With just weeks remaining until Michigan voters decide on Proposal 2, the Center for Equal Opportunity released a conveniently timed report last week that purports to confirm the shocking extent to which the University considers race and ethnicity in its admissions process.

Sarah Royce

The conservative think tank’s findings are a gross oversimplification of the University’s admission policies, but what is more troubling is how it restricts discussion about Proposal 2, or the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, to a debate on the University’s admission of black and Hispanic students. The way Proposal 2 supporters have latched onto the study would suggest that it is a voter referendum on how the University should admit students. Proposal 2, however, is an amendment to the state Constitution, not a voter-initiated change in University policy, and its effects would certainly extend far beyond University admissions.

Considering only standardized test scores, grade-point averages and the race of applicants, the CEO study concluded that the University currently gives more consideration to black and Hispanic students than in 1999, before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the University’s point-based policy. But the study bases its conclusions on incomplete data, ignoring factors that don’t lend themselves to statistical analysis – like admissions essays, high school curricula and letters of recommendation.

Groups like One United Michigan were quick to point out these shortcomings, but failed to highlight that the University’s admissions process is just one aspect of the broader issue at stake in November. The proposal bans affirmative action programs based on gender, race and ethnicity for all public education, contracting and employment across Michigan.

Both sides have turned to California’s Proposition 209, which contains language nearly identical language to Proposal 2, in order to predict the effects of MCRI. Ten years after Prop 209’s passage, much still remains to be sorted out in court, but a few results are clear. In California, not only university admissions have been affected – there was a substantial decline in gender-specific after-school programs and minority outreach programs as far down the education ladder as elementary school. Publicly funded financial aid for minorities and women pursuing education in male-dominated fields like engineering and medicine was also prohibited. In the contracting sector, state and local governments had to end outreach requirements to ensure minority entrepreneurs are considered in contracting.

Even considering just the University, the admissions process is one small part of the many initiatives that seek to promote underrepresented groups. The proposal would likely end programs such as Women in Science and Engineering and the Summer Bridge Program, as well as specific minority outreach efforts.

The release seems conveniently timed to sway the 15 percent of Michigan voters who remain undecided on Proposal 2 and to leave pro-affirmative action groups scrambling to respond as Nov. 7 approaches. Taking California as a case study, it is evident this issue affects all of Michigan, from public contracts to public education, from women to Hispanics – and the proposal may have unpredictable consequences. By reducing the debate to an oversimplified analysis of the University’s admission policy, CEO is undermining the dialogue that needs to take place for voters to understand the issue. Proposal 2 is about affirmative action in Michigan – not affirmative action in the University of Michigan’s undergraduate admissions office.

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