With the University in the national spotlight, many critics of its admissions policies have directed their criticism toward what they call a liberal bastion. Yet despite the University’s proud history of activism, it has a mixed past in regard to minority enrollment and treatment of minorities.

Former President James Duderstadt wrote in his book “A University for the 21st Century” that “the history of diversity at Michigan has been complex and often contradictory. There have been too many times when the institution seems to take a step forward, only to be followed by two steps backward. Nonetheless, access and equality have always been a central goal of our institution.” Although the University was founded in 1817, it was not until 1868 that the first black student was admitted.

Eleven years later, during a commencement speech, longtime President James Angell called on the University to give equal educational opportunities to everyone regardless of race or gender.

“The most democratic atmosphere in the world is that of the college. There all meet on absolutely equal terms,” Angell said. “Nowhere else do the accidents of birth or condition count for so little.”

Yet, it would be almost another 90 years before the issue of minority enrollment would again be seriously addressed. As late as the 1960s, blacks and other minorities would account for less than 1 percent of the campus population.

On top of that, minorities were subject to discrimination and segregation on campus. Several stores and restaurants, including the Union Barbershop, would refuse to deal with blacks.

In the 1950s, the infamous dean of women, Deborah Bacon, would maintain separate residence halls and housing for whites and minorities. In 1958, The Michigan Daily investigated Bacon and showed she had abused her powers by attempting to break up interracial relationships. Due to growing pressure from the administration and students alike, Bacon sent her resignation letter to President Harlan Hatcher in September 1961.

“I personally am not in tune with some of the changes which seem inevitable in the years ahead,” Bacon wrote.


Eight years later, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare accused the University of discriminating against minorities in hiring practices and demanded the University develop an affirmative action program. In the winter of 1970, in the midst of student protests over the Vietnam War, a group of black students formed the Black Action Movement, demanding higher enrollment of minorities.

They led an eight-day strike of classes resulting in a 25 percent attendance drop. In the end, President Robben Fleming agreed with BAM to aim at raising minority enrollment to ten percent by the 1973-1974 academic year.

Although the black enrollment rate rose from 3.5 percent to 6.8 percent by 1972, the campus was still a place of many racial tensions. The University did not reach its 10 percent goal in 1973 and minority enrollment began to drop. In 1975, another group of students formed BAM II and requested that Fleming help improve the racial climate on campus through support services. Fleming refused and minority enrollment continued to drop throughout the 1970s and the early to mid 1980s even after the 1978 Univesity of California Board of Regents v. Bakke decision, which said race could be used as one of several factors in admissions.

By the mid 1980s, the University still had not reached a 10 percent minority rate. Seventeen years after BAM I, the black enrollment rate stood at 5.3 percent.

In the winter of 1987, several incidents set off another wave of protests, which would again urge the administration to look at its progress on minority enrollment.

“It was an enormous amount of activity and concern on campus and it reached a high level of focus very quickly and receded very quickly,” former President Harold Shapiro said in an interview last week.

In Febuary 1987, LSA sophomore Ted Sevransky, a disc jockey on a student radio station, invited callers to tell racist and sexist jokes including, “Who are the two most famous black women in history? … Aunt Jemima and motherfucker,” and “Why do black people smell?… so blind people can hate them too.”

Shapiro emphasized the incident mobilized tensions of issues that were already present on campus.

The next month, the Rev. Jesse Jackson came to campus to attempt to help relieve tension. At a presentation in Hill Auditorium, Shapiro was very impressed with how Jackson handled the crowd and recalled that, after his appearance, tensions seemed to calm down.

“The kind of heated wave of concern receded the day he appeared on campus,” Shapiro said. “I found him to be extra helpful in working on these issues. He had a very good understanding of which of the demands were impossible to deal with and which ones weren’t … He managed to get everybody focused on the right issues.”

“The Six Point Plan”

Shapiro proposed the Six Point Plan to continue to work on improving student and faculty diversity on campus. But in spring of 1987, he announced that he would leave the University at the end of the year to become president of Princeton University. After a yearlong search, the University Board of Regents promoted Duderstadt, then provost, to the presidency in June 1988.

In Duderstadt’s inaugural address, he proposed the Michigan Mandate, a strategic, long-term plan to improve not only diversity but also the racial climate on campus. In his book, Duderstadt admitted the plan was broad at first, and required an overhaul of the University infrastructure.

“The plan would have to build on the best that we already had. The challenge was to persuade the community that there was a real stake for everyone in seizing this moment to chart a more diverse future. More people needed to believe that the gains to be achieved through diversity would more than compensate for the necessary sacrifices,” Duderstadt wrote.

But the Michigan Mandate proved to be successful. Between 1988 and 1995, the number of tenure-track faculty of color increased by 57 percent, while the number of students of color increased by 83 percent, along with the number of students graduating.

The University reached out into more urban areas, to recruit disadvantaged students. In the 1994-1995 school year, the minority rate of students at the University stood at around 20 percent.

In fall 2001, the minority enrollment of undergraduate students stood at 5,719 students, or 26 percent of the student body. But Duderstadt said in an interview last week that many facets of the Michigan Mandate have eroded because too much attention has been focused on the lawsuits.

“Many of us were quite concerned when President Bollinger essentially discarded the Michigan Mandate strategy to focus instead on the admissions cases,” Duderstadt said. “The admissions cases are important, but they are not the real reason for Michigan’s leadership. Rather it is a far deeper commitment to link diversity and academic excellence.

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