Last Tuesday, under the sweltering midday sun and amid the aggressive chants of unfriendly protesters, University of California Regent Ward Connerly launched his ballot initiative to eliminate racial preferences in the state of Michigan. Connerly, who is chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute, has led successful ballot initiatives in both California and the state of Washington. He announced his intentions to do the same in Michigan, in front of a largely hostile crowd, on the steps of the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library. While we disagree with Connerly’s stance on affirmative action, the way some members of the University community disregarded his right to articulate his opinion deserves condemnation.

The University and the citizens of the state of Michigan should strongly oppose Connerly’s efforts to reverse the victories achieved during the recent admissions lawsuits. In the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinions regarding the University’s two affirmative action cases, the majority of the justices reaffirmed the importance of affirmative action to society. With the passage of this ballot initiative, the University and other government institutions would be unable to use race conscious policies. The research done in this field clearly shows that this would result in a significant decrease in the number of minority students attending elite institutes of higher learning. Not only would this result in less diverse educational institutions and less cross-racial interaction, but it would also have a detrimental effect on society as less traditionally underrepresented minorities would inhabit the state’s professional ranks. This would forestall progress in achieving equality and understanding among the races.

The importance of defending affirmative action, however, cannot be used to defend the vile and disgusting behavior demonstrated by some of the protesters at last Tuesday’s announcement. A few in the crowd yelled “Uncle Tom” when Connerly spoke, implying that simply because he is black, he should hold a specific position. This is precisely the type of misunderstanding that the University’s policies are aimed at eliminating.

When Barbara Grutter, the plaintiff in the law school case, spoke, someone called her a “loser,” referring to the court’s decision that ended her case against the University’s law school. When Jennifer Gratz, the plaintiff in the undergraduate case, spoke, the protesters made fun of her for not being offered admission to the University. These kinds of personal attacks do not help facilitate an open dialogue about affirmative action. When an issue divides a nation and a campus, as this one has, it is important that lines of communication remain open. Personal attacks and intimidation tactics aimed at keeping one point of view silent not only violate the right to freedom of speech, but also will end up backfiring by decreasing public support for the cause.

Events such as this one, which was sponsored by The Michigan Review, allow everyone to have a say regarding important issues. In order to protect Connerly’s First Amendment Right, the Department of Public Safety removed three members of the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action and Integration and Fight for Equality By Any means Necessary from the conference. While this did allow the presentation to continue, the University should apply its policy of defending free speech equally and not simply show more eagerness to remove controversial protesters.

Universities are outlets for individuals to discuss controversial issues. Name-calling and intimidation serve no one’s interests. Drowning out the opposition’s viewpoint is no way to protect freedom of thought or to defend affirmative action.

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