Suzette Hackney, Detroit Free Press, Nov. 8, 2006
Michigan voters sent a clear message about affirmative action programs that offer preferences to women and minorities: It’s time for them to end.
Election Day numbers Tuesday showed the controversial proposal winning by a wide margin. Michigan becomes the third state to outlaw giving preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on their race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin for public employment, education or contracting purposes.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, 58%, or 2,129,506 people, voted yes on Proposal 2 and 42%, or 1,538,520 voters, opposed it.
Fran Smeak, 80, a registered Republican from Birmingham, said she read the pros and cons for the five ballot proposals, but Proposal 2 was the hardest to make a decision about. In the end, she voted for the ban.
“I can see how some people would feel like if they did not get extra help, they would not make it,” she said Tuesday. “My overall view is that if everyone is on the same basis, then they should all get fairly treated.”
The proposal was largely prompted by a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld a general affirmative action admissions policy at the University of Michigan’s law school but struck down the undergraduate admission formula as too unyielding because it awarded points based on race.
U-M is the only university in the state that uses affirmative action to a great extent in admissions, but all public colleges and universities would have to reevaluate their outreach, scholarship and grant awards if they benefit gender or racial or ethnic groups. Programs that target specific groups in K-12 schools also would be affected.
According to a poll of voters conducted by Mitchell Research and Communications Inc. of East Lansing, voters under age 40 were the only group to oppose the measure in significant numbers on Tuesday.
Men overwhelmingly supported the ban; women narrowly opposed it. Democrats opposed it while Republicans and independents favored it. Black voters strongly opposed the proposition, but it was passing among white voters.
Both Democrats and a majority of Republican leaders spoke out against Proposal 2. A coalition of 200 business, religious, labor, education and government officials and others also worked to defeat MCRI, which was backed by Ward Connerly, a former University of California regent.
Michelle Crockett, an attorney with Miller Canfield in Detroit, said Proposal 2 will be challenged with lawsuits.
“This is not the end of it, even though it may win tonight. It’s going to be in the court for a long time to come,” Crockett said.
With Proposal 2, or the Michigan Civil Rights Imitative, claiming victory by almost 20% in yesterday’s election, some in Michigan have already begun to speak out against its enactment. University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman held a press conference on the center of campus at noon attacking the imitative.
Coleman, who looked shaken by the results, addressed hundreds of students, and staff from the steps of the graduate library and proclaimed that “the University is diversity,” a statement the Review has continuously agreed with so far as diversity in and of itself has supplanted education as the University’s driving force. Coleman focused exclusively on the attack she perceives has been brought against diversity. She “pledg[ed] that the University of Michigan will continue this fight”, and is seeking to bring legal challenges against the proposal.
Despite claiming that it is important the University welcome “all walks of life,” Coleman painted diversity in extremely narrow terms. Proposal 2 will “Ban affirmative action programs that give preferential treat to groups or individuals based on their race, gender, color, ethnicity, or national organ.” Coleman’s view of MCRI as tantamount to a full-scale assault on diversity must mean that diversity can be reduced to the above categories; never mind, income level, language skills, artistic talent, or maybe most importantly, but never discussed, a personal willingness to engage others on tough issues or express your opinion. No, none of these things can be requisite for diversity since the University now claims that diversity will struggle to survive the elimination of race and gender classifications.
Rather than focus on things MCRI will impact, Coleman chose to show her commitment to programs that are unlikely to face challenges. She asked high schools to remember that U-M wants to work with them on outreach. She failed to mention that outreach programs that don’t target based on race or gender will be unaffected. The University can still send recruiters to any high school to address students. She also promised that no jobs are at risk at the University. Yet she failed to explain why Proposal 2 would compel the University to fire anyone in the first place.
While Coleman promised to comply with the new amendment, her rhetoric completely ignored the will of Michigan voters. Despite the 58% to 42% victory, Coleman claimed that she is “completely and fully committed to diversity and doing whatever it takes.” As the leader of a public institution, no goal should be reached at with means that the citizens have told you, not more than 24 hours prior, that they wish to have ended. Rather than accept the will of the voters, Coleman continued to fight them by calling on alumni to ensure that the University reaches a wide applicant pool. Even with a public statement, the University’s politicking does not look to be slowing anytime soon. A slew of events from an Election Decompression session lead by staff from the Dean of Students office will be lead tonight and tomorrow. A performance entitled “You’ve cast your ballot, now cast your voice” will feature “spontaneous” student creations.
It seems the University has done exactly what I feared. Rather than reexamaning themselves they have used the election to demonstrate how ‘enlightened’ they are when voters act against their judgment. Before the University sends out its lawyers, it should take its own advice on diversity and listen to the voices of Michigan voters.