Michigan’s Affirmative Action Cases
To be Heard by Full Circuit Court
October hearings postponed until December so all nine judges could hear cases
By Erik Lords
ANN ARBOR, Mich.
The University of Michigan has a new court date for its two affirmative action cases and a new interim president who says he is just as dedicated to fighting to maintain the university’s admissions policies as outgoing president Dr. Lee Bollinger was.
Dr. B. Joseph White, who was appointed interim president last month, immediately pledged his commitment to the cases.
“We have a rock-solid commitment to affirmative action and diversity,” White said at a recent regents’ meeting.
Added Regent Martin Taylor: “I really think our commitment to affirmative action is absolute and complete amongst all the regents and President White. There is no changing that course.”
Still, Michigan will lose a driving force when Bollinger leaves to become Columbia University’s president in December (see Black Issues, Oct. 25). He championed the use of affirmative action in admissions and played a key role in shaping the legal strategy of arguing that a diverse student body improves education for all.
In an interview last month, Bollinger said “nobody has talked to me about any kind of formal or informal or continuing relationship,” regarding U-M’s legal strategizing.
He said the foundation for the legal argument and the public explanation of
Michigan’s stance is well established.
The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati was scheduled to hear both cases on Oct. 23, but the hearings were postponed until Dec. 6 so all nine judges could hear them instead of the traditional three-judge panel. The two lawsuits filed in 1997 challenge U-M’s affirmative-action policies in the undergraduate and law schools. Public universities nationwide are watching the cases closely because most use policies similar to Michigan’s to achieve diversity.
A full hearing was requested in May by the Center for Individual Rights, which represents the plaintiffs in both cases.
“We’re happy about the decision for a full hearing,” says Curt Levey, director of legal and public affairs for the center, based in Washington, D.C. “I think the court agreed with us that this is an issue that needed to be heard by the whole court.”
Three judges appointed by Democratic presidents had been scheduled to hear the cases Oct. 23. The full court consists of six Democrats and three Republicans. Three of the judges are women, six are men. Two are African American.
If the hearing had been held as scheduled with three judges, either side could have requested that all nine rehear the cases after the first three gave their opinions.
“I think it’s good for all concerned because it takes a step out of the process and we will get a quicker resolution,” Levey says.
High praise for white
Michigan’s interim choice of White, 54, who served as dean of the U-M Business School from 1991 until July, drew heavy praise from Michigan regents and from Bollinger.
White becomes interim president Jan. 1 and will earn $326,550, which is Bollinger’s current salary. Bollinger will be paid through December, with no special severance arrangement.
“All eight of us recognize Dean White’s enormous talent, his commitment to
this institution and his ability to run it well,” says Regent Laurence Deitch, who nominated White.
White, who earned a doctorate in business administration from U-M in 1975, praised Bollinger’s work as president and said he accepted the position “with a great sense of awe and gratitude.”
In the 10 years he served as dean of Michigan’s business school, White increased the school’s endowment from $32 million in 1990 to $260 million this year and doubled revenues from $50 million to more than $100 million. The business school created four institutes under White’s leadership to broaden global reach and give business students more practical experience. One of the most notable additions is the William Davidson Institute, which promotes research, education and business assistance in emerging markets in Asia, Africa, Russia, Latin America and Central Europe.
White says he has not yet decided whether he will be a candidate for the presidency.
“I don’t know when I will make that decision,” White says. “Two weeks ago, I did not know I would be in this job.”
Some Michigan regents voiced concerns about White holding the interim post and possibly applying for the permanent job.
“I believe the presence of an interim president who is also a candidate for the permanent position will have a chilling effect on the entry of many outstanding candidates,” says Regent Rebecca McGowan.
Other regents disagree and say Michigan’s national search will be fair and even-handed.
“There is zero empirical evidence that we will not be able to attract a good candidate pool because we’ve selected an interim who could become a candidate,” Deitch says.
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