the end of November 15, 1990, the University arrested 16 activists occupying administration offices. The next day one thousand students rallied outside the Student Union, spilling into the street. The students chanted “No Guns! No Code! No Cops! This repression has got to stop!”

Thirty years later, in the wake of the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, student activists again marched for the defunding and demilitarization of their campus police forces. At the University of Michigan, undergraduate Students of Color Liberation Front called for an end to President Mark Schlissel’s COVID-era policing program, known as the “Ambassadors Program” which paired federal work-study students with the Department of Public Safety and Security to patrol and enforce social distancing. Members of the Graduate Employees’ Organization fought for COVID-related work protections and defunding and demilitarizing campus police as part of their “strike for a safe and just campus” from September 8-16, 2020. The graduate student strike unconsciously invoked similar rhetoric of the No Guns, No Cops, No Code movement: in 1990, student activists maintained that having armed police on campus would not make campus safer, that funds for policing would be better used to pay for mental health services and sexual assault prevention, that campus police repressed student movements, and put students – especially students of color – in danger. While Ann Arbor campus police are now ‘naturalized’ with a current budget of $12 million each year,[1] prior to 1990 the University of Michigan did not have its own campus police force.[2] Defunding campus police was not a distant dream, but actually a distant memory.

Graduate Student Instructors take the streets during the Graduate Employees’ Organization’s September 2020 strike which called for COVID protections and moving money and weapons away from campus police and into mental health services.

While further research is needed to offer a fuller picture of systems of surveillance, control, and coercion at the University of Michigan and the surrounding area, beginning efforts show that throughout the 1980s University administrators fretted about their inability to enforce campus regulations and consistently sought to increase their disciplinary power. In particular, administrators worried that they had no way to adjudicate student infractions because they did not have an official code of conduct. Without an internal code of conduct and adequate judicial system, the University had to rely on city police for enforcement, over whom they had no control. Control became more important following state budget cuts, as University administrators increasingly sought a well-ordered and disciplined campus worthy of out-of-state tuition dollars and donor gifts to make up for state funding shortfalls. In other words, a student code of conduct, an internal judicial process, and a well-funded, armed police presence were central to the University’s neoliberal transformation.

At the same time, students resisted successive University presidents’ attempts to consolidate power. These struggles raised questions about who, fundamentally, would control the University of Michigan: students, or the administration? And what kind of University would it be? The students in the anti-deputization movement argued that police and guns would not protect students, but rather the undemocratic and exclusive nature of the University, headed by the Board of Regents and the office of the President. Anti-racist students within the movement went even further: students challenged the University’s exclusive whiteness. They imagined a truly democratic, public University which welcomed working class students of color and staged disruptive sit-ins and protests to further this vision.

The 1980s at Michigan: A Rebellious Decade

The 1980s was a decade of disruptive student activity at the University of Michigan. Students protested Vice President George H.W. Bush’s visit to campus and greeted United Nations Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Attorney General Edwin Meese with eggs and snowballs.[3]Students protested US funding of right-wing death squads in El Salvador and Nicaragua, arms sales to Jordan and later Iran, and built shantytowns on the Diag, the historic center of campus protest, demanding the University divest from Apartheid South Africa.[4]  

The most disruptive of student movements was the 1987 anti-racist United Coalition Against Racism and the Black Action Movement III, part of the University of Michigan’s rich history of Black student organizing.[5] Their sit-ins and protests garnered national media attention as they demanded institutional change in response to a spate of anti-Black incidents and low Black enrollment.[6] Low Black enrollment was persistent and ongoing: In 1987 Black students made up only 5% of enrolled students, despite the Board of Regents’ 1970 promise to increase enrollment to 10%; only two percent of faculty were Black. While on campus, Black students endured a hostile racial climate from white students and administrators who openly voiced suspicion of Black students’ academic abilities.

