Fall Summit on Diversity
Oct. 9, 2006
Good morning. It’s wonderful to see so many people here first thing on a Monday morning. You know you have a committed group when they show up in such force, especially after an intense weekend of Michigan football and Tigers’ baseball.
We’ve come together this morning to talk about matters far more serious than sports.
We are here to talk about diversity—why it matters, why it makes a difference, and why we should celebrate that.
The University of Michigan has become the face of diversity in higher education because of our successful U.S. Supreme Court fight to defend affirmative action and the use of race in admissions. It is a role we welcome and continually seek to improve.
Yet for all that we are doing to develop graduates who are equipped to succeed in a multicultural world, we are under attack, and that is something that should concern everyone in this room.
Let me paint the current picture for you and explain why I am so worried, and in fact angry, about the current climate we are operating in as we work to produce graduates prepared for a diverse world.
We know that affirmative action works, and the Supreme Court provided us with moderate guidelines that we are following.
We know that creating a diverse student body makes for a stronger educational experience for every student. Thanks to the work of social scientists like Pat Gurin and Scott Page, we have an impressive and growing body of research that demonstrates the positive educational outcomes linked with diverse classroom environments.
Students learn better in a diverse class. They are more analytical, and more engaged. The teaching environment is more enlightening. The discussion is livelier and more often mirrors real-world issues. These students are more open to perspectives that differ from their own, and they are better prepared to become active players in our society—exactly what we need in today’s graduates.
Most people recognize the value of having students of different races and ethnic origins live and learn together. I wish we lived in a society free of social inequities, with fully integrated neighborhoods, churches and schools. I know how hard groups on campus work to raise awareness and correct these imbalances—organizations like the Diversity Council, the Women of Color Task Force, and VOICES of the Staff. It is why we have important initiatives like the Expect Respect campaign and the En Espanol website.
You are all to be commended for your many contributions, because they make a difference.
But we all know there is so much more to do before we can say we have succeeded.
Affirmative action is one—just one—of the many different tools we can use to help make a difference in society. We defended its use all the way to the high court because we believe it helps us achieve a rich student body that reflects all segments of society, and a majority of justices agreed with us.
We must pay attention to race. We must pay attention to ethnicity. We must pay attention to socioeconomic class.
If we look away, the future is bleak, and one need only visit the state of California to see what happens when we go down a road that ignores these factors.
It has been 11 years since affirmative action was banned there, first in the great University of California system and then throughout government when voters approved Proposition 209. Affirmative action no longer factors in admissions, outreach programs, and public employment.
Affirmative action had been a critical tool to UC, and without it, administrators found themselves challenged to admit underrepresented minority students, particularly at UC-Berkeley, their most selective campus.
Because the UC Board of Regents directed administrators to achieve a diverse student body, many, many steps were taken to recast the methods the university used to admit underrepresented students. Faculty and administrators strengthened their outreach to high schools. They put more emphasis on achievement tests, rather than aptitude tests such as the SAT. They intensified reviews of admissions applications, and asked students to share more about the obstacles they faced in preparing for college. UC opened the doors to the top-performing 4 percent of students from all California high schools, and took in more transfer students from California community colleges.
It has been a massive, lengthy undertaking by thoughtful leaders, and you know what?
It hasn’t worked. It simply hasn’t worked.
Our keynote speaker today, Eva Paterson, was on the front lines of the Proposition 209 fight, and I’m certain she can tell you firsthand what a disaster it has been. The state of California—a state that is the most diverse in this country and which represents the fifth-largest economy in the world—is educating fewer and fewer underrepresented minority students, at a time when its citizenry is growing more and more diverse.
In 1995, before the ban on affirmative action, underrepresented minorities made up 38 percent of California high school graduates and 21 percent of UC’s entering freshman class. A decade later, underrepresented minority students represented 45 percent of high school graduates, but had fallen to just 19 percent of incoming freshmen. And the statistics were even more grim at the most selective campuses of Berkeley and UCLA.
