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Updated 2:00 PM November 8, 2006
 

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Coleman on Prop. 2: ‘We will not be deterred’

Watch a video of President Coleman's speech:
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The passage of the state constitutional amendment known as Proposal 2 is a huge disappointment but will not keep the University from continuing to pursue all legal avenues to encourage greater diversity of faculty, students and staff at U-M, President Mary Sue Coleman said following last week’s election.
President Mary Sue Coleman tells some 1,700 people gathered on the Diag that she will do whatever is necessary to uphold U-M's commitment to diversity, even if it requires legal action. In a Nov. 8 address—the day after Proposal 2, an amendment that bans both discrimination and preferential treatment on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender and national origin was approved by Michigan voters—Coleman said she has directed the Office of the General Counsel to review the amendment to determine its legality, and to seek confirmation from the courts that U-M can to continue to admit students for the upcoming school year under the same guidelines used for the first half of the process. Photo by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services.

The amendment, which bans both discrimination and preferential treatment on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, and national origin in public education, employment, and contracting, is scheduled to take effect Dec. 22.

In a special address on the Diag Nov. 8, Coleman said she has directed the Office of the General Counsel to consider all available legal options in defending diversity at the University.

An immediate action of the General Counsel’s office, Coleman said, will be to seek confirmation from the courts that the University may continue to use its current admissions guidelines throughout the ongoing 2007-08 freshman class admissions cycle.
“We believe we have the right, indeed the obligation, to complete this process using our existing policies,” she said. “It would be unfair and wrong for us to review students’ applications using two sets of criteria, and we will ask the courts to affirm that we may finish this process using the guidelines and policies we currently have in place.

“If Nov. 7 was the day that Proposal 2 passed, then Nov. 8 is the day that we pledge to remain unified in our fight for diversity. Together, we must continue to make this world-class university one that reflects the richness of our society,” Coleman said in a speech frequently punctuated by applause and cheers from the audience estimated at more than 1,700. “I am standing here today to tell you that I will not allow our university to go down the path to mediocrity. That is not Michigan. Diversity makes us strong, and it is too critical to our mission, too critical to our excellence, too critical to our future simply to abandon.”

The day of the president’s address, representatives from the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary (BAMN) filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeking to stop implementation of the amendment. BAMN argues Proposal 2 violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which grants equal protection under the law.

Fifty eight percent of Michigan residents who cast ballots voted yes on Proposal 2 and 42 percent said no to the amendment engineered by California resident Ward Connerly, who was behind similar initiatives in his state and in Washington. Since the passage of Proposition 209 in California 10 years ago, the state’s universities and other public institutions have reported troublesome outcomes in terms of diversity—a fate Coleman vows to fight as much as possible within the law.

“I refuse to go the way of UCLA and Berkeley,” Coleman said during a news conference preceding the campus speech—adding that since Prop 209, those two California universities never have “recovered in their admissions.” This year, she said, fewer than 100 African American students were admitted to an incoming class of 5,000 at the University of California, Berkeley.

“It has been a horribly failed experiment that has dramatically weakened the diversity of the state’s most selective universities,” Coleman said of Prop 209. “It is an experiment we cannot, and will not, allow to take seed here at Michigan. I will not stand by while the very heart and soul of this great university are threatened. We are Michigan and we are diversity.”

As she stood on the steps of the Hatcher Graduate Library, flanked by regents, deans and executive officers, Coleman assured various constituents—including those in the crowd and those who would be reached by numerous members of the media present—that the fight for diversity continues.

“For our current students, I promise that we will honor all financial aid commitments we have made to you. This is a contract we have with you, and the University of Michigan does not walk away from its contracts. Your scholarships, fellowships and grants will remain just that: yours,” Coleman said.

“For University employees who fear that their livelihood is at risk with the passage of this proposal, please know that you have no cause for worry. No one’s job at the University of Michigan will go away because of Proposal 2. We will continue to review all of our programs dedicated to minority affairs and campus diversity to ensure that they comply with the law, as we have done for many years.”

She also encouraged Michigan alumni to help in the effort to recruit diverse people and assured high school principals, counselors and teachers throughout the state that outreach efforts to prospective students will continue.

“Finally, to high school students and their families, my message is simple: We want you at the University of Michigan. We want your intellect, we want your energy, we want your ambition.”

Coleman said that in addition to seeking court approval to continue the current admissions process, she would consider other legal options regarding the constitutional amendment—a comment that again raised a loud cheer from the crowd.

“I also believe there are serious questions as to whether this initiative is lawful, particularly as it pertains to higher education. I have asked our attorneys for their full and undivided support in defending diversity at the University of Michigan. I will immediately begin exploring legal action concerning this initiative.”

Others in the crowd agreed the legality of the initiative was questionable—or at the very least that the tactics of those who promoted it were of concern.

Evette Hollins, a second-year student from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business who hails from Detroit, said she believes people were mixed up about how to vote for Proposal 2 because of its name: the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative.

“I think people were confused because of the language. Civil rights is thought of as a good thing,” Hollins said, adding that people assumed choosing ‘yes’ was a vote in favor of affirmative action, a program that had its origin in civil rights efforts.

Emily Harris, a lecturer who teaches a course on incarceration and citizenship, agreed, saying she learned of the confusion firsthand when she worked the weekend before the election at a phone bank, trying to encourage people to vote for Gov. Jennifer Granholm and against Proposal 2.

“People would ask, ‘What is that one, can you explain it?’ When you really talked about it, people understood,” Harris said. “The turnout here today shows that people think diversity is important.

“As a woman I am afraid for people when it comes to issues of public health, education and the economy,” Harris said of the outcome.

Clark Ruper, an LSA junior from Fraser, Mich., who took a semester off school to serve as deputy campaign manager for the MCRI, disagreed that the public was uncertain about how to vote.

“Civil rights belong to everybody. It didn’t say civil rights on the ballot.”

Ruper was among several dozen pro-Proposal 2 members on hand for the president’s address. He said Coleman’s decision to challenge the initiative was no surprise to his organization.

“We thought she’d try not to follow the law. The same thing happened in California and Washington. We’ll have to sue them to enforce this,” he said.

Coleman assured the crowd, however, that “of course the University will abide by the laws of this state.”

“At the same time, I guarantee my complete and unyielding commitment to increasing diversity at our institution,” she said. “Let me say it one more time: I am fully and completely committed to building diversity at Michigan, and I will do whatever it takes.”

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