…or, A Call to Arms for All Chicagoland U-M Alumni (and Fans)
[Warning: this is long. But adequately documenting a gross injustice is rarely trivial. It’s also intended to be somewhat amusing (and dry, and perhaps even infuriating), so please consume appropriately.]
With all of the ND-bashing going on around here, there may never be a better opportunity to pile on with my own ND-related gripe (strike while the iron is hot, and all). And who knows, maybe this could be the start of a glorious grassroots effort by Chicagoland-based MGoBlogFaithful to right yet another ND-inspired wrong (one can dream). As if the NBC contract weren’t insulting enough. Read on.
I lived in MD for 12 years, where the DC chapter of the U-M Alumni Club has smartly taken the opportunity to have U-M alumni specialty license plates fashioned for MD (and I believe they were attempting to do the same for VA). This is clearly allowed under MD Motor Vehicle Administration policy (pretty much any school can do it), and I was thrilled to have such a plate for six years.
Upon moving to IL and faced with the prospect of new plates, I naturally wanted to know if a U-M alumni plate was available. Chicago is closer in proximity to U-M than MD (and has a large/established alumni chapter and base) and I’d seen a number of Fighting Illini plates around (among others), so I figured my chances were good.
If only it were that simple.
My initial visit to the Secretary of State’s website made it apparent that collegiate specialty plates available in IL were limited to state institutions. At the time (April 2008), all of the plates on the page were in-state schools. I was bummed, but all was not lost. If there was a policy/law that provided for the creation of collegiate plates, due diligence would require verification that it specifically excludes out-state schools. So I continued my research.
Before locating the state law that provides for the creation of collegiate plates, I discovered that ND (in South Bend, IN, for the geographically disinclined) had very recently been approved for collegiate plates in IL. This was an encouraging sign! Perhaps ND was blazing a trail that U-M could follow, being the first out-state schools to have collegiate plates in IL. I was invigorated! And there was NO way that ND was going to be the only out-state school to have a collegiate plate! They’re only the second winningest football program!
Sec. 3-629(b) of Illinois General Assembly Public Act 095-0444 states:
The design, color, and format of the plates shall be wholly within the discretion of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State may, at his or her discretion, issue the plates for any public college or university located in this State or for any degree-granting, not-for-profit private college or university located in this State or a contiguous state. If the college or university is located in a contiguous state, there must be not less than 10,000 alumni of the college or university residing in this State.
I call your attention to the underlined passages – underlined in the Act itself – which signify changes that were adopted in August 2007. Prior to the revision, the law only allowed plates for in-state public or private institutions. But the revision effectively allows plates for…we’ll get to that in a minute.
Problem is, I got excited, went off half-cocked, and overlooked the “private” criterion. Does U-M have 10,000 alumni in the state? Easily (confirmed by the Alumni Association). Is U-M located in a contiguous state? That begs some interpretation. Definition? Definition:
1. touching; in contact.
2. in close proximity without actually touching; near.
Michigan doesn’t meet #1, but certainly meets #2. I initially argued that the two states are separated only by a useless swath of IN (“Da Region!") and are therefore “near.” But a friend noted that the two states are only separated by a lake, necessitating a border. I was concerned about bureaucratic resistance to this interpretation, so I e-mailed and called the SoS to discuss. After checking with the legal-types in his department, the polite gentleman from the plate division still wasn’t sure how that would go. Then he dropped the bombshell (paraquote):
“This is known [around here] as the ‘Notre Dame law.’”
Excuse me? Shock turned to confusion, which later yielded to outrage. I wish I could tell you that my first thought was, “our politicians don’t have more important matters to attend to?” Sadly, that didn’t arrive until later.
The nice gentleman proceeded to explain how the law was effectively amended for the sole purpose of allowing ND to be the only out-state school to have a collegiate license plate in IL. Re-reading the law, the critical placement of “private” then became clear to me.
Who, as I understand it, pushed the law through the state legislature? None other than the Speaker of the Illinois House, Michael J. Madigan, an esteemed graduate of the University of Notre Dame.
(I would say that now I’ve seen it all, but that would be patently untrue.)
I was dejected, but I refused to be defeated so easily and in such an underhanded fashion. Since that time, I’ve scoured the IL General Assembly website (on three occaions) to identify State Senators and Representatives who are graduates of our beloved U-M, in hopes that a modest letter-writing campaign would persuade them to eventually pursue a similarly covert change to the law that would open a loophole for a U-M alumni plate. I can’t say that such a change wouldn’t open the door for other out-state schools, but the 10,000-resident alumni requirement should effectively limit them to a handful, at most (and likely Big Ten schools).
So I floated this crusade-like idea, without as much detail or direction, to the Chicago alumni chapter leadership, and the response was "Good luck, let us know how it goes!" Needless to say, one letter isn't likely to have much effect.
Friends, I haven’t yet continued the fight, but I haven’t given up hope. Perhaps my account of this injustice, along with the renewed interest in a nationally-relevant UM-ND rivalry, will serve as a call to action for my fellow IL-based alumni. If you feel so inclined (and can envision the pride-swell of having your own U-M license plate), please consider writing a letter to one or both of the following “Blue” state reps, encouraging them to consider introducing legislation to appropriately modify Public Act 095-0444 and allow for a U-M collegiate license plate:
Rep. John A. Fritchey (B.A., economics, U-M)
Sen. Elaine Nekritz (J.D., U-M)
(I would encourage non-Illinoisians (?) to write, but I suspect letters from non-residents don’t carry as much weight with legislators.)
Other suggestions are, of course, welcomed.
(And please, spare me any pessimistic, douchey “you’re silly if you think this’ll really work, like an e-mail petition to get Rosenberg fired” comments. I say to that: The Speaker of the Illinois House didn’t think it was all that silly. Nevertheless, I’m realistic about the prospect of success.)
Go Blue! Crush the Irish!