For supporters of the University’s
affirmative action policies, last week brought welcome news. Ward
Connerly’s Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which sought to
prohibit the use of racial preferences in state hiring and public
university admissions, was declared dead — or at least
dormant. Campaign co-chairman Leon Drolet (R-Clinton Township)
recently announced a decision to halt the MCRI for the 2004
election cycle, explaining that “the intent now is to qualify
for the ’06 ballot.” While this unexpected development
is surely welcome, it must be recognized for what it is: a mere
respite.

Mira Levitan

The demise of the 2004 MCRI was not brought about because the
Michigan electorate rejected its premise; rather, the MCRI became
entangled in legal technicalities. In March, Ingham County Judge
Paula Mandersfield ordered the Board of State Canvassers to nullify
the petition — all previously-collected signatures were
rendered void. Following Judge Mandersfield’s ruling, MCRI
advocates were unable to regain momentum or funding. Faced with a
fast-approaching deadline, internal discord and disorganization,
MCRI leaders were forced to abandon their efforts. What is crucial
to understand is that the MCRI petition was voided not because it
was inherently illegal, but because it was incorrectly phrased.

Supporters of affirmative action were remarkably lucky: minor
legal technicalities unraveled the MCRI; an electoral struggle for
votes and support was averted. However, proponents of the
University’s policies can be assured that those behind the
MCRI will not make the same mistakes in 2006. Therefore, while
Drolet and Connerly aim to regroup their forces over the next two
years, advocates of affirmative action must begin the campaign to
defeat the Initiative’s 2006 variant. After validation at the
Supreme Court level, and a temporary victory against opponents at
home, the University and its allies must engage in a large-scale
campaign to win the support of Michigan voters.

Affirmative action has never enjoyed the public’s
endorsement; many predict that the MCRI would have been passed by
the Michigan electorate if it had made it onto November’s
ballot. In order to secure the future of the University’s
policies, affirmative action must be embraced by the electorate, to
ensure it can muster enough votes to survive a public referendum.
To do this, affirmative action supporters must take the same
aggressive approach as their opponents. Instead of simply defending
University policies, administrators must sell the merits of
race-conscious admissions; they must convince voters that barring
the policies will have a negative effect. The fight for affirmative
action cannot be merely a defensive battle; if so, there will never
be a strong consensus behind it.

Ultimately, the University and affirmative action partisans
stumbled upon luck. Careless mistakes by MCRI planners were
manifested in a flawed petition which was fortuitously declared
invalid. In 2006, there is little hope that affirmative action will
survive so easily. It is now, with over two years until the next
election cycle, that supporters of affirmative action should begin
a concerted effort to convince Michigan voters of the necessity of
race-conscious admissions. This temporary reprieve should be taken
for what it is: a short delay before the battle begins anew.

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