Two years ago, University President Mary Sue Coleman spoke on the Diag and promised a loud and noble fight to defend diversity from the ban on race- and gender-based affirmative action that passed the day before. Since then, our leadership has grown quiet. But with November fast approaching, and Ward Connerly’s anti-affirmative action tour hitting two more state ballots, other universities could be faced with the same struggles as ours. If these voters hope to make an informed decision, the administration needs to abandon its caution. Now is the time to talk about how we are defending diversity, for the benefit of other threatened campuses and our own.
Mimicking the blueprint from his successful campaigns in Michigan, California and Washington, Ward Connerly’s anti-affirmative action group, the American Civil Rights Institute, began the year hoping to get five more anti-affirmative action ballot initiatives passed. After initiatives in Oklahoma and Arizona got booted from the ballot for fraudulent campaign tactics and Missouri organizers failed to get the required number of signatures in time, only two campaigns remain. In Nebraska and Colorado, enough voters signed petitions to put anti-affirmative action initiatives up for popular vote this fall.
Like Michigan voters two years ago, voters in Nebraska and Colorado need to know what they are getting into. And who better to tell them than us?
Since 2006, the University has had a unique experience in its battle to maintain diversity. Minority enrollment has declined, but not as drastically as it did at universities in California and Washington. Though difficult to discern, much of that success can probably be attributed to the University’s patchwork of outreach programs, computer demographics software and expanded streams of targeted financial aid.
Other campuses and voters need our openness about what has happened here. What has been the real effect of the ban on race- and gender-based affirmative action at the University? What efforts have been made to mitigate its impact? How exactly do they work? How successful has each been? How much more expensive have these efforts been than affirmative action? How has the ban changed the way it feels to be a member of the black, latino or Native American communities on campus?
The University’s hesitancy to answer these questions is most likely driven by self-defense: It wants to avoid the polarization and legal drama this campus has endured throughout its defense of campus diversity. The more open the University is, the more open it is to criticism. And when it comes to diversity, no one will be pleased with the University’s answers. Opponents of affirmative action are waiting for the first sign the University might be breaking the law. Proponents are worried minority enrollment is still falling.
But the University’s silence right now is selfish. With November approaching, voters need answers to these questions, and the University has an obligation to educate them. After all, that is the reason the University exists. It seems a bit hypocritical that the University feels obligated to “educate” Michigan voters about the potential benefits of stem cell research when our state has an initiative on the ballot about the issue, but not be just as vocal in an effort to help voters in Nebraska and Colorado.
Diversity is still on the minds of University administrators, even though they aren’t talking about it. Until they do, their silence flies in the face of the fights of the last decade and leaves the national higher education community uninformed about legislation that could dramatically change the face of our campuses.