1. American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education Keynote

    March 15, 2015

    Note: Remarks as prepared for delivery.

    It’s wonderful to be introduced by such a distinguished Michigan alumnus (Dr. Jaime Chahin), and an honor to be here.

    Good afternoon.

    I first want to congratulate everyone at AAHHE for the 10th successful iteration of this conference.

    And I especially want to welcome the students who are here with us today.

    We are also joined by the inaugural class of fellows from the New Leadership Academy launched by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity.

    The fellows are from institutions of different types and sizes, and they hail from all across the nation and Puerto Rico.

    The purpose of the fellowship is to ensure that the next generation of higher education leaders will have the knowledge, tools, and the courage to advance the importance of diversity in higher education and society.

    Thank you, fellows, for your dedication, as well.

    The NCID works very closely with AAHHE, and it is part of Michigan’s commitment to affirm the central value of institutional diversity in the public mission of U.S. colleges and universities.

    In addition to engaging our campus in this ideal, the NCID has built national partnerships, as we see here today.

    It also supports the work of academics engaged in the scholarship of diversity to build knowledge we can all use to promote greater diversity, opportunity and inclusion across higher education and throughout society.

    The Center was established in 2005, following the University of Michigan’s defense of its admission policies before the U.S. Supreme Court.

    And it is an important component of the university’s complex history in the national battle over diversity in higher education.

    The theme of this conference — “The Decade Ahead: Inquire, Innovate, Impact” – is very forward-looking, and I appreciate this focus on the future.

    As the new president of a great public university, I, too, am looking at the decade ahead.

    We have many challenges and opportunities as institutions of higher education, and it is inspiring to see that there are so many individuals eager to participate in, and improve, our shared future.

    Michigan is no stranger to challenges in this regard, and before I talk about how the university is approaching the decade ahead, I want to provide context by looking at our past.

    Michigan’s legacy in demonstrating that diversity matters in education is one of the main factors that drew me to the campus.

    In 1997, two lawsuits were filed against the University of Michigan over its admissions policies.

    These were the Gratz and Grutter cases, originally filed in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Michigan, but made famous by their escalation to the Supreme Court

    There have been dissertations written on everything that happened, but today I will discuss this epic journey for Michigan much more briefly.

    The Gratz suit challenged the University’s undergraduate admissions process in its largest college, and the Grutter suit challenged that of our Law School.

    Both plaintiffs, who were white, had not been accepted for admission to the University of Michigan.

    Their suits claimed that the university had discriminated against them, by unlawfully taking race and ethnicity into account as a factor in admissions.

    In essence, they claimed that it was unfair that race had been used as a factor at all in the admission process that evaluated their applications.

    The Gratz and Grutter suits set into motion a years-long battle in the courts – and in the public.

    In addressing the Gratz case in a Washington Post Op-Ed published in 1998, then Michigan President Lee Bollinger and Provost Nancy Cantor summed up the implications that we continue to grapple with today in higher education.

    They wrote that the cases were “at the center of a great public debate over one of the most important issues of our time.”

    The debate focused on how our governing constitutional principles permit us to use race and ethnicity to achieve a truly integrated society.

    Further, they said that a first-class education is one that creates the opportunity for students, expecting differences, to learn instead of similarities.

    And that race is educationally important for all students, because understanding race in America is a powerful metaphor for crossing sensibilities of all kinds.

    The nationwide focus during the ensuing years, with all eyes turned toward Michigan, certainly bore out those words.

    The university’s response to the lawsuits involved an unprecedented comprehensive strategy.

    It was comprised of legal argument, pedagogical and social research, coalition-building, and public communications.

    Michigan’s stance was, and still is, that diversity is essential to excellence in education.

    The university’s legal argument began with the law.

    Specifically, the landmark 1978 decision by the Supreme Court in the case of the University of California v. Bakke.

    Although the Bakke ruling said that quotas were unconstitutional, it acknowledged that consideration of race and ethnicity to achieve the educational benefits of a diverse student body was permissible.

    In so doing, the court recognized that the educational benefits of diversity constituted a “compelling governmental interest” that was sufficient to justify the use of race in university admissions.

    Michigan’s strategy solidified the “compelling interest” in diversity like never before.

    The university brought together a team of leading scholars to serve as its experts in the cases.

    Their research formed the basis for the argument: that there is a compelling need for diversity in higher education

    The collection of scholarship in Michigan’s diversity defense was awe-inspiring.

    The research demonstrated that the use of race in admissions passes the constitutional test – due to its vital importance to education and to society.

    It was an affirmation of much of what we in the academy had seen anecdotally.

    One of the studies showed that the rates of residential segregation in the Detroit area, which was home to about half of Michigan’s residents, were higher in 1990 than they were in 1960.

    Another looked at the socio-economic and educational profiles for Hispanics.

