The University of Michigan vs. the People

After the votes were counted on election night, there were lots of gracious concession statements by losing candidates thanking their supporters, offering to work with the winners and paying tribute to the virtues of democracy. Then there was Mary Sue Coleman, who was having none of this.

The day after Michigan’s citizens voted to ban the use of racial and gender preferences by public institutions, the president of the University of Michigan gave an embittered speech telling them to take a long walk off a short pier. Her message was that the school would do "whatever it takes" to delay, frustrate and circumvent the clearly expressed will of the public. She could have been more succinct if she had merely repeated the words of Dick Tuck after losing a California state senate race in 1964: "The people have spoken — the bastards."

Coleman has been a staunch champion of the idea of correcting racial discrimination by practicing racial discrimination. The University of Michigan’s admissions policies have the effect of accepting many black and Hispanic applicants who would be rejected if they were white or Asian-American.

Until the Supreme Court ruled it illegal, the formula automatically gave 20 points (out of 100 needed for acceptance) to anyone from an "underrepresented" minority group. A perfect SAT score, by contrast, was worth only 12 points. Though it struck down that approach, the court agreed to let the school employ race as a "plus factor" in a program aimed at assuring "diversity" in the student body. Double standards in the pursuit of what amount to racial quotas were allowed to continue.

But it turns out that was not the last word. Opponents of racial preferences responded to the Supreme Court decision by offering a state constitutional amendment, Proposal 2, to outlaw this kind of discrimination. On Nov. 7, it was approved with the support of 58 percent of the voters.

Coleman exudes contempt for these people, accusing them of opposing "a community that is fair and equal for all." She said California’s 1996 ban on racial and gender preferences "has been a horribly failed experiment" that "we cannot, and will not, allow to take seed here in Michigan." And she assured her campus audience that she would not be bound by the intentions of the voters: "We will find ways to overcome the handcuffs that Proposal 2 attempts to place on our reach for greater diversity." (Click here to watch a video of Coleman’s speech.)

The good news, she said, is that a variety of "outreach" programs will remain in operation despite the new law. This is a surprising revelation, since before Nov. 7, opponents of the ban insisted it would doom efforts to recruit minority and female students. Now we are told that it won’t. Were we being misled then, or are we being misled now?

The same question applies to her insistence that the university can still achieve the kind of diversity it prizes. Before the vote, supporters of the initiative said it would not make the campus a sea of rich white kids. Now Coleman seems to concur. That, or she plans to defy the new policy by using race surreptitiously to achieve the same old ends.

But she also entertains the fantasy that the university can overturn Proposal 2 in court. If she believes that, I’ve got some oceanfront property in Kalamazoo that she might want to buy. A liberal group has already filed a lawsuit, making the ingenious claim that the ban on racial discrimination violates provisions of the U.S. Constitution and federal laws that . . . ban racial discrimination. In response to that theory, I have three words: Ha. Ha. Ha.

As it happens, the most liberal federal appeals court in the United States heard exactly the same arguments against the California measure, and it roundly rejected them. The court noted pointedly that the 1964 Civil Rights Act has language specifically addressing affirmative action: "Nothing contained in this subchapter shall be interpreted to require any [entity] . . . to grant preferential treatment to any individual or to any group because of the race, color, religion, sex or national origin of such individual or group." End of story.

It’s no surprise that Coleman doesn’t welcome the new ban or the constraints it puts on her enlightened discretion. But if the head of a state university can’t respect a legally valid policy approved in a binding referendum by the people she serves, here is the speech she should give: "I quit."