In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed in order to make racial discrimination in public places illegal, in addition to forcing employers to treat people equally regardless of “race, ethnicity, or national origin.” Funding would have been rescinded for any project that was found in violation of this act. Unfortunately, the intention of the Civil Rights Act has not been fulfilled, because 41 years later, it is still necessary to re-affirm this mandate in order to guarantee the equal treatment of an individual. Enter the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative.

Angela Cesere

Even though it has come under scrutiny in the last 10 years, affirmative action has been policy for over 30. The only races to receive preferential treatment from it are blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans. Whites receive “neutral action,” meaning they do not receive any preferential treatment or penalty. In the majority of schools using affirmative action, Asians receive “negative action,” meaning they are penalized for simply being Asian. The dropout rate at the University, for those receiving “neutral” and “negative action” is 17 percent, whereas those receiving affirmative action is 39 percent. Over 60 percent of Michigan residents support the abolishment of racial and gender preferences. Weighing this fact against Sen. John Kerry’s victory here in last year’s presidential election, affirmative action must be seen as a nonpartisan issue. Texas, California, Florida, Oregon and Georgia have all adopted race neutral admissions. All of the schools in these states have achieved minority enrollment that equals or surpasses that of the University.

So how did they do it? These states adopted a race- and gender-neutral admission policy called the X-percent system. This system takes into account that not all high schools are as rigorous as one another, but assumes that there are hard-working students everywhere, regardless of race or gender. So, state institutions guarantee positions to students in a top fixed percent, usually 10 to 20 percent of each high school. This system has been successfully proven to support diversity and enforce a meritocracy and, when adopted in Michigan, will do the same.

The University states that it is pursuing racial preference programs in order to achieve diversity. No one need argue the merits of diversity, but at what cost? Is the University succeeding with such a staggering minority dropout rate? Those receiving admittance based on race and not merit may be unprepared for the rigors of this difficult school. The real solution to the problem is to improve K-12 education at schools populated by disadvantaged students. Ending affirmative action in these states has allowed universities there to develop outreach programs aimed at improving minority education, even at the elementary-school level. The previously mentioned states drastically improved their inner-city schools after racial preferences were abolished.

Opponents of MCRI are aware that the facts are on our side, so they wage a deceptive campaign designed to create apocalyptic conspiracy theories to scare us all. Let me address a few of them. They accuse MCRI of attempting to confuse voters with its language.

So, here it is: “A proposal to amend the constitution to prohibit the University of Michigan and other state universities, the state, and all other state entities from discriminating or granting preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.”

If you are confused by this blunt language, you shouldn’t even be voting. Next, the opponents claim that if MCRI passes it will set the progress of women and minorities back 50 years. Already I have established that all race-neutral states have still maintained the ability to achieve racial and gender diversity equal or greater than that at the University. The next “end of the world” theory is that MCRI will prevent medical benefits for women. Again, this can be simply answered by quoting clause 5 of the proposal: “Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as prohibiting bona fide qualifications based on sex that are reasonably necessary to the normal operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”

Is there anything you can do to help? You bet. Aside from voting for MCRI in 2006, you can attend a rally in its support on April 1 at noon on the Diag. See you there!


Shuster can be reached at dshuster@umich.edu.

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