University of Michigan President Vows to Fight for Diversity Despite New Law

ANN ARBOR, Mich.

University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman said Wednesday that the school will go to court to defend its efforts to promote diversity in the wake of voter approval of a ban on some types of affirmative action programs.

“Public universities are the doorways to equality in this country,” Coleman said at the Michigan Union. “And we must keep those doors open to all.”

With 99.5 percent of precincts reporting by midday Wednesday, 58.1 percent, or 2,131,488 people voted “yes” on Proposal 2, and 41.9 percent, or 1,539,431 voters, were opposed.

Coleman said she will explore legal options to defend the university’s admissions practices for the class now being reviewed for admission.

“I will not allow this university to go down the path of mediocrity. I will not stand by and let the very heart and soul of this university be threatened,” she said. “Diversity makes us strong, and it’s critical to our mission, it’s critical to our excellence — too critical to simply abandon.”

University lawyers also will consider whether Proposal 2 can properly be applied to universities, which have broad autonomy under the state Constitution.

“We will consider all legal options available to us,” Coleman said. “This is the first step, but not our only step.”

The campaign manager for the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, the group backing Proposal 2 says he expects loud complaints by supporters of affirmative action, but he also says hopes they will honor the public’s decision.

“The people who support race preferences are going to stomp their feet, beat their chests and say this isn’t fair,” says Doug Tietz. “We need to make sure that people are obeying the law.”

Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who opposed Proposal 2, told reporters Wednesday that Michigan now must seek other ways to accomplish the goals of remedying racial and sexual imbalance.

“We’re going to have to look at how we can continue to foster diversity in the state,” she said.

The ballot drive was led by Jennifer Gratz, a White student from suburban Detroit who says she was turned away from the University of Michigan in 1995. She says if she had been Black, American Indian or Hispanic, she would have been admitted. Gratz was involved in the initial lawsuit against the university.

Gratz said early Wednesday that she expected her fight to end race and gender preferences in Michigan would continue within the next few days. She also suggested that other states could be targeted for similar proposals.

California and Washington have passed similar measures in the past decade.

“I take it as the people of Michigan told big business, big labor and big government — judge us on our merits. Don’t judge us on our skin color,” Gratz said. “We will continue this fight across the nation.”

Gratz heads the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which was aided by Ward Connerly, a Californian and one of the nation’s most visible opponents of race and gender preferences.

Connerly’s Sacramento-based group, the American Civil Rights Coalition, was a major financial backer of the proposal.

—      Associated Press



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