The gap is widening, not closing, and it is particularly troubling when you consider that African Americans and Latinos make up more and more of the public high school graduates in California.
Here is one more sobering figure. Of this year’s incoming class at UCLA—a school that, like Michigan, is highly selective—a total of 96 African Americans are enrolled. That’s 2 percent of the class. A leading research university … located in our country’s second-largest city … has 96 black students in its freshmen class.
That number alone should make every leader in this country—every university president, every CEO, every mayor—stand up and demand change.
As much as California worries me, I am equally concerned about the climate on our own campus. We have seen troubling trends in our admissions applications from minority students, in the enrollment of African-American students, and in the recruitment and retention of faculty of color.
We must remain vigilant about creating a welcoming campus community, and reinforce the right of every member of our University to be here.
Because if our public universities—particularly selective schools like Michigan, Berkeley and North Carolina, schools known for preparing tomorrow’s doctors, scientists and policymakers—if these universities do not produce graduates of all backgrounds, our nation will stumble as a global leader.
America’s system of higher education is the envy of the world. The excellence and the breadth of higher education is one of our greatest competitive advantages in a global marketplace. Our country relies upon our graduates to power our economic engine.
Our greatest challenge to this important responsibility is the ballot initiative to end affirmative action in Michigan. It is grossly misnamed the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, and I believe the political debate surrounding it is dividing our communities, when our efforts should be focused on constructive ways to build broad diversity within the moderate guidelines outlined by the Supreme Court.
I am working hard to educate Michigan citizens about the serious implications of such a ballot decision. I am meeting with women’s organizations, with high school students of color and their families, and with newspaper editors and publishers. I know many of you here have raised your voices as individuals, and I thank you for your passionate work.
I want to share the hard lessons of California, where the goal of a diverse student body is slipping into oblivion. I want people to hear the words of Richard Atkinson, the respected former UC chancellor, when he says:
“Any state tempted to emulate the example of California should think long and hard about it.”
Because I guarantee you, regardless of whether this flawed initiative passes or fails in Michigan, its organizers will move on to another state, and we cannot allow the scenario unfolding in California to be repeated elsewhere.
I learned an important lesson on the steps of the Supreme Court: The power of our voice matters. Our persistence, and our unwillingness to accept anything less than broad diversity on our campuses, sends a strong message in this country.
Reverend King told us: “The day we see the truth and cease to speak is the day we begin to die.”
Today’s truth is that if we leave behind talented black students, talented women, talented Latino students and talented Native American students, we abandon this country’s future, and I will not allow the University of Michigan to be party to that.
We simply have too much work to do in order to move forward.
Today’s summit is an important contribution to our ongoing conversation about the value of diversity. Sharing our success stories—and confronting our challenges head-on—makes an important difference, and I applaud your contributions and your research.
In addition to Eva Paterson, we have an exceptional panel of speakers. They bring with them tremendous experience and a commitment to improving the lives of others.
They also share a common bond as Michigan alumni. Mayor Archer, as the recipient of an honorary degree from Michigan, and the father of two Michigan graduates, you are very much a member of the Michigan family. Your honorary degree tells the world that the University of Michigan applauds your contributions and your values.
Congressman Joe Schwarz, Kimberlydawn Wisdom, and Antonio Flores all graduated from the University and know how much we value diversity and a community that welcomes all. It is a principle they have carried forward in their work, and I want to thank them for taking time from their demanding schedules to be with us this morning.
I also want to thank Lester Monts for keeping all of us focused and for his hard work in establishing the National Center for Institutional Diversity.
A moment ago I guaranteed you that the proponents of the upcoming ballot initiative will surface in another state at another time.
I will make you a second guarantee, and if you leave with one message today, it is this: Regardless of what happens with MCRI, I remain fully and completely committed to diversity at the University of Michigan. Fully, and completely, committed.
Thank you for being here.