Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
January 17, 2005
Good morning and greetings to all of you—and especially to our honored guest, Mr. Henry Cisneros.
And congratulations to the 2005 MLK Symposium Planning Committee for organizing this impressive array of events. You have worked hard and long to secure your reputation as the most comprehensive King Day celebration in academia, and your University is proud of you!
In a 1961 New York Times Magazine essay, called “The Time for Freedom Has Come,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. focused substantially on the importance of education. He wrote that African American “students are coming to understand that education and learning have become tools for shaping the future and not devices of privilege for an exclusive few.”
This is even more true today, as Black students increasingly seek and shape the future of our communities, our nation, and our world at colleges and universities across America. However, while the numbers of all underrepresented minority students in higher education have increased, their enrollment and success rates remain fragile.
Today, more than 40 years after Dr. Kings essay, we must—and we will—do better.
To this end, I have committed to increase my own outreach to prospective students. In the past few weeks, I have traveled to Novi to meet with 500 prospective underrepresented minority students and their parents from 10 southeast and central Michigan counties. And I met in dialogue with the community at Galilee Baptist Church in Kalamazoo; at Brown-Hutcherson Ministries in Grand Rapids; and, just yesterday, at Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit, to encourage young minority scholars to look to higher education, and specifically to the University of Michigan, as they reach for their bright futures.
And I have good news to share with you today: So far, in the current admissions cycle, we are experiencing an increase in applications for Fall 2005 admissions. This is true across the board and, significantly, equally true among African American applicants.
Education beyond 12th grade must be built into our childrens dreams, right from the start. When they’re still in early elementary school, they need to be shooting for the educational stars.
Sometimes the road to education is a difficult one to travel. The door may seem closed, and just too tough to open. But, with hard work, all students can and must look to education beyond high school.
There are some who say that a top-caliber education is out of reach for minority students, that we do them a disservice by admitting them to schools like Michigan. In reality, research proves that students do their best when it is expected of them. And we always expect our students to do their best and to succeed at Michigan.
And at Michigan, diversity, in all its forms, is a crucial, central ethic because we firmly believe diversity is essential to the successful education of all our students.
That is why I dedicated myself so enthusiastically to the University’s legal defense of affirmative action admissions. We fought all the way to the Supreme Court and won what is broadly believed to be the most significant civil rights ruling in a quarter-century.
Yet, even with that success, the Courts decisions did not change our world. That task is up to us.
We have to keep working on The American Dream, which was described by Dr. King in a 1961 sermon of that same title. He said: “America is essentially a dream, a dream as yet unfulfilled. … Through our scientific genius we have made of this world a neighborhood; now, through our moral and spiritual development, we must make of it a brotherhood. In a real sense, we must all learn to live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools.”
We work to keep Dr. King’s dream alive, today, as we reach out around the globe to the victims of one of the greatest natural catastrophes in a century.
And, here at Michigan, we battled to keep his dream alive as we sought and secured victory in Court. Now we have to make it work.
We cannot afford to squander the brilliance of an entire generation of students while we ponder the issues. We must act.
Although the cultural environment within our own community of scholars has improved in profound ways since Dr. King’s remarks, we are still very much engaged in the hard work of changing our world right here in Ann Arbor, of learning better ways to live and learn together. This is of utmost importance because it is as a community, together, that all our students form a powerful academic community of excellence.
There is one other important issue that requires our immediate attention today: the so-called Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which seeks a place on the statewide ballot in 2006.
This is not a “civil rights” initiative.
I believe it is, instead, a clear attempt:
- to roll back hard-fought civil rights gains of the past;
- to void the U.S. Supreme Court decisions of 2003;
- and to limit access to higher education for many of our citizens in the future.
If passed, I believe this proposal would close doors in every public college and university in the state. It would close the doors to outreach and recruiting programs, mentoring, and financial aid that encourage women and underrepresented minority students to seek the highest possible academic achievements.
Ultimately, in 2006, I believe the people of Michigan will recognize that this ballot proposal would be a mistake for our state.
And I firmly believe that all students will continue to reach as high as they can, to achieve as much as their talents and perseverance allow.
I have come here today to make it absolutely clear that the University of Michigan remains 100 percent committed to having a fully diverse student community. And we will do everything we can to maintain that commitment throughout the future.