Women of Color ConferenceLuncheon
February 28, 2003
Thank you, Dr. Monts, for that kind introduction. And thank you to the Women of Color Task Force for the invitation to speak with you today. This is an important opportunity that I was very excited to accept.
I would like to introduce another member of University administration who is here today, someone many of you already know …
Chacona Johnson, my Chief of Staff and Associate Vice President of the University. Ms. Johnson is an important resource for me and for you. If you ever have an issue you need to discuss, and you can’t break through my calendarwhich stays amazingly busyshe is a good person to turn to.
I would like, first, to congratulate the Task Force on 21 years of hard work and achievement. You have persevered and made solid contributions to the University of Michigan these past two decades, and have now, metaphorically, reached the age of majority.
Throughout society, we all periodically draw together for strength and energy within our churches, mosques and synagogues; our faculty and student groups; and personal and professional associations.
Groups of similar citizens, such as the Task Force, help each of us, as individuals, to contribute more effectively to the larger community around us. In the professional and interpersonal skills workshops offered in this annual conference, you demonstrate the real value in the sisterhood of the Women of Color Task Force. The entire University is better for it, and most appreciative.
However, a peculiar phenomenon is afoot in our nation, which I find most troubling. It was reported yesterday, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, that dozens of private and public colleges and universities around the nation are being threatened by an organized effort to challenge any college program that serves members of specified racial and ethnic minority groups.
The American Civil Rights Institute and the Center for Equal Opportunity, working in collaboration with the National Association of Scholars, is serving written notice that they will pursue official governmental sanctions against any school that does not yield to their threat. Following similar moves against Princeton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, those great institutions have declared their intent to dramatically change outreach, recruitment, and mentoring programs that have, for many years, benefited underrepresented youth who seek academic excellence and bright futures.
And, of course, we have our own battles here at the University of Michigan. And I know it is especially difficult for people of color on our campus, as this debate is waged across the nation.
Last week, thousands of organizations and individuals filed amicus briefs with the United States Supreme Court in support of the University in the two affirmative action admissions cases now before the Court.
Sixty-six briefs were filedperhaps the largest number of amicus briefs filed in the history of the Court. This degree of support is absolutely amazing. But the truly breathtaking part about it is the broad grassroots support represented in those filings.
- More than 60 Fortune 500 corporationsincluding General Motors, IBM, Microsoft, Shell Oil, Daimler-Chrysler, American Express, and Merck
- 24 retired senior military officialsincluding two former secretaries of defense and three former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
- 200 veterans of the southern civil rights movement and family members of murdered civil rights Activistsincluding Congressman John Lewis, Julian Bond, Coretta Scott King, and Rosa Parks
- 13,922 law school students from across the nation
- Nearly 100 colleges, universities and professional academic associations
- The AFL-CIO and the UAW
- And 28 Asian-American/Pacific Islander leadership groups that declared they’ve been used as pawns in this debate for too long …
All of this support reinforces our belief that diversity is essential to our nation’s well-being and that the guidelines we use to derive that diversitythe Supreme Court’s 1978 Bakke decisionpermeates the fabric of our society.
Now, on the eve of our increasingly diverse future, it is not the time to turn back the clock. I have been asked a thousand times, if I have been asked once, why we feel we must take race and ethnicity into account when we admit our students. And my bottom-line answer is: Because race matters in America. Every day, in so many ways, regardless of which race you are or what station you occupy in life, race effects:
- where you live and work and study,
- how you’re treated in department stores and libraries,
- how accessible role models and mentors are to you.
It shapes our perceptions and opinions in ways we cannot begin to fathom.
So, yes, race is an important dynamic, and we do take it into account, along with scores of other factors.
We will go to Washington, D.C., on April 1 to argue our case before the Supreme Court. And then it will lie in their hands.
I trust they will look with fairness on our arguments, and will rule with justice.
The effects of the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 decision on school desegregation, Brown v Board of Education, rippled throughout our society.
Within ten years, colleges and offices, lunch counters and swimming pools were integrated to an extent never before seen in the United States.
If the Supreme Court rules against us this summer, I fear that the ripples could flow in the opposite direction.
This would be devastating at any time, but especially in our times, when this week, Newsweek magazine can report that educational and professional horizons are open as never-before for women of color.
How cruel it would be if those doors were to begin to close again! And what a loss in talent our nation would suffer.
We are engaged in the good fighta good fight which we intend to win.
However, the decision rests with the Supreme Court; and whatever their decision, we will follow the law of our land.
Let me assure you, though, that even if the decision goes against us, the principal of diversity will remain a central ethic at the University of Michigan. We will proceed, as we do now, in every possible legal way to maintain diversity among our students, faculty and staff. It has been said that America’s history in race relations operates on a fifty-year pendulum, going from good to not so good:
- From the ugly horrors of slavery;
- To the abolitionist movement, Civil War and Reconstruction;
- To Jim Crow;
- And then to Brown v Board of Education and the great Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
I pray that we are not living through another swing of the pendulum in the wrong direction. But, if that is the case, I promise you that I will do everything in my power to make sure the University of Michigan stands tall in its continued pursuit and nourishment of diversity.
Thank you again for inviting me to be here today.