This hostile racial climate exploded into the open in 1987. On January 27, 1987, a white student slipped a flyer under a lounge door calling for the “hunting” of Black students while Black women socialized inside. Less than one week later, Ted Severansky, a student DJ on the campus radio station, aired racist jokes delivered by first-year student Michael Gonzalez.[7] Students mobilized in protest, calling for University action. Graduate students Barbara Ransby and Tracye Matthews organized the United Coalition Against Racism (UCAR)[8] a multiracial coalition that called for material anti-racist commitment from the University. Matthews, a graduate student in American Culture and founder of the Ella Baker-Nelson Mandela Center for Anti-Racist Education on campus, described the administration’s laissez-faire attitude towards racism: “University officials are very reluctant to come out strong against racism, and that reluctance is seen by white students as not just tolerance but permission to act out their prejudices.”[9] The Daily cited activists who characterized the University’s response as “slow,” non-committal,” and “saying one thing and doing another”.[10]

In response to University inaction, UCAR released a list of twelve demands: they wanted to increase Black enrollment to the agreed-upon 10% won by the first Black Action Movement of 1970, require a class on race and ethnicity, and remove racist students from the dorms.They also wanted the University bestow an honorary degree for South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, create the position of a provost of minority affairs, fund a Black Student Union, create tuition waivers for minority students, require diversity training for incoming students, and, have some sort of accountability process for individuals who racially harassed others – including the immediate removal of perpetrators of racist incidents from the dorms.[11] At the same time, the Black Action Movement III, named in honor of the BAM I (1970) and BAM II (1975), made their own set of demands. These overlapped significantly with UCAR but included “the immediate addition of a racial harassment clause to the University rules and regulations to punish institutionally those who perpetrate, motivate, and participate in any type of racist activity.”[12] As research shows, administrators picked up on this last demand to implement a student code of conduct, a critical step toward reasserting administrative control.

Over the course of the 1987 winter semester, UCAR heightened pressure on the administration. Black students threatened to sue the University for the hostile racial climate on campus,[13] and on March 4, Representative Morris Hood, a state representative from Detroit, hosted a public hearing on racism packing over 800 people into the Michigan Union ballroom. In testimonial after testimonial, Black students conveyed their experience with harassment, mammy jokes, racist slurs, and microaggressions. At a follow-up meeting on March 6, UCAR members stood up and read the 12 demands in unison, giving the University until March 19 to deliver.[14] While the University stalled, the movement pressed on, culminating in an 18-hour student occupation of the president’s office. In a dramatic show, Jesse Jackson flew in to negotiate students’ demands with President Harold Shapiro (1980-88). The occupation ended with a negotiated six point plan but fell far short of students’ more transformational demands. 

Although the confrontation ended, the campus was still far from welcoming for students of color. University officials were also culpable in creating a hostile climate, something UCAR consistently pointed out.[15] For example, Deane Baker, a Republican Regent at the University of Michigan, justified low Black enrollment numbers by claiming a lack of qualified Black students.[16] In April 1987 – only a month after UCAR’s occupation – the University invited NBC broadcaster Mike Wallace, known for his derogatory comments against Latinos and African Americans, to be the commemoration speaker at the same ceremony to honor Nelson Mandela. At the graduation ceremony students turned their back on Wallace as he spoke.[17] The next fall, the College of Literature, Science and Arts Dean Peter Steiner stated that the University’s “challenge is not to change this University into another kind of institution where minorities would naturally flock” and in his September 1987 newsletter stated that “solving the problem of underrepresentation of Blacks on university faculties will require many things, including a revolution in Black’s attitudes towards higher education comparable to that among white women in the last two decades.” In response, the Daily editorial board called for his resignation.[18] In January 1988, students occupied Dean Steiner’s office for two days demanding Steiner’s firing, which interim President Robben Fleming declined to do.[19]

“No More Racists Running UM.” United Coalition Against Racism members protest LSA Dean Peter Baker’s comments at the University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting. Source: The Michigan Daily, January 15, 1988.

