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NCMC faculty seek investigation into president after protest scuffle

NCMC President David Finley
North Central Michigan College
NCMC President David Finley

Faculty at North Central Michigan College are seeking an inquiry into the behavior of the school’s president, weeks after a physical confrontation with a group of Line 5 protesters.

The incident occurred at a lecture on June 22 hosted by the college featuring Enbridge Community Engagement Manager Paul Meneghini.

Protesters arrived to interrupt and demonstrate at the event before they were pushed out by a group of people that allegedly included Finley.

Now, NCMC’s Faculty Association is asking for a neutral third party to conduct an inquiry into the incident.

NCMC officials said the school's Board of Trustees is in receipt of a letter written by faculty members on June 30 requesting an investigation. No college staff, with the exception of Human Resources, are in possession of this letter.

"Convening the Board to discuss this matter has been a challenge with the recent holiday and hectic personal schedules," the statement reads. "However, a special meeting of the Board of Trustees has been called for Friday, July 14 at 10:00 a.m. to meet in closed session for this purpose."

Whether an inquiry happens will be up to the trustees.

IPR requested interviews with trustees and Finley but did not receive a response in time for publication. Finley was out of the office this week.

In a statement shared with IPR, Faculty Association President Chet Jessick said Finley may have violated a section of the employee handbook that says staff should refrain from violent behavior.

“In addition to the concerns about the alleged physical altercation, we also see the potential infringement on the civil rights of protesters and the chilling effect that President Finley’s alleged actions may have on free speech and open discourse on our campus as a major issue,” the statement said. “As a public educational institution bound by the principles of the First Amendment, North Central Michigan College is responsible for upholding and protecting the rights of free speech, assembly and expression for all members of its community.”

“A thorough investigation is imperative to restore the confidence in the protection of free speech and ensure that our campus remains a safe and inclusive environment for robust intellectual discourse.”

Holly T. Bird is an attorney representing the protesters and an affiliate with the Michigan Water Protectors Legal Task Force. She said the group has given statements to local police and is considering filing charges against the school.

"No one has the right to physically remove someone or physically attack somebody in that way," Bird said. "Those are things that should be left up to law enforcement who are specially trained in those matters."

Bird said she applauds the faculty association for requesting an inquiry.

IPR filed request under the Freedom of Information Act for the letter sent by faculty to the Board of Trustees on July 11 and is awaiting a response.

“If this had happened at MSU or University of Michigan, this would be a firestorm,” said Jessick, with the Faculty Association.
The debate over Line 5 has been going on for years. Here are some key points and context:

  • The 69-year-old dual pipelines that run along the Straits of Mackinac carry crude oil and natural gas liquids across the U.S.-Canada border and under the environmentally and culturally significant Straits of Mackinac.
  • On Dec. 19, 2018, Enbridge announced “The Great Lakes Tunnel,” a $500-million private investment by Enbridge to encase the aging pipelines as much as 100 feet below the lakebed. The company says it would eliminate all chances of an environmental catastrophe.
  • Even though Enbridge argues the tunnel would make the pipeline safer, critics don't want Line 5 to continue at all, pointing in part to Enbridge's environmental record. For example, In July 2010, a pipeline operated by Enbridge burst and flowed into the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Michigan. It’s regarded as one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history.
  • In 2020, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered Enbridge to shut down Line 5 by revoking and ending a 1953 easement. The pipeline is still in operation, which many critics call illegal.
  • Michigan and Enbridge are waiting for a federal judge to decide if Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Line 5 shutdown order will stand in a state or federal court.
  • In 2021, Canada invoked the 1977 Transit Pipeline Treaty with the U.S. for the first time. The treaty sets forth agreements related to the transit of oil across the border. By doing so, Canada would make Line 5 a nation-to-nation issue and stall litigation on the state level.
  • In April, leaders from 51 tribal nations sent a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council calling on Canada to withdraw its invocation of the 1977 Transit Pipeline Treaty. Before that, all 12 of Michigan’s federally recognized tribes signed a letter to President Biden asking him to allow the state’s efforts to shut down Line 5 to play out.
  • The decision to build a tunnel underneath the Straits of Mackinac to shield Line 5 from damage was delayed to 2025 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Army Corps is the federal authority responsible for putting out a report on how the tunnel would affect the environment.
  • In June, a federal judge ruled in favor of the Bad River Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, in Wisconsin who had sued Enbridge over Line 5. The judge ordered the Canadian energy company to shut down and move part of Line 5 off the Bad River Band’s reservation within three years.
  • In early July, Enbridge said it can relocate a section of its Line 5 pipeline, to comply with a judge’s order but that it is also appealing the decision. The company filed permit requests to reroute the pipeline around the reservation back in 2020, and is urging quick government action on those permits.
Michael Livingston reports for IPR from the tip-of-the-mitt – mainly covering Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties.