The state House passed a bill Wednesday that could potentially
revoke all state funding from public universities who use
admissions based on race — including the University of Michigan.
University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said the University was
“surprised and puzzled by the amendment.”
The passage of the bill also incited an altercation among
Democrats in House chambers.
The incident occurred after the Republican-controlled House
narrowly approved next year’s higher education budget that
included a last-minute amendment rescinding 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 of doing little to prevent the passage of
the amendment. Four Democrats voted in favor of the amendment that
was passed 57-44, the minimum number of votes needed for
“If not for Democratic support, it would have been
defeated,” Hunter, who confirmed the fight, later said in a
statement to The Michigan Daily. “To vote ‘yes’
is a slap in the face to me as an African-American legislator and
as a Democrat.”
Hunter’s comments at the time prompted Alan Canady, the
chief of staff to House Minority Leader Dianne Byrum, to defend the
actions of Byrum and other Democratic leaders. Rep. Morris Hood
(D-Detroit) attempted to pacify the verbal altercation by
restraining Canady from Hunter. Canady pushed Hood away, and House
sergeants and other representatives then separated the two.
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
Some lawmakers, however, dismissed the amendment and said its
foundation rests on shaky ground.
It “is terribly ill-advised and totally
unconstitutional,” said Joe Schwarz, former state senator and
former chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher
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 the U.S.
House of Representatives.
Schwarz echoed the predictions of officials like Hunter and Dan
Farough, press secretary for the House Democratic caucus.
“This is a shot across the bow. My expectation is when the
bill gets to the Senate it will be taken out,” Schwarz said.
“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
“There are many steps, and we would be working as the
process proceeds to make our views be known,” Peterson
In lieu of the predicted demise of the amendment, Democrats are
confident that its caucus will remain unified.
“Because the Republicans offered an amendment that holds
the higher education bill hostage,” the passage of the bill
became a sensitive issue for Democrats, Farough said.
Farough said 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.”
Similarly, Hunter added, “It won’t be a permanent
rift, so long as the leadership ensures that this breakdown never
In spite 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 wants to make the use of racial
preferences unconstitutional in public bodies, including the
“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.”