Administration Regains Control

Against these upheavals, the University of Michigan administration grew increasingly concerned. Administrators felt that the Rules of the University Community, established in 1973, were unenforceable in practice. In 1988, President Harold Shapiro (1980-1988) complained to the Regents, that “there is no viable procedure for processing student violations…There also are no rules or procedures covering disruptions of individual activities such as job interviews or research programs”[20] In order to replace the rules and procedures, Shapiro reconvened the University Council under Bylaw 7.02, which stated that regulations at the University level would need to be approved by the Regents, Student Government, and Faculty Senate Assembly.

The University Council met multiple times between 1982-1988 to create such a code but students consistently failed to approve it. By 1988, the faculty chair of the University Council had quit in frustration and President Harold Shapiro complained that “various student representatives believe it is improper to have any University rules for what they call non-academic offense, other than those which are available through civil/criminal law.”[21] Student President Ken Weine countered, “We still don’t see a need for the University to use academic sanctions to control our behavior out of the classroom.”[22] Given the lack of movement on establishing University-wide regulations, Shapiro requested the Board of Regents end shared governance by letting Bylaw 7.02 expire in 1989. He maintained, “Though the idea [shared governance] seemed to be a good one at the time (and was based on the principle that those rules function best which are a participatory product of the governed constituencies), the Council has proved to be incapable, during the past seven years, of agreeing upon any rules. The result is there are no viable rules in this area.”[23] This decision would have a lasting influence on the University of Michigan’s disciplinary power.

Concurrently, the University pursued armed security forces on campus. In 1988, only a few months after the UCAR sit-in, Interim President Robben Fleming argued in a memo titled “Disruption of University Activities” that the University needed its own police force under its control, perhaps fearful that city police would escalate student protest into open rebellion. He emphasized that “once we ask the police to intervene, we no longer have any direct control over how the situation is handled…the external forces are accountable to the City of Ann Arbor, the County of Washtenaw or the State of Michigan, not to the University of Michigan.[24] The Board of Regents responded by deputizing two security officers with the ability to make arrests in anticipation of full-fledged deputization two years later. President James Duderstadt (1988-1996) made the case for University control in the Michigan Daily in 1990, “The issue before us is not really no police, but whose police”.[25]

Publicly, the administration justified the need for police contending that “crimes against people and property are a serious and growing problem on our campus and on campuses all across the nation.”[26] In particular, the administration justified police in the name of women’s safety, an assertion that student activists and the University’s own internal surveying. Indeed, a survey of 1,200 campus members rated armed officers last on their campus safety priorities, preferring better lighting, an escort system at night, and educational programs to prevent sexual harassment and assault.[27] Nor were the Regents initially convinced, expressing concern with the potential loss of life if officers had guns, the cost to the University, and the University’s adequate relations with Ann Arbor police.[28]

Student activists lambasted the rationale that armed police would make the campus safer, citing their own experiences of police brutality: police held a Black visitor in a chokehold, arrested activists for chalking slogans around campus, and joked about “gassing” students.[29] The Puerto Rican Solidarity Organization argued: “One of the arguments the administration has pursued in support of implementing these unpopular measures is that women and people of color are in favor of them. Nothing further from the truth! In fact, we are those who are most against such measures and the ones who stand to lose the most”.[30] Palestinian Student Union members similarly maintained, “As students of color not only do we feel intellectually stifled with the presence of a campus police force, but we fear physical brutality. The racism displayed by police forces in this area qualify our fears.”[31] President of the Michigan Student Assembly Jennifer Van Valey argued that the real problem of safety on campus was being instrumentalized “to dupe students into supporting their own repression.”[32] This fear was not unfounded, given that President James Duderstadt oversaw the arrest of students only a few months later.

The No Guns, No Cops, No Code movement generally emphasized the University’s undemocratic power grab in creating campus police, but critiques of neoliberalism were also present. In the above Michigan Daily editorial cartoon, President James Duderstadt is shown chained to the police, represented as a hungry garbage bin. The bin gobbles up educational funds, services, and people in the name of “safety.” Source: Michigan Daily editorial cartoon, December 12, 1990.