    That research, by Stanford’s Albert Camarillo, examined the history of different Hispanic populations and explained how the “historical legacies” of isolation and separation had marginalized Hispanics in the U.S. away from mainstream American society and many of its institutions.

    Further research demonstrated that students learn better in a setting where they are confronted with others who are unlike themselves.

    One of those researchers was Patricia Gurin, who was the interim dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, which was the college in question in the Gratz case.

    She used Michigan and national databases to conduct one of the most extensive empirical analyses ever performed on how diversity in higher education affects students.

    Her work provided conclusive proof of the benefits of diversity — that a racially and ethnically diverse student body has far-ranging and significant benefits for all students, whether they are minorities or non-minorities, and for the nation as a whole.

    Students educated in a diverse learning environment thought in deeper and more complex ways.

    And they were better prepared to become active participants in a pluralistic, democratic society.

    Dr. Gurin was also a psychology professor, and she noted that students come to universities at a critical stage of their development, the time in which many young people experiment with new ideas and new roles, and begin to make adult commitments.

    In addition to the research, an amazing cadre of supporters filed briefs with the Supreme Court supporting the University of Michigan in these cases.

    There were dozens.

    In fact, there were more amicus briefs supporting U-M than had ever been submitted on behalf of a single party before the Supreme Court.

    They were filed by professional associations; universities, law schools, national educational organizations; retired military leaders; Fortune 500 companies, elected leaders, as well as additional groups and individuals.

    These supporters discussed the importance of diversity from their perspectives:

    That it is essential for American business competitiveness, national security, workforce development and social justice.

    The roster included the American Bar Association, the National Council of La Raza, and companies ranging from Abbott Laboratories to Xerox.

    Even the AFL-CIO and General Motors were on the same side of this issue.

    The court battles culminated on June 23, 2003, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its rulings.

    The court upheld the Law School’s admissions policy, and though it struck down the university’s specific undergraduate admission policy, the central question was answered favorably:

    Both decisions said that race can be taken into account as one of a number of factors to achieve the educational benefits of a diverse student body.

    The university had proven its case – that diversity was vital to higher education – in a victory that was years in the making.

    That success, however, was short-lived, as a coalition mobilized to take the issue to the voters in the state of Michigan.

    The result was that Proposal 2 was placed on the statewide ballot in 2006.

    Prop. 2 proposed an amendment to the state constitution that would ban public institutions from discriminating against, or giving preferential treatment to, groups or individuals, based on race, gender, color, ethnicity, or national origin.

    It would cover public employment, public contracting, and yes, public education.

    It passed 58 to 42 percent.

    Though Prop. 2 was challenged in the courts, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of the public to amend the state constitution for this purpose.

    It remains the law in Michigan to this day.

    For us, it means that we cannot consider race or ethnicity in admissions decisions.

    The amendment means that we have to work harder and be more creative to achieve broad diversity within the bounds of the law.

    In the decade ahead, I hope Michigan can inquire, innovate and impact in a way that improves the diversity on our campus.

    I have made diversity, equity, and inclusion at the University of Michigan a major focus of my presidency.

    My own experience – and the body of research I mentioned earlier– tell me that diversity is an essential component of academic excellence.

    First, I firmly believe that Michigan or any institution of higher education cannot achieve true academic excellence without diversity.

    We must leverage the experiences and perspectives of the broadest possible diversity of students, faculty, and staff.

    When we engage across difference as an academic community, we expand our opportunities to learn from one another.

    Scholar and commentator Dr. Marc Lamont Hill put this another way during his keynote address at Michigan’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium in January.

    He said that “diversity helps us arrive at more complex ideas.”

    A key part of realizing our full potential when it comes to excellence is creating a campus climate that allows diversity to flourish – in all of its forms.

    We cannot neglect any group in our work.

    Those of different races and ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities, faiths, income levels, political perspectives, viewpoints, and disabilities all must feel welcome.

    I also believe that those of us at public institutions have the responsibility to serve ALL of humanity.

    Our role gives us a special obligation to extend our reach across the full breadth of our society.

    And race and ethnicity are undoubtedly a key factors in extending our reach.

    If we do not address the very real challenges of ensuring increased racial and ethnic diversity, we will not be able to best fulfill our public mission.

    The National Center for Education Statistics reports that there are now more minority students than white students in the nation’s public K-12 schools.

    The Brookings Institute has published a new interactive map that shows this phenomenon, which the institute calls the “cultural generation gap,” in great detail.

    It was produced by Dr. William Frey, who is a researcher at Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.

    You can go online to the Brookings’ website and click on counties to reveal the share of the population of various racial groups by age.

    As you can imagine, the younger the age group in most areas, the more people of color there are.

    Those are the college students of tomorrow, and our success will hinge on attracting them to our campuses.

