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Michigan Higher Ed Leaders

Michigan Higher Ed Leaders
Look Beyond Proposal 2

By Reginald Stuart

In Maya Weitzer’s world, Nov. 7 will be remembered as a significant day. It was on that day, as Michigan voters were going to the polls, that the 17-year-old senior at West Bloomfield High School in Oakland County, Mich., learned she had been accepted into the University of Michigan for the Fall 2007 term.

“It was a mild freak out,” says Weitzer, who has a 4.0 GPA and is a member of her school’s swim team and newspaper staff. “I did a lot of jumping and ran and told all my friends. It was a good moment.”

Little did Weitzer know that her notice may have been one of the last issued by the school under its current admissions procedure, which allows an assortment of considerations, including sex and race, in determining which applicants to admit. On Weitzer’s big day, Michigan voters opted to put a halt to such practices, meaning she might be attending a school whose demographics may change dramatically by the time she graduates.

By a wide margin, voters approved Proposal 2, a ballot issue that bans “affirmative action programs that give preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on their race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin for public employment, education or contracting purposes.”

Weitzer says she doesn’t know what criteria was used in determining her admission, but she hopes her grades and range of extracurricular activities are what got her in. She says she wonders whether the university will be forced to withdraw her offer. UM officials don’t discuss admissions decisions regarding specific students.

Still, Proposal 2 has sent state officials and public college presidents scrambling to determine the extent to which the new law will force them to abandon programs and policies they say promote diversity and greater accessibility to jobs, state contracts and higher education opportunities. Many of the officials and college administrators campaigned against the proposal, which was championed by California businessman Ward Connerly.

“I will not stand by while the very heart and soul of this great university is threatened,” says UM President Mary Sue Coleman, who has instructed the university’s lawyers to explore legal action concerning the proposal. First on the agenda is seeking “confirmation from the courts” that the school can complete this year’s admissions cycle “under our current guidelines,” she says.

Coleman has been assuring current students that the school “will honor all financial commitments we have made to you. This is a contract … and the University of Michigan honors its contracts,” she declared.
The proposal could mean many educational programs that assist students could be ended or significantly altered.

“It’s monumental, in terms of impact,” says Dr. Irvin D. Reid, president of Wayne State University. He says there are more questions now than answers about how the proposal will affect his school. “We’re not doing anything until we put it to the test.”

Wayne State’s at-risk programs range from the medical school recruitment program that targets Whites from rural areas of the state, to a summer enrichment program geared toward Black girls in junior high school in metropolitan Detroit.

“We’ve reached to achieve that diversity,” says Reid, whose student body is 25 percent Black and has the largest Arab-American population in the nation. “It doesn’t happen by accident, it is by design. If I encourage guys to go into nursing, have I violated the law? We’re doing an outreach specifically to employees at Ford Motor Co. who are losing their jobs. Is that preferential treatment? These are some very serious issues.”

Connerly and his colleagues behind the Michigan campaign, the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, claim affirmative action programs have become “corrupt and unfair” and pass over qualified applicants in the pursuit of diversity.

Connerly has promised to aggressively push the state to identify all programs that would be covered by the new law and move quickly to end all affirmative action programs that have elements of preferential treatment. Neither Connerly nor officials of the MCRI returned phone calls from Diverse seeking interviews about their post-election strategy.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a liberal Democrat who campaigned against Proposal 2, has ordered a review of all state programs to ensure they comply with the new law, which is expected to take effect in January, barring court action that could delay its effective date. 

Meanwhile, the boards of regents of the state’s three research institutions —  Michigan State University, Wayne State and the University of Michigan — are weighing their next steps, including court litigation, to test Proposal 2’s reach. The three schools are constitutionally independent, under state law. Members of their respective boards of regents stand for election statewide by the voters. So, the respective boards could opt to work in concert with state officials or independently in addressing the new law.

“I’m very angry, but we can’t give up,” says Jaime Nelson, a UM student who helped lead the student campaign on her campus opposing Proposal 2.

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