Between 1988 and 1990 the No Guns, No Cops, No Code campaign grew: students organized phone zaps, protests, teach-ins, and fundraising concerts to stop the deputization of campus police. They held a mock funeral to mourn the death of University democracy, and created “Camp Duderstadt” on President James Duderstadt’s lawn.[33] Students pointed out that police usurped resources that could be going to students, especially after the Regents approved multiple, double-digit tuition increases due to state budget cuts.[34] They called out the University’s hypocrisy in demanding a code of conduct for students, but not for administrators. They wrote denunciation after denunciation in the Daily. They insisted on decision-making power. Yet despite this opposition, the administration moved ahead with both cops and code.

A Michigan Daily editorial page advertisement, publicizing an anti-deputization rally at Regent’s Plaza just before the Board of Regents’ vote to add and deputize 24 campus police officers in 1990. The copy reads, “No Guns! No Cops! No Code! Rally for Students’ Rights, Today, 1:00/Regent’s Plaza.” Source: The Michigan Daily, November 15, 1990.

Anti-Discrimination Code: Repression or Protection?

In an attempt to gain control of the student movement, administrators implemented a highly contentious non-discrimination student code of conduct in 1988, shifting attention away from students’ more fundamental critiques of the University of Michigan and back onto student behavior. In this way, the code of conduct was an important step in reasserting administrative control leading up to the creation of a campus police force.

The non-discrimination code sanctioned students with academic probation or suspension if they stigmatized or victimized individuals on the “basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, creed, national origins, ancestry, age, marital status, handicap, or Vietnam Veteran status”.[35] Initially, opposition to the proposed anti-discrimination code was almost unanimous across the student body. In 1987, over 88% of students polled opposed a non-academic code of conduct on the basis that it would be used to suppress free speech and threaten students who protested with suspension or expulsion.[36] In early January 1988, the student government passed a near-unanimous resolution that “strongly oppose[d]” interim President Robin Fleming’s drafted racial discrimination policy.[37] UCAR denounced Fleming’s version of the code, which took “student demands for action and gave more power to the administration.”[38] In a rare front-page editorial the Michigan Daily slammed the University’s double standard:

“Proposing the code as a means to fight racism is an attempt to divert attention away from the patently racist attitude present in the administration. Even beyond refusing a mandatory class on racism and diversity, [interim President Robben] Fleming opposed canceling classes on Martin Luther King’s birthday. Further, Black enrollment is barely half of the 1970 target of 10 percent…Fleming’s code is the most serious threat to student rights and will set back efforts to end discrimination by throttling freedom of expression…Students must raise one voice: no racism, no sexism, no anti-gay bigotry, NO CODE!”[39]

The editorial argued what many student activists had widely articulated, that the University administration seized on student anger over racism in order to push through an administrative power grab while failing to meet more substantive reforms, such as higher enrollment and funding for students of color.

The anti-deputization movement spanned multiple student organizations, including the United Coalition Against Racism and the related Ella Baker-Nelson Mandela Center for Anti-Racist Education.

However, initial student unity against the code faltered against the real problems of a hostile racial climate: what to do with students who disparage, belittle, or attack others on the basis of race, sex, gender, or nationality? On the libertarian side, some students disapproved of the code, calling it “repression, not protection.”[40] On a national level, Republicans attacked campus anti-discrimination codes as “Politically Correct Thought Police.” Indeed, when a white student sued the University of Michigan over the policy a federal judge revoked it, citing the University’s overly broad definition of discrimination. (A narrower interim policy was implemented in 1989 and withstood legal scrutiny).

On the anti-racist side, student activists opposed Fleming’s code because it diverted attention from University administrators as perpetrators of racism. Yet UCAR and other student groups were also critical of student claims of “free speech.” UCAR member Tracye Matthews attempted to reframe the issue: “the idea that this [the anti-discrimination code] is a free speech issue is off the mark. The issue is whether the University is going to create an atmosphere free of racial harassment.”[41] With its proposed anti-discrimination policy, the University attempted to claim victory on the latter.

