The Race to Frame

InsideHigherEd, April 12, 2006

Proponents and opponents of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, or MCRI, are readying themselves for November, when voters will decide whether to vastly change affirmative action policy in the Great Lake State. If successful, the proposal would end the use of race and gender as a consideration in public college admissions, government hiring and state contracting.

Similar measures have already passed in California and Washington State, but both sides are uncertain at this point how the situation will unfold in Michigan. Support for the proposal seems to be eroding sharply. A March Associated Press poll found that 47 percent of 600 likely voters surveyed opposed the initiative, while 44 percent favored it and 9 percent were undecided. In a survey nearly two years ago by EPIC-MRA, a research analysis firm, the proposal drew 64 percent support. A December survey by the same group showed 53 percent in favor and 32 percent opposed.

“Might Michigan voters be different from those in other states, in defeating it?” asks Carl Cohen, a professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan and longtime advocate of race-neutral admissions policies. “There is a very well financed campaign here to defeat the MCRI. Businesses find it very useful to have the universities do their ethnic dirty work. How successful that campaign will be I simply do not know.”

When the University of Michigan faced legal challenges to its law school and undergraduate admissions policies in the early 2000s, several Fortune 500 businesses supported the university. Cohen and many others expect that to happen again now that the affirmative action frame has shifted to include the entire state. And both the leading Republican candidate for governor, Dick DeVos, and the Democratic incumbent, Jennifer Granholm, have come out against the MCRI.

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