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Campus and state react to Supreme Court ruling

By Shoham Geva, Summer Managing News Editor
and Ian Dillingham, Summer Editor in Chief
Published April 22, 2014

The focus on minority enrollment and admissions practice at the University — and at colleges across the nation — intensified Tuesday in response to the Supreme Court decision to uphold the state of Michigan’s ban on affirmative action.

The ban on affirmative action, Proposal 2, which was passed by the state's electorate in 2006, was largely written in response to the University Law School’s race-conscious admissions policies after they were upheld by the Supreme Court in 2003. The proposal banned public universities in the state from considering race in their admissions and hiring practices.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald stated that since the ban has been in place since 2006, University admissions policy won’t face changes as a result of the decision.

“The Supreme Court ruling today has no immediate effect on the University’s policies, which are already consistent with Proposal 2,” he said. “The University overall remains absolutely committed to the goal of bringing a diverse and academically excellent group of students to this campus, and will continue to seek to achieve that goal in ways that are compliant with law.”

In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who argued the case in favor of Proposal 2, said universities maintained many legal options open to them for maintaining a diverse student population.

In response to questions about such options after his speech, Schuette said universities should focus the same attention and resources currently given to athletic recruiting on academic recruiting.

Shanta Driver, national chair of BAMN — the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary — the plaintiffs in the case, said the University is at the center of the national debate on affirmative action.

“What the University of Michigan does, and the kind of example that it sets, is absolutely determinative in terms of what other universities do,” Driver said. “For the University to find ways to not discriminate against Latino, Latina, and Black and Native American and other minority students in its admissions policies, I think that could be a standard and an example that other universities across the nation could and should follow.”

BAMN held a press conference on the steps of the Michigan Union Tuesday afternoon to discuss their frustration with the court’s decision, which they labeled as racist.

“The decision of the Court today makes clear that this Court intends to do nothing to defend the right to equality in politics, opportunity, rights, hopes and aspirations of its Latina/o, black, Native American and other minority citizens,” the organization stated in the event release.

Drawing inspiration from the U.S. Civil Rights Movement following the court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling, BAMN pledged to launch a “new civil rights movement.”

Jose Alvarenga, an undocumented immigrant and prospective University student currently attending community college, said the organization’s focus extends beyond court decisions.

“We know it took a civil rights movement to break the back of Jim Crow and make real the promise of Brown v. Board of Education,” Alvarenga said. “Today with this decision, the Supreme Court has destroyed the dream of Brown v. Board of Education and has signed on to the resegregation of higher education.”

Many BAMN members aimed their opposition at the federal and state levels, but most also expressed their belief that the University still has the power — despite Tuesday’s court decision — to implement policy changes that could benefit minority applicants. The organization announced that it plans to continue holding events on and around campus to protest current policies, including a rally and march on the Diag Thursday afternoon.

The Black Student Union, which declined to comment on the ruling, is also currently in the process of working with administrators in response to a list of seven demands that it issued in January, one of which called for an “increase in black representation on this campus equal to 10 percent.” However, Fitzgerald said those conversations have all been within the context of Proposal 2’s legal limitations.

He added that it is currently too early to know exactly what next steps will be for the University in the wake of the ruling.

In a joint statement with Provost Martha Pollack Tuesday afternoon, University President Mary Sue Coleman reaffirmed the University's commitment to diversity in the wake of the ruling.

“Our collective aspiration for a more and truly diverse campus will not waver,” the statement read. “Despite this decision from the Supreme Court, the University of Michigan remains deeply committed to using every legal tool at our disposal to bring together a diverse study body.”

Regent Mark Bernstein (D–Ann Arbor), in a Facebook statement Tuesday following the ruling, also emphasized the importance of diversity at the University, despite the legal setback.

“Our University must remain committed to pursuing every effective, constitutionally valid approach to ensuring diversity on our campuses — with a focus on socio-economics and geography,” he wrote. “We must proceed with less effective tools (e.g. approaches that consider race and gender) but we must stay committed to making our campus look like our state.”

However, Rackham student Marcelo Hernandez, a BAMN member, said the University’s administration, despite its vocal support, could do more to help minority students, regardless of the legal status of affirmative action.

“The regents need a hard lesson in privilege and they need to know that racism doesn’t stay the same, that the face of racism has changed,” Hernandez said. “I don’t want to say that it’s empty rhetoric, but we haven’t seen much action.”