03/22/2012 10:28 pm ET

'Michigan In Transition' Symposium To Explore Role Of Privatization, Corporatization In State's Future

Organizers of a Friday event at Wayne State University in Detroit say state lawmakers have responded to the recent wave of economic hardship facing Michigan cities and schools with a controversial agenda that has transformed local governments and allowed for the transfer of public assets into private hands.

The nature and impact of these changes will be explored Friday at a symposium at Wayne State's Law School called "Michigan in Transition: The Restructuring of Governance Through Privatization and Corporatization." The event is sponsored by the the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights and the "Journal of Law In Society," a publication put together by Wayne State law students.

U.S. Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-Detroit) will provide the symposium's morning keynote address and will focus on the transition of governments under emergency managers. Columbia University Professor Elliott Sclar, author of the book "You Don't Always Get What You Pay For: The Economics of Privatization," will give the afternoon keynote address.

Conference-goers will also tackle the consequences of the privatization of Detroit's water system and health care system.

John M. Zervos, director of the law journal, said Michigan cities and school districts are beginning a transition towards a corporate model of government, which means a top-down approach to managing resources that relies on centralized, unilateral decision-making. He hopes the symposium will help raise awareness about the consequences of this trend.

"Right now in Michigan there are numerous cities and school districts under emergency management," he noted. "It's in all the newspapers. We want people to look at both sides."

The diverse group of symposium speakers includes both Detroit City Council Member Saunteel Jenkins and former Pontiac Emergency Manager Michael Stampfler.

Organizers have geared the event towards a general audience, and Zervos said he hopes law students will be in the minority of those attending.

"We believe there's a disconnect between the law school and city at large," he said. "We want to make connections between the school and the city of Detroit."

"Michigan in Transition: The Restructuring of Governance Through Privatization and Corporatization" is free and open to the public. The symposium will be held on Friday, March 23 from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Spencer M. Partrich Auditorium, Wayne State University Law School, 471 West Palmer Street in Detroit. For more information visit

Flickr photo by 401K.