Politics & Policy

A Colorful Admissions Battle

The University of Michigan tries to subvert the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative.

Last fall’s approval of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative — a ballot initiative banning all state entities from using racial preferences — should have ended the debate in Michigan over the use of affirmative action in higher-education admissions. Since the election, however, the administration at the University of Michigan has done everything in its power to defy the will of the voters.

In the bureaucratic equivalent of a buzzer-beater, U-M scrambled to admit as many black and Hispanic students as possible prior to a December 23 deadline for complying with the law — 55 percent more as compared to the same time period last year, according to recent news reports.

That’s no surprise, given that U-M President Mary Sue Coleman wasted almost no time after the vote in announcing her intention to undermine the new law. In a speech given in the center of campus a day after the election, Coleman said that she was “disappointed” with the voters’ choice and that she was directing the “full focus and energy” of the university to defending affirmative-action policies. “If November 7th was the day that Proposal 2 passed, then November 8th is the day that we pledge to remain unified in our fight for diversity,” she said.

Coleman’s first move was to go to court. The U-M argued in a lawsuit that the implementation of the MCRI should be delayed at least until this summer, so that it could continue admitting students for next year’s class under the same rules that Michigan voters had found so objectionable. If a federal appeals court had not forced the school to comply with the law, the University of Michigan would still be disregarding the decision of the voters.

Even in the aftermath of that embarrassing decision, the school’s admissions still aren’t colorblind: Admissions officials continue to have the race of applicants listed on their forms. When California voters passed a law similar to the new one in Michigan, universities blacked out the race question, like a piece of redacted information on a classified document. There’s no reason Michigan can’t come up with a similar solution, so that decisions on admissions can be made without reference to race. The administration’s refusal to take these simple steps — combined with its repeated efforts to undercut the new law — suggests strongly that U-M will do everything it can to preserve its unpopular practices.

Michigan spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham described the university’s efforts toward compliance with the law: “All of the admissions officers received two hours of training on the new guidelines, going over all the areas and emphasizing that race and gender can not be used in admission decisions.”Ann Arbor News. The University of Michigan depends heavily upon private donations; if alumni and other supporters express their dismay by withholding contributions, the university will take note.

At the very least, and people who bleed maize and blue should insist on having some say on how their gifts are spent. But that’s not enough for some. One prominent U-M donor told me in an interview, “Any funds I contributed would simply free up that amount of budget funds for the administration to waste on inappropriate legal fees in defiance of the alumni and other voter mandated laws.”

It is not yet apparent how the University of Michigan will next attempt to circumvent the laws of the state. Given the track record of Coleman and her administration, the next ploy is probably underway right now. That the university will not readily comply with the law is an affront to Wolverines everywhere, as well as to anybody who cares about equal opportunity.

– Michael O’Brien is executive editor of the Michigan Review, a student publication at the University of Michigan.

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