University administrators spoke to students and discussed their concerns about the impact of a statewide civil rights initiative passed in 2006 called Proposal 2, which banned the use of affirmative action in admissions for public universities in Michigan, on campus at an event on Friday.
The open panel discussion, called “The Rise and Fall of Affirmative Action,” was hosted by the National Society of Black Engineers and outlined the history of affirmative action, its impact on the University and how it may shape the future of academics.
The panelists — including University deans and vice provosts — addressed a crowd of about 70 individuals and invited an open dialogue with students in the audience about their undergraduate experiences at the University.
Ted Spencer, associate vice provost and executive director of undergraduate admissions, told those at the event that Proposal 2 caused a lot of controversy because it led people to believe that when the University was using affirmative action in admissions decisions it was accepting unqualified students.
“One of the misconceptions of Proposal 2 was that we were admitting unqualified people,” he said. “That simply wasn’t true.”
Since the ballot initiative passed in 2006, the percentage of underrepresented minority students in incoming freshmen classes at the University has declined every year. In the fall semester of 2005, 812 underrepresented minority students enrolled as freshmen at the University. The number declined to 604 students who enrolled in fall 2009, and this year’s underrepresented minority enrollment fell 11.4 percent from last year to 535 students.
James Holloway, associate dean for the College of Engineering, spoke about the history of affirmative action and specifically the 2006 ballot initiative.
Holloway said Proposal 2 has placed limitations on the University and has made it harder for the University to attract underrepresented minority students.
“In terms of applications and admits, we are close to where we were in 2005,” Holloway said. “In terms of getting those students to come, it is getting more and more difficult.”
Other panelists who spoke at the event included Lester Monts, senior vice provost for Academic Affairs, John Matlock, director of the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives, Sharon Burch, director of Undergraduate Recruitment Initiatives and Derrick Scott, program director of the Multicultural Engineering Programs Office.
At the talk, students contributed to the discussion — giving advice to the panelists, and expressing concerns about the University’s academic and social environment.
One student said the University should implement a program to educate students about various multicultural issues. Another student proposed a system to track students’ educational progress to prevent students from “falling through the cracks.”
Many minority students at the event agreed that after the passage of Proposal 2, they have felt like they have had to prove their academic potential to their peers and professors.
Students also expressed surprise by the levels of admission and matriculation rates for underrepresented minority students at the University.
Business senior Julia Hawley said in an interview after the event that she felt low matriculation rates for minority students were cause for concern.
“I think that one of the most important discussions today was not only the admissions, but also the matriculation rates,” Hawley said. “I think that this is something that not only the administration needs to work on, but the student body needs to be aware of as well.”
College of Engineering junior Aisha Harris, an organizer of the event, said in an interview after the discussion that she felt compelled to raise awareness about affirmative action and Proposal 2’s effects because the issues have not had much attention in recent years.
“My class was the last one to come in with affirmative action,” Harris said. “There were a lot of years of silence, and people had a lot to say. I wanted to give that opportunity to people — a communication between the University and its students.”