In this way, the anti-discrimination policy strengthened incoming President James Duderstadt’s position, as historian Matthew Johnson argues: the policy “peel[ed] away…broad support and allow[ed] Duderstadt to take back control of the racial inclusion agenda and avoid making additional concessions to protestors.”[42] Legitimate student concerns about racism were instrumentalized in support of increased administrative power. At the same time, the University deployed the campus police force to subdue the No Cops movement, video surveilling of student protests and arresting sixteen activists occupying the Fleming Administrative building.

This dynamic demonstrates some of the difficulties Black students faced at the University of Michigan: confronting racist peers and administrators in a predominantly white institution, a white libertarian tendency within the movement that opposed any discipline – even against perpetrators of racist acts – and an administration rapidly expanding coercive powers to reign in disruptive student activism as part of the neoliberal turn.


As 1990 drew to a close, the Board of Regents’ deputization vote stood firm, and the American war in Iraq loomed ahead. Many student organizations that had protested deputization pivoted to antiwar organizing. The University had persevered and won: it ended shared governance established in 1970, created a full-time police force and enacted a code of non-academic conduct called the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities. While student movements in the decades since have pressed for change, none have come close to the level of disruption that the 1987 anti-racist movement and the 1988-1990 No Guns, No Code, No Cops movement entailed. The University’s ability to withstand, absorb, and neutralize student protest without enacting major change had been strengthened, as Matthew Johnson’s careful study Undermining Racial Justice demonstrates.

Students did not give up fighting for a more just University, however. In the years after deputization, UCAR and the Coalition of Students Against Deputization (CSAD) continued to protest campus police, highlighting examples of racial profiling and the lack of police accountability, including Ann Arbor police macing a Black fraternity party in 1990.[43] In 1992, Tracye Matthews called for opening the University to the public, against administration efforts to “turn this school into a literal Ivory Tower, complete with a moat and standing army to protect itself from encroachments of people of color, lesbians and gays, poor people, and outspoken activists.”[44] Picking up this liberatory vision of education is a task for current generations: central to this remains the abolition of campus police.


Kathleen Brown is a doctoral candidate in American Culture at the University of Michigan and a participant in the 2020 Graduate Employees’ Organization’s strike. Her writing has appeared in Spectre Journal and Jacobin.

[1] 2019-2020 University of Michigan budget, available at

[2] It is not that the University of Michigan was ever truly “police free.” By 1990, the University employed over 100 unarmed security guards and contracted with the Ann Arbor Police, paying the city $500,000 annually for the services of nine police officers (see Maryanne George, “U-M Police Plan Runs Into Critics, Detroit Free Press, June 22, 1990). However, these arrangements were qualitatively different than a full-time, armed police force fully under University control, as administrators would go on to argue. 

[3] Stephen Gregory, “Events of Last Year’s Racism Protests Retold.” Michigan Daily, Sept. 10, 1987, 7

[4] Not all student acts were political, however: in April 1989 thousands of students ‘rioted’ over Michigan’s NCAA win against Seton Hall, destroying traffic lights, storefronts, and cars along South University. Editorial, “Vandalism.” Ann Arbor News, April 6, 1989. NP

[5] For a longer history of Black student organizing, see Matthew Johnson, Undermining Racial Justice: How One University Embraced Inclusion and Inequality. 2020.

[6] These instances were not limited to Michigan. Laura Randolph, covering a spate of racist attacks against students of color across US campuses for Ebony Magazine, connected the attacks to a national climate of hostility under the Reagan administration: “The consensus among educators, activists and students is clear: the primary cause of this new bigotry is but a mirror of the nation’s larger political climate”. “Black Students Battle Racism on Campus.” Ebony Magazine, December 1988, 126-129.

[7] Gregory in the Michigan Daily, Sept 10, 1987, 7.

[8] The UCAR-initiated struggle encouraged Lesbian and Gay Rights on Campus (LaGROC), the Council for Hispanics in Higher Education (CHHE), and University of Michigan Asian Student Coalition (UMASC) to put forth their own demands to the University.

[9] Matthews qtd. in Ebony, December 1988.

