Once again, diversity and social justice
are being challenged in Michigan. The Michigan Civil Rights
Initiative has returned, and this time is attempting to put a
proposal to amend the state constitution on the 2006 ballot. The
bill, very similar to the failed 2004 version, aims to ban what its
organizers call racial preferences in the state. MCRI officials are
predicting that the 317,757 signatures needed will all be collected
by mid-October, leaving plenty of time for the proposal to be
certified and placed on the 2006 ballot. This proposal is a
dangerous renewed assault on affirmative action at the University
and in the state.
In a pair of landmark decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in
2003 that using race as one of the factors for college admission
was constitutional. The MCRI was launched by University of
California regent Ward Connerly in response to this decision to
limit affirmative action at the state level. The proposal would
have been on the 2004 ballot if not for a state judge who invalided
the petitions on a technicality. The judge was eventually overruled
by a higher court, but by then, MCRI leaders had lost their
Unfortunately, even though MCRI leaders have carefully vetted
their proposal to make sure it passes legal muster, the language
and intent of the initiative is still misleading. Leaders have
carefully phrased the bill to ban “racial preferences,”
a loaded term that draws a much more negative response than
“affirmative action,” which is what they truly seek to
ban. Furthermore, even though MCRI leaders are attempting to strip
affirmative action — a core component of the civil rights
movement — they have called their movement a “civil
rights initiative.” These manipulations of the truth create a
palatable proposal that will be more likely to achieve the ultimate
goal of killing affirmative action within the state.
Affirmative action at the University has been invaluable in
establishing a diverse student body. Diversity at an academic
institution is an integral part of the complete educational
experience. Affirmative action provides benefits to all races,
religions and groups — not just minorities but all
individuals exposed to diversity. For this reason, the Supreme
Court ruled affirmative action was a legal method by which to
promote diversity, a compelling state interest.
Additionally, the minorities who benefit from affirmative action
have been, and still are, facing significant disadvantages.
Students from these groups are not given full access to the
technology, teachers and resources that their counterparts from the
middle and upper class have. Affirmative action, instead of
creating artifical preferences, attempts to level the playing field
between those who have and those who have less. Advocates of the
MCRI fail to recognize this distinction, and support a proposal
that would recreate an uneven playing field.
The return of the MCRI signals another serious threat to
diversity at the University and within the state as a whole.
Supporters of the MCRI have carefully created a ballot initiative
that may be both legally clean and enticing to state voters.
Proponents of affirmative action must mobilize their resources to
ensure that this dangerous proposal is not allowed to succeed.