The state House passed a bill Wednesday that could potentially
revoke all state appropriations from public universities who use
admissions based on race, religion, creed, or nation of origin —
including the University of Michigan.

The University responded by stating it was “surprised and
puzzled by the amendment,” said University spokeswoman Julie
Peterson.

The passage of the bill also incited an altercation among
Democrats in House chambers, according to wire reports from the
Associated Press and Gongwer News Service.

The incident happened after the Republican-controlled House
narrowly approved next year’s higher education budget that included
a last-minute amendment that rescinded funding from any university
that grants preferential treatment in admissions based on race,
religion, creed or national origin.

The fight began when Rep. Tupac Hunter (D-Detroit) accused
Democratic caucus leaders that they did little to prevent the
passage of the amendment. Four Democrats voted in favor of the
amendment that was passed 57-44, the minimum number for
approval.

Hunter’s comments provoked the response of Alan Canady, the
chief of staff to House Minority Leader Dianne Byrum. Rep. Morris
Hood III (D-Detroit) attempted to pacify the verbal altercation by
restraining Canady from Hunter. Canady then pushed Hood away, and
House sergeants and other representatives then separated the
two.

“Because the Republicans offered an amendment that holds the
higher education bill hostage,” the passage of the bill became a
sensitive issue for Democrats, said Dan Farough, press secretary
for the House Democratic caucus.

Farough added that the dispute should not lead to any further
disagreement within the party.

“I don’t think there is any serious fissure in the Democratic
caucus,” he said. “We’re fighting to spend our time on jobs,
healthcare and education — not the issues that divide us.”

The language of the budget now returns to the Senate for
consideration of the changes. The budget would most likely then go
to a conference committee, consisting of members of both the Senate
and the House, and then when approved, to Gov. Jennifer
Granholm.

Some lawmakers, however, dismissed the amendment.

The amendment “is terribly ill-advised and totally
unconstitutional,” said Joe Schwarz, former State senator and
former chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher
Education. “It flies directly in the face of the autonomy stated in
the Michigan constitution.”

The constitution guarantees that the University’s Board of
Regents is the only body with the authority to change its own
policy, said Schwarz, a Republican who is now running for U.S.
House.

“This is a shot across the bow. My expectation is when the bill
gets to the Senate it will be taken out,” he added. “There is a
whole body of court cases going back to the 19th century on the
relationship between the legislature and the universities that says
the legislature cannot mandate that any of the universities do
anything.”

The University will be one of the parties fighting the
amendment, whether it be at the senate or the conference
committee.

“There are many steps, and we would be working as the process
proceeds to make our position be known,” Peterson added.

Regardless of its case history, those in favor of the amendment
are still optimistic.

Rep. Leon Drolet (R-Clinton Twp.), the author of the amendment,
called it “another venue to end the practice of universities
judging people on their appearances.”

Drolet is also a co-chair of the Michigan Civil Rights
Initiative, an initiative that wishes make the use of racial
preferences in public bodies, including the University,
unconstitutional.

Drolet plans on pursuing this amendment as intensely as
MCRI.

“Since the house already approved this language, in the
conference committee, I’ll be talking to the senators to try to
ensure that this amendment stays in,” he said. “This is what I have
been trying to do with the ballot initiative for the past nine
months.”

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