When Michigan’s Independent Citizens’ Redistricting Commission (MICRC) held a public hearing recently in Grand Rapids, two students were assisting attendees with submitting citizen comments and suggestions for the Commission’s consideration. Working together, they answered questions about the proposed maps on the MICRC portal and facilitated other aspects of the meeting.
For Shi Lirong a chemistry PhD candidate who is also in the Science, Technology, and Public Policy certificate program at the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, and Seyed Mirabedini, a political science sophomore at Michigan State University, it is one example showing that, as U-M and MSU prepare for the annual battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy on the football field, students, staff and faculty at the two institutions continue to work together on some of the biggest issues of the day.
Mirabedini says of the experience, “The redistricting commission is a very important experiment by the people in Michigan. It is essential for those of us who are students to be involved in local politics and prepare to be civic-minded citizens. No matter what happens on Saturday, no matter how hard MSU wins, MSU and U-M students should get to know each other, and we should work together in causes we share because there is a lot we agree on.”
Lirong agrees. “Seyed did a great job. I was curious about the history of redistricting and he explained to me the significance of districts. It is the first time that Michigan has ever had a public commenting redistricting process and I was happy to be part of the history. We also had great conversations with some citizens.”
The Ford School’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) is collaborating with Michigan State University’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR) to provide support to, and analysis of, the MICRC actions and the district maps it will adopt for the Michigan Senate and House of Representatives, and for Michigan’s 13 seats in Congress. A Joyce Foundation grant to IPPSR, with a subcontract to CLOSUP, will continue to support this work throughout the process, and allow for post-redistricting analysis.
“Being able to combine resources, including our students and staff, gives us a real boost in our state-wide work. We appreciate these partnerships with IPPSR immensely. (Go Blue!),” says Tom Ivacko, executive director of CLOSUP.
Matt Grossman, IPPSR director, agrees. “Our research work, and engagement with policymakers and academics across the state, is really enhanced by the relationship with CLOSUP. (Go Green!).”
Other ongoing partnerships include an innovative approach to understanding policy challenges: the Michigan Policy Insiders Panel (MPIP), a joint survey program run by IPPSR in collaboration with CLOSUP. CLOSUP and IPPSR then leverage MPIP results as part of a broader collaboration that coordinates survey content also on CLOSUP’s Michigan Public Policy Survey of the state’s local government leaders, and IPPSR’s State of the State public opinion survey of Michigan residents. This unique partnership develops a deeper understanding of policy issues by triangulating research from the perspectives of citizens, their local leaders, and state-level policy leaders. “There’s nothing else like it anywhere else in the country,” Ivacko says.
No matter where the Paul Bunyan statue resides, these ties, and the important work that goes with them, will continue.