[10] Lisa Pollack, “Prominent Minority Groups Describe Fall Protest Plans.” Michigan Daily, Sept. 10 1987, 3.

[11] Matt Johnson, Undermining Racial Justice, Cornell University Press, 2020. 193.

[12]  Matt Johnson, Undermining Racial Justice, Cornell University Press, 2020. 195.

[13] Kathy Hulik, “Group Plans to Sue U-M Over Racism.” Ann Arbor News, March 8, 1987, NP.

[14] Matt Johnson, Undermining Racial Justice, Cornell University Press, 2020. 195.

[15] Barbara Ransby, “UCAR Keeps Up Pressure.” Daily, April 10, 1987, 4.

[16] Deane Baker, “Viewpoint: Efforts to achieve better racial mix at U-M must begin with improving education in high schools.” Ann Arbor News, March 29, 1987, NP.

[17] Barbara Misle, “Disruption of U-M Graduation Planned.” Ann Arbor News, April 23, 1987, NP.

[18] Editorial. “Steiner Should Resign.” Michigan Daily, January 15, 1988, 4.

[19] For local news coverage,

[20] Harold Shaprio, Memo to the Regents, July 20 1988. Box 1, Office of Conflict Resolution. Bentley Historical Library.

[21] Ibid.

[22] ”Ken Weine, qtd, in Michigan Daily, January 12, 1987

[23] Shapiro, Memo to Regents, July 20 1988. Box 1, Office of Conflict Resolution, Bentley Historical Library.

[24] Robben Fleming, Memo to the Board of Regents, “Disruption of University Activities.” Box 1, Office of Conflict Resolution. Bentley Historical Library.

[25] James Duderstadt, “Duderstadt Responds to Anti-Deputization Protests.” Michigan Daily. Tuesday, November 27, 1990, 4.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Buchanan, Mark. “Students Analyze the ISR Report.” Michigan Daily, Thursday, November 15, 1990, 4.

[28] Maryanne George. “U-M Police Plan Runs Into Critics.” The Detroit Free Press, June 22, 1990. Further research is needed to understand when and how the Board of Regents changed their position.

[29] See “DPS Detains Students who Chalk on Diag,” Michigan Daily, December 4, 1990 and Department of Afroamerican and African Studies (University of Michigan) Records. Campus Police Deputization, 1990-1992, Scan 8.

[30] Department of Afroamerican and African Studies (University of Michigan) Records. Campus Police Deputization, 1990-1992, Scan 84.

[31] Department of Afroamerican and African Studies (University of Michigan) Records. Campus Police Deputization, 1990-1992, Scan 83.

[32] Qtd in George.

[33] “John Casden, “Activists Hold Funeral for Student Rights.” The Michigan Daily, November 19, 1990.

[34] According to Daily coverage, the University Board of Regents increased tuition 12% in 1988 (Ryan Tutak, “Tuition Soars 12%,” July 29, 1988) and an additional 10% in 1989 (Taraneh Shafii, “Regents to Approve Tuition Today.” Michigain Daily, July 21, 1989)

[35] Qtd. in Johnson, 200.

[36] Lisa Pollack, “Innovative Code Protest Planned” Daily Sept. 10 1987.

[37] Ryan Tutak, “MSA Strongly Opposes Fleming’s Proposal.” Daily, January 13, 1988, 1.

[38] Steve Knopper, “Some UCAR Members Laud Sanctions” Daily, January 28, 1988, 1.

[39] Michigan Daily Editorial, “Offensive Speech.” Daily, January 11, 1988, 1.

[40] See Michigan Daily Editorial, “Strategic Defeat.” Daily, March 19, 1988, 2.

[41] Matthews qtd in “ACLU “U” Policy Limits Free Speech.” Michigan Daily, June 2, 1989, 3.

[42] Johnson, Matthew. Undermining Racial Justice, 201.

[43] See Tami Pollack, “Police Break Up Party at South Quad.” Michigan Daily, December 10, 1990, 1.

[44] DAAS Archives, Columbus Day Protest