Polls are at a dead heat and there are only 55 days remaining before voters decide on a ballot proposal that would ban many types of affirmative action in Michigan.
The key to whether the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, or Proposal 2, will be successful may lie in the 16 percent of voters who were undecided in last week’s Detroit Free Press/Local 4 poll.
On campus, both sides of the debate are working desperately to sway that 16 percent.
Young Americans for Freedom and the Washtenaw County MCRI organization kicked off their campus campaign yesterday with a speech from State Rep. Leon Drolet (R-Macomb Township), who chairs the MCRI.
Although attendance was sparse, the mass meeting’s organizers promised a vigorous campaign on campus and around Ann Arbor in the coming weeks.
Ryan Fantuzzi, co-chair of the Washtenaw County MCRI, said supporters of the initiative face an uphill battle in Ann Arbor, but that he was optimistic about the election.
“This is the bastion of liberalism,” Fantuzzi said. “But I believe that there is a lot of silent support for the issue on campus.”
In order to tap into that support, Young Americans for Freedom and the Washtenaw County MCRI plan to exploit all the traditional campus campaigning techniques, including painting the Rock, flyering on the Diag and holding political tailgates before the Michigan State and Wisconsin football games.
Organizers said they would also like to bring Ward Connerly to town for a debate or a rally, though nothing has been finalized yet. Connerly is the former University of California regent who brought MCRI to Michigan after a successful campaign in California.
“It is hard to stand up for the MCRI on this campus,” Fantuzzi said. “But there are a lot of people who will vote for this – we just need to make sure they vote.”
For over a year, Students Supporting Affirmative Action and the College Democrats have been plotting to defeat MCRI, which will appear as Proposal 2 on November’s ballot. College Democrats chair Jamie Ruth said his organization will work closely with Students Supporting Affirmative Action as well as the Michigan Democratic Party.
The College Democrats have already planned an anti-MCRI rally for late October featuring Debbie Dingell, a candidate for Wayne State’s Board of Trustees and an outspoken advocate of affirmative action.
Rachel Tanner, a member of Students Supporting Affirmative Action, said the group will do everything it can to educate voters about the issue.
Their efforts will include setting up tables in dorms and campaigning at football games as well as holding educational events, organizing letter-writing campaigns and taking people to large statewide events, like the NAACP convention.
“We will use any and every method we can to get our message across to students,” Tanner said. “Even if that means talking for only five minutes on the way to class.”
Ruth said he is encouraged by the diverse array of student groups that have approached him asking for resources to oppose the initiative.
“Affirmative action is a tough issue for this campus,” Ruth said. “But I think there is a consensus that this proposal goes too far, and I believe we can beat it.”
Letting its stance be known is not as easy for the University administration.
Despite the fact that MCRI will directly impact the University’s admissions policies, its status as a nonprofit and a branch of state government prohibits it from taking a public stance on ballot proposals or political campaigns.
The rules restricting the University do not, however, apply to actions taken by professors on their own time and with their own resources. Additionally, the campaign finance rules do not apply to academic research into affirmative action programs or the likely effects of MCRI.
There is an exception in the state campaign finance law that allows executives with policy-making responsibilities, such as University President Mary Sue Coleman, to state their views on ballot proposals in their official capacity.
Coleman has been active in the MCRI debate, and University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said she will continue to do so through the fall.
President Coleman has two minority outreach events scheduled for this fall where she will likely address MCRI and her concerns about it, Peterson said.
“I have been speaking about this every chance I get,” Coleman said in an interview last Thursday.
Coleman frequently reminds people that the proposal, if passed, would have a negative effects on programs like those encouraging women in math and science and men in nursing.
“I hope the voters understand the consequences not yet anticipated,” Coleman said.
Peterson said the University is not taking any specific steps to prepare for the possibility of the passage of MCRI. However, she added that the University is always reviewing its race-conscious programs to ensure they are serving their purpose and are in compliance with the 2003 Supreme Court ruling Grutter v. Bollinger.
“We are not assuming it will or will not pass,” Peterson said. “That is up to the people of Michigan, and we will have to see what happens in November.”