November 2006 News
Ballot Proposal 2: End of Affirmative Action?
By Bryan Tyler
HOUGHTON -- With the Nov. 7 Election fast approaching, controversial issues on the
upcoming ballot are inevitably being drawn to the public eye. Topping the priority lists of many voters this
year is the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI).
Stated plainly, and as it will appear on the ballot, the MCRI, also known as Proposal 2, is
"A proposal to amend the state constitution to ban affirmative action programs that give
preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on their race, gender, color,
ethnicity, or national origin for public employment, education or contracting purposes."
The MCRI is modeled after a constitutional amendment adopted in California in 1996 called
Proposition 209. Susan Kaufmann, Associate Director of the Center for the Education of
Women at the University of Michigan, has done extensive research on the impact of
Proposition 209 in the years since its adoption and has written two reports documenting her
findings: "The Potential Impact of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative on Employment,
Education and Contracting" (recently revised) and "The Gender Impact of the Proposed Michigan Civil Rights Initiative."* On Sept. 25, Kaufmann gave a presentation at Michigan Tech summarizing the results of her research.
"I looked at what happened in California after Proposition 209, which is a virtually
identical constitutional amendment passed in 1996," said Kaufmann, "and what I found were
sharp decreases in the number of women working in the skilled trades and apprenticing in the
Kaufmann also said she had noticed declines in government contracting to women and minority-owned businesses and in the hiring of women and minority faculty at the
University of California.
“The impact of Proposition 209 in
California has been quite broad, extending beyond what people typically think of as
affirmative action," Kaufmann explained.
Kaufmann said it is especially necessary to employ affirmative action programs that
encourage women and minority students to take part in science and engineering,
because those are fields in which women's participation has historically been very limited.
"Until recently it’s been very common for girls to be told that science and math just aren’t for them," Kaufmann
noted. "Also, the nation faces a shortage of scientists in general and women scientists in
particular, so it’s important to all of us to make sure that women and under-represented
minority students believe science is an option for them and consider those fields.… Full
access to opportunity strengthens not only women, but also their families, communities and
Ward Connerly vs. Gov. Granholm on MCRI potential
Ward Connerly, the major proponent for the MCRI and chairman of California’s Proposition
209, has a much more optimistic interpretation of how the MCRI will affect Michigan. In a
letter to the editor of the Detroit Free Press commenting on an op-ed piece written
by Governor Jennifer Granholm on the issue of affirmative action, Connerly wrote,
addressing Granholm, "you claim that MCRI would eliminate programs that are encouraging female and minority students to
pursue these (scientists and engineers) 'critical careers.' MCRI would do no such thing. It
would prohibit you from giving them 'preferential treatment.' It certainly would not
prohibit you from 'encouraging' them to pursue careers in these fields." In the same
letter, Connerly stated, "The California economy is vibrant and booming. And, I hasten to
add, California is a state that has outlawed preferential treatment on the basis of race,
gender and ethnicity."
In the Mar. 9, 2006, op-ed piece by Granholm, she pledged her support to the
clergy, business and labor, elected officials and ordinary citizens from across our state in
opposing this initiative," and went on to write, "It's no wonder that the impetus for this
constitutional amendment has come from an outsider, California activist Ward Connerly. Had
he been from Michigan, he'd know what we know: that our diversity is part and parcel in our
"Michigan, on the other hand," wrote Connerly, "is regarded by many as one of the preference
capitals of the nation. How is your economy? How many jobs are you losing day-by-day? To
what 'economic strength' are you making reference? Are you really expecting your residents
to believe that by ending preferential treatment on the basis of race, gender and ethnicity,
your state’s economy will worsen even more? If so, such an assertion defies
Dean Frank Wu speaks on "New Civil Rights" at MTU
The Michigan Tech campus was once again visited by a major activist of the MCRI debate
Dean Frank Wu of Wayne State University Law School gave his speech, "The New Civil Rights
in the 21st Century” at the Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts on October 16. During his
lecture, Wu chose his words carefully and was sensitive to the opposition.
Although Wu has been featured in a number of debates against Proposal 2, he argues that we should instead be concentrating on the underlying problem. He reminded the audience that affirmative action is
in place for a reason, and it is unfortunate that we require it in the first place. In his
book, Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White, Wu recounts what it was like growing
up as a member of the minority.
"To my surprise," wrote Wu, "I learned I was not white. By birth, I was yellow. My aliases included Chinaman, chink, jap, gook, or even
According to Wu, recruiting solely on the basis of merit, while it sounds like a good idea
in theory, is not easy because there is no real way to measure merit. In his book, Wu
describes the concept of "rational discrimination" and how everyone, regardless of how much
they try to avoid it, is at risk of becoming a rational discriminator.
discriminators are flexible, unlike the classic racists who cannot mend their ways. Rational
discriminators impute traits to an unfamiliar person, who then does or does not meet the
expectations; in turn, rational discriminators adjust the formula," Wu
To support his claim, Wu used the analogy of a baby observing the sunrise. A newborn who
observes the sun rise has no idea if the sun will rise again the following morning. So there
are two possible results: either the sun rises or it doesn’t. In the eyes of the newborn,
the probability is 50/50. However, as time passes and the baby sees the sun rise morning
after morning, he or she learns to depend on the sun to rise, because all evidence suggests
that it will. The same is true for social interaction. People will tend to expect certain
types of behavior from certain social groups if their personal experience suggests no
evidence to the contrary.**
In addition to his discussion at the Rozsa, Wu spent his time at Michigan Tech visiting
classrooms and talking about racial and gender inequality in American institutions. One of
the students he visited, SherAaron Hurt, a business sophomore, had read Wu’s book beforehand.
