After the passage of Proposal 2, things went downhill for the University. While University President Mary Sue Coleman had pledged to fight the new constitutional amendment in court, the battle was years away. In the meantime, the election was certified in December 2006. A judge denied the University a stay, and thus for the first time in its history, applicants for the fall 2007 term were evaluated by two different systems.

Angela Cesere

This was clearly reflected in the freshman class that year. Minority enrollment dropped nearly 30 percent. Many attributed this to the perception that, without affirmative action, the campus would be more hostile to minorities. By 2010, just like in California, out of a freshman class of 5,500, slightly more than one hundred were black. What the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative’s opponents had feared most became reality.

Proposal 2 also affected women at the University. Without affirmative action programs, the number of women in engineering and the sciences plummeted. Women, it seemed, simply felt that they were no longer welcome in those fields. In just a few years’ time, most of the new faculty in the sciences were white men.

Economically, Michigan sank deeper and deeper despite Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s desperate efforts to save it. Globalization had killed manufacturing in Michigan, and Proposal 2 drove the high-tech industries away. Graduates from all universities in Michigan fled the state in an effort to find the best-paying jobs. By 2015, Detroit’s population had fallen to fewer than 750,000. Even the population of the surrounding suburbs had declined. While Granholm had succumbed to Republican pressure and replaced only a fraction of revenue from the Single Business Tax in order to spur commercial growth, without affirmative action, few businesses came to Michigan. Many social programs had to be cut, as well as University funding, because of the lost tax revenue – another fiscal conservative promise unfulfilled.

Outside the wealthy suburbs of southeastern Michigan, where school funding was always high, K-12 education in the poorer parts of the state plunged. With even fewer good teachers willing to teach in Michigan, the quality of education in poorer districts declined. Graduation rates in Detroit schools dropped, as well as in poorer districts in Flint, Saginaw and Benton Harbor. Students saw no reason to finish high school as long as they had to compete with the much better prepared students from predominantly white high schools flush with resources.

MCRI supporters, emboldened by their so-called “mandate” from Proposal 2, began to lobby for their own idea of how to fix public education schools – school choice. Their argument was simple: Competition creates and encourages innovation. If the government and the schools can’t fix themselves, make them compete with each other and with private schools, both secular and parochial. Even Ward Connerly, who was busy working to eliminate affirmative action in Vermont, returned to support the plan.

Liberals once again voiced their protest. “Students are not products, teachers are not tools, schools are not factories,” they proclaimed. The MCRI crowd, now working for the MCEI – the Michigan Competitive Education Initiative – quickly dismissed them as either left-wing radicals sympathetic to Osama bin Laden or teacher union cronies. Their initiative passed, once again using hyperbolic and confusing language.

The quality of public schools worsened, as richer and whiter private schools like Cranbrook Kingswood, and Detroit Catholic Central sucked precious dollars that previously went to public education.

By 2020, it was estimated that of the 45,000 people at the University, fewer than 500 were underrepresented minorities. This had nothing to do with qualifications. Rather, it was the widespread belief that the campus was not friendly to minorities that kept students from applying. While a majority of students were still “liberal” on campus, conservative groups became stronger as the campus became whiter. Young Americans for Freedom burned President Barack Obama in effigy. This had nothing to do with race, everyone was told. Obama was just another “elite Socialist radical” whose main supporters were Hollywood celebrities.

The year 2020 was also when the University’s challenges to Proposal 2 were heard before the U.S. Supreme Court. After 14 years of court appearances and millions of dollars in legal fees, the Supreme Court finally ruled against affirmative action by overturning Grutter v. Bollinger. This 2003 decision had ruled the Law School’s admissions process to be constitutional, and it had formed the basis of the undergraduate admissions process before Proposal 2. The court ruled all affirmative action unconstitutional.

This final blow cemented the institutional racism in Michigan that seemed to benefit the rich and white. Living in the most segregated and economically downtrodden state in the country, people began to wonder if Proposal 2 was such a good idea after all. But hindsight is always 20/20, and thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, it was too late to go back now.

Jared Goldberg can be reached at jaredgo@umich.edu

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