    At the same time, we know that employers want diverse graduates, who can succeed in the multicultural environment of the modern workplace.

    The societal implications of our work do not stop there.

    Over the last year, we have been tragically reminded that the deep wounds of racial discrimination in America remain unhealed.

    The deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice have exposed the societal problems that far too often divide us as a people, such as racial strife, intolerance and a lack of equal justice under the law.

    There are also additional challenges in the communities we serve.

    For instance, the National Poverty Center at Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy has found that “racial disparities in poverty result from cumulative disadvantage over the life course, as the effects of hardship in one domain spill over into other domains.”

    Disparities in access to quality public education are an example.

    Nationwide, only 35 percent of African American students who had high math scores in fifth grade were enrolled in Algebra I in eighth grade.

    The proportion for white students was more than 60 percent.

    The percentage of high school dropouts among Hispanics and Native Americans ages 16 to 24 is more than twice the national average, according to the National Center for Education statistics.

    Last summer, before beginning my new job as president at Michigan, I read and was inspired by the biography of a great American, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

    The daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, Sotomayor grew up in a community where poverty and crime were a constant feature of life and few could even dream of education beyond the public schools.

    With tremendous talent and drive, a supportive family, some lucky breaks, and targeted financial aid, Sotomayer graduated from Princeton and Yale Law.

    The rest, as they say, is history.

    I am completely convinced that talent is distributed uniformly across the population, but we know that opportunity most certainly is not.

    Part of our obligation as society’s leaders is to use education to level that playing field.

    We are challenged, however, to identify talented and motivated students from disadvantaged communities, and to convince them that our university will welcome and support them, and that they will thrive as equal and valued members of our academic community.

    Clearly, these and other aspects of diversity, equity and inclusion are among the many problems that demand the academy’s attention.

    At Michigan, we have already begun the process of creating a Strategic Plan for Diversity for the university.

    As part of the broader effort, I have asked the University of Michigan’s 19 schools and colleges to develop their own plans.

    The comprehensive scope of these plans will be unprecedented for our campus.

    They are not meant to be quick fixes, however.

    We must take the time to do them right, and stay within the law, but we must also move with purpose.

    Our planning process will be thorough and collaborative.

    Just last month, I convened a 2 hour breakfast meeting with 200 students, faculty and staff members and next week Provost Martha Pollack and I are convening a meeting of all U-M department chairs on this topic.

    We will also host a campus-wide Summit on Diversity in the Fall.

    My intent early on is not to set specific goals for the plan – or even to define what success will look like

    To do so eight months into this job would miss the opportunity to learn from those on campus and around the academy who have done tremendous work in this regard, as well as those who may have new ideas to share.

    For instance, on our campus, we have implemented initiatives that are helping us improve how we engage with groups of students and prospective students – and the students themselves informed their development.

    We have expanded the eligibility guidelines for in-state tuition to help undocumented students.

    This change provides a clear path to in-state tuition, and it followed conversations with undocumented students themselves.

    Many of them talked about how they had attended school in Michigan and graduated near the top of their high school classes.

    Our commitment includes dedicating institutional resources to help them with financial aid.

    We also are developing a proposal to create new services for First Generation college students at Michigan.

    These services will expand the work of our existing First Generation student group, so we can better serve the needs of such students, helping them feel more welcome and assisting them in navigating what can be an unfamiliar system.

    The Michigan community heard about these challenges directly, in a forum organized and moderated by a first-generation student named Maricela Solana Lopez.

    Maricela was a Michigan graduate student in Social Work, and she collected data on first gen students at the university.

    She closed the panel by recruiting attendees to contribute to First Gen initiatives.

    We are very proud to have great students like Maricela who share their talents and experience to make our university a better place.

    I do not want to get in the way of their terrific work, but I did set forth a broad set of guidelines for our community that I will share briefly.

    The plans should inexorably link the values of academic excellence and diversity.

    They should include clear expectations and measures of accountability.

    They should focus not just on recruitment and demographics but also on developing an inclusive campus climate where all members of our community feel equally valued and empowered to participate in and contribute to all our great university has to offer.

    When appropriate, we should commit to devoting resources to great new ideas as well as areas where we are already having success and should push harder.

    Finally, I want them to be innovative and ambitious.

    My goal with these efforts is to tap into all of the talent, energy and creativity within the University of Michigan community, and even outside of it.

    I know that our staff is looking closely at other campuses for best practices and programs that make a difference.

    And I hope that one day in the future, perhaps in the decade ahead, I can return here and share new success stories.

    I hope that all of our institutions will have diverse student bodies, be employers of diverse faculty and staff, and maximize the learning that takes place as a result.

    Most of all, I hope that the students of tomorrow will have every opportunity to flourish and share their talents to better our society.

    I thank you for being part of this effort, and I am proud to be an appreciative colleague in the work ahead.

    Thank you very much.