The semester that was

This fall, the University community weathered a fatal fire, on-campus assault, riot threats, stadium plans and a strike.

Sarah Klaphake

Filled with a strike, a fire, housing inspections and stadium talk, fall semester was one unlike any other.

This year, students faced grief after a fatal house fire, confusion following inspection sweeps, fear about safety after an on-campus sexual assault and strife over continuing school work during a union strike.

The first week of fall semester began with a pledge, as University alumnus T. Denny Sanford announced a $35 million donation for a new stadium.

Sparking new stadium hopes, the pledge also worried some students, who wondered where the rest of the money would come from.

“I think it’s going to raise tuition,” first-year student Dale Vreeland said.

But first-year student Ben Omberg said the idea of a new stadium was exciting.

“The Metrodome doesn’t feel like home,” Omberg said. “It’s too big and too far away from campus.”

Omberg said while private stadium funding would be nice, he would not oppose student fees.

Stadium plans released Monday project a 50,000-seat facility would cost $222 million, and be located on the 32-acre site near Mariucci and Williams arenas.

Up in flames

On Sept. 20, students learned a fire had killed three of their peers. The duplex located at 827 15th Ave. S.E. caught fire during the night; the fire would prompt inspections sweeps as well.

Second-year students Brian Heiden, 19; Amanda Speckien, 19; and Elizabeth Wencl, 20, died in the blaze. Firefighters never determined an exact cause, only failing to rule out careless smoking as a possibility.

Sophomore Kara Houlihan said she lived with the victims in Bailey Hall last year.

“It was really hard,” she said. “It made it worse that I knew them.”

The fire caused city leaders to demand tighter student-housing inspections, and students soon faced the sweeps.

Houlihan said she was also impacted by the sweeps.

“The inspections that came through were a good thing,” she said. “There were some problems in my house that didn’t get fixed until landlords were scared about citations.”

So far, city inspectors have completed approximately 450 inspections, with about 100 remaining. Firefighters – who inspect larger houses and apartment complexes – have completed 190 inspections, with 30 remaining. Ricardo Cervantes, district manager in housing inspections services, said the inspections should be completed by the end of the year.

However, other students were not as happy. The city has issued 61 over-occupancy violations, which means some students living in those residences will be forced to move out.

Searching for safety

Students searching for solace after the blaze were not comforted for long. Less than a week after the fire, a female student was abducted at gunpoint and sexually assaulted. The abduction, which happened at 7:45 a.m. outside Territorial Hall, shook students and officials.

The abductor took the woman off campus but brought her back after the assault.

Greg Hestness, University assistant vice president for public safety, said officials never identified a suspect, and the case is still open.

However, he said, there have been no similar incidents on campus since then.

“It stands alone for right now,” Hestness said. “Police remain aware of it and a lot of vehicles were stopped matching the victim’s description.”

Students said the abduction, which happened by the residence halls, made them re-evaluate campus safety.

“It kind of made you think a little more about walking around by yourself,” first-year student Emily Butler said. “I don’t feel unsafe, but it just reinforced those ideas.”

But senior Nicole Kiley said other crimes on campus have worried her more.

“It wasn’t so much the abduction on campus but several of my friends were mugged,” Kiley said. “But I started telling them not to walk alone at night.”

Ready for a riot

In October, students saw ripples from the hockey riots that followed the previous two years’ NCAA men’s hockey championships, as officials took extra precautions to make sure they never happen again.

Police increased patrols on campus during the Michigan State University and homecoming football games. Student government and University officials also sent several e-mails to the student body, warning of rioting consequences.

Some students said preparations were excessive and confusing.

“Who’s talking about riots?” Kiley said. “We all kind of thought it was ridiculous.”

Hestness, however, defended the preparations as being necessary.

“Riots seem to be an emerging trend with college sports,” Hestness said. “No one has a crystal ball to predict when they will happen”

He also said the last two hockey riots taught police that it is better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.

Kiley said she understood last April’s riots urged police to be cautious, but said worrying about so many games was extreme.

Making demands

As the year went on, there was more drama for University students, faculty and staff as the University saw its first union strike in 60 years.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800, the union representing 1,800 full-time University clerical workers, went on strike after contract negotiations with the University failed.

Clerical workers were on strike for 15 days before reaching a contract agreement with the University.

Some professors supported the strike, holding classes off campus in coffee shops, churches and homes to avoid crossing picket lines.

Junior Heidi Kloempken said she was not disturbed by the strike.

“It was worthwhile, because everybody needs to exercise their rights,” Kloempken said.