“It gives us a different interpretation of
racism," Hurt said. "I know that when we think of racism we always think of black and white. However, I know for myself, it took me outside of
the box and I actually realized that there are other people out there."
|Visiting a leadership seminar at Michigan Tech, Frank Wu, right,
dean of Wayne State University Law School,
discusses race and gender inequality and the role that affirmative action plays in today's
society. Joining him in the
discussion are, from left, SherAaron Hurt, MTU business student and a
participant in the Pavis Institute Global Technological Leadership Seminar; Betty
Chavis, director, MTU Outreach and Multi-Ethnic Programs and
coordinator, African American Outreach; and Robert Warrington, MTU Dean of Engineering. (Photo © 2006
Michigan Tech President Glenn Mroz: Diversity is key to MTU's strategic plan
Glenn Mroz, president of Michigan Technological University, also had quite a bit to say about
"It is ironic that as the people of Michigan consider the Michigan Civil Rights
Amendment,” said Mroz, “the cover story of this month's copy of PRISM, the journal of the
American Society for Engineering Education, headlines a story on the national decrease in
Mroz went on to say, "At risk is our national economic vitality and our national security.
It's a warning that has been sounded in the recent past by groups like the National Academy
of Engineering and individuals including the President of the United States. A significant
contributing factor to this decline is that there are low numbers of women and under-represented minorities interested in science and the engineering profession. This is
in spite of high demand for all graduates as major employers seek to hire a diverse
work-force that looks like America, which is increasingly diverse in its ethnic and racial
Mroz also pointed out the fact that the Women in Engineering program at Michigan Tech has
been introducing high school aged women to the "world of
opportunities" available to those
with degrees in science, technology and engineering for over 20 years.
"Diversity in our faculty, staff and students is key to Michigan Tech’s strategic
plan," said Mroz. “If MCRI passes, programs like Women in Engineering that have been the core of so much summer
activity on our campus and the core of our recruiting programs could be eliminated.
MCRI in this case has nothing to do with the often mentioned quotas or special accommodations
mentioned by its supporters. It has everything to do with making it more difficult for
bright and talented, and often economically and educationally disadvantaged, students to
learn about the opportunities available to them. No profession can thrive by only attracting
bright and talented people from only part of our American population. We need all the
great minds of our state to build our economy and ensure the security of our
Chris Anderson, special assistant to the president for Institutional Diversity and
director of Educational Opportunity at Michigan Tech, also gave her views on the issue.
"As a public employee, I cannot tell people how to vote," said Anderson. However, I can encourage
everyone who can vote to do so and, before they vote, to be sure that they read and
understand the proposals that are on the ballot. Proposal 2, or the Michigan Civil Rights
Initiative, appears to be a proposal that supports Civil Rights; but, in fact, if you vote
yes you are voting against civil rights and much of the progress made under affirmative
Anderson continued, "As universities continue to work to create inclusive campuses that
offer rich educational experiences for all students, it is critical that we have diverse
student bodies and faculty. At Michigan Tech one of our strategic initiatives is to ensure
that our students and faculty have broad exposure to ideas and perspectives from people who
have many different life experiences."
Anderson noted universities that desire a diverse campus need to provide outreach programs for teachers, students and
others who need additional training, skill development and exposure to career opportunities, technologies or role models that will allow them to compete
"I don't believe that affirmative action gives preferential
treatment," concluded Anderson. "Rather it provides ways to include people who might otherwise not be included. For our
universities' and our state's economic future, we must work to ensure that all of our
talented students pursue and have access to higher education. This will require a variety of
approaches that fit the needs of individuals and groups."
Both opponents and proponents of the MCRI are using the final days before November 7 to
reach Michigan voters.
Kaufmann advises voters to "make an effort to learn about what its impact will
be," because, as she points out, "Affirmative Action has been a tool, and it’s a
limited tool that’s been carefully defined by the courts over the years. It has been
effective in increasing access, and we would no longer have that."
At the same time, Connerly argues, "It's inappropriate for the government to choose sides between its
citizens. My government should not discriminate against me or discriminate for me."
And when looking at how the initiative will affect Michigan Tech, Wu counters,
education setting is where affirmative action has been most significant and most contentious."
Information available to voters
With so many ways to look at the issue of affirmative action and the MCRI, the League of
Women Voters of Michigan Web site at www.lwvmi.org/VG06BallotProposals.htm
summarizes the reasons to vote for or against Proposal 2.
The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative Campaign says vote yes on Proposal 2. According to the group, "it is crucial that every person gets an equal chance to compete based on his/her merits" and
"The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative will restore fairness in how people are treated by government." The MCRI Campaign says that the job quotas that the government is setting are
wrong and government institutions should not consider race or gender as factors in hiring new employees.
One United Michigan, a campaign comprised of over 200 groups in opposition to the MCRI, says vote no on
Proposal 2, because, "Proposal 2 is just too extreme, rolling back the positive
steps Michigan has made in addressing inequities faced by women and people of color" and
"Michigan should continue to move forward and not roll back progress."
* For a complete account of Kaufmann’s research visit www.cew.umich.edu.
** For more information on Dean Frank Wu visit http://www.law.wayne.edu/faculty/profiles/wu_frank.html.
For more information on the pros and cons of the MCRI visit both www.michigancivilrights.org
In the end, the fate of this critical Michigan legislation is left up to the voters.
The author of this
article, guest writer Bryan Tyler, is a student at Michigan
Technological University, majoring in Scientific and Technical Communication.
He has written articles for the Michigan Tech Lode since August
2004. Bryan is also studying journalism in a course taught by MTU Department of Humanities Professor Craig Waddell.
See also Bryan's May 26, 2006 Keweenaw Now article "Keweenaw Land Trust marks decade of land, water conservation."
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