University President Mary Sue Coleman will probably be tuned in to the state and national election results tonight, but what she and many others at the University will have most in mind is what voters decide on Proposal 2. This is an important election year at both the national and state level, but no issue on the ballot will have a greater effect on the University than Proposal 2.
With Jennifer Gratz at the lead, proponents of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative have attempted to turn Proposal 2 into a referendum on the University’s admissions policy. There is little doubt that should the proposal pass, the University would be forced to stop using race and ethnicity in its admissions decisions as soon as this year. A diverse student body at the University benefits students here and communities across the state, and the most reasonable way to achieve that diversity is through the University’s current admissions policy.
The University may not be able to fix the drastic inequalities in education that make college unattainable for many underprivileged students, while it is often the expectation for their wealthier peers. But what it can do is allow qualified students who didn’t attend schools that offered 12 advanced placement courses and didn’t come from four generations of University graduates to have a shot at attending the University.
Even so, a good number of Michigan residents are uncomfortable with the University’s admissions policy. But that is not reason enough to support Proposal 2. The impact of Proposal 2 would be broad. On campus, the University’s Summer Bridge and Women in Science and Engineering programs would be affected. Beyond State Street, it would interfere with programs to interest junior high school girls in science and prohibit efforts to include minorities and women in public contracting, to name a few areas it would impact.
Those effects are certain. And given the vague language of the ballot, what’s also certain is that, like in California, public institutions would be mired in lawsuits as the people and the court system sort out what “preferential treatment” actually means in legal terms.
In short, Proposal 2 is a bad idea. That’s why both gubernatorial candidates and prominent members of both major political parties oppose it. That’s why it’s one issue on which the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan AFL-CIO agree.
Affirmative action alone cannot undo the legacy of inequality generated by centuries of racism and gender discrimination. But without it, society will be less, not more, equal. If Proposal 2 passes, it may settle the discussion of whether affirmative action has a place in our state – but it will also provide a convenient excuse to overlook issues of racial and gender inequality that remain. Michigan cannot make the same mistake California and Washington did. Vote NO on Proposal 2.