Speeches

Diversity Matters at Michigan

 

November 8, 2006

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University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman addressed the University community on the U-M Diag, one day after Michigan voters approved Proposal 2. Here is the text of her remarks:

Diversity matters at Michigan, today more than any day in our history.

It matters today, and it will matter tomorrow. It will always matter because it is what makes us the great university we are.

I am deeply disappointed that the voters of our state have rejected affirmative action as a way to help build a community that is fair and equal for all.

But we will not be deterred in the all-important work of creating a diverse, welcoming campus. We will not be deterred.

Universities are models for the civil exchange of ideas, and the debate over Proposal 2 has been no exception. Still, it has been a particularly difficult campaign, and I regret the pain and concern it has caused people on our campus.

But there has been a positive outgrowth of the debate about Proposal 2. It has brought together so many different people to say: diversity matters at the University of Michigan. Many, many people were passionate in delivering this message, and I want to thank them for their hard work.

If November 7th was the day that Proposal 2 passed, then November 8th is the day that we pledge to remain unified in our fight for diversity. Together, we must continue to make this world-class university one that reflects the richness of the world.

I am standing here today to tell you that I will not allow this university to go down the path of mediocrity. That is not Michigan. Diversity makes us strong, and it is too critical to our mission, too critical to our excellence, and too critical to our future to simply abandon.

This applies to our state as much as our university. Michigan’s public universities and our public bodies must be more determined than ever to provide opportunities for women and minorities, who make up the majority of our citizenry.

Last week I received an email from Miranda Garcia, a Michigan graduate who shared my concern about the dangers of Proposal 2, and how it jeopardizes the fiber of our university.

“My four years in Ann Arbor,” she said, “were a life-changing experience. I met students from every area of the country, from all different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds.”

She was blunt in saying her life-changing experience would not have been possible without affirmative action.

I should add that Miranda lives in California, a state whose voters banned affirmative action 10 years ago. It has been a horribly failed experiment that has dramatically weakened the diversity of the state’s most selective universities.

It is an experiment that we cannot, and will not, allow to take seed here at Michigan.

I will not stand by while the very heart and soul of this great university is threatened. We are Michigan and we are diversity.

I am joined on these steps by the executive officers and deans of our university. We are united on this. You have my word as president that we will fight for what we believe in, and that is holding open the doors of this university to all people.

Today, I have directed our General Counsel to consider every legal option available to us.

In the short term, we will seek confirmation from the courts to complete this year’s admissions cycle under our current guidelines. We believe we have the right, indeed the obligation, to complete this process using our existing policies. It would be unfair and wrong for us to review students’ applications using two sets of criteria, and we will ask the courts to affirm that we may finish this process using the policies we currently have in place.

This is our first step, but only our first step.

I believe there are serious questions as to whether this initiative is lawful, particularly as it pertains to higher education. I have asked our attorneys for their full and undivided support in defending diversity at the University of Michigan. I will immediately begin exploring legal action concerning this initiative. But we will not limit our drive for diversity to the courts, because our conviction extends well beyond the legal landscape.

It is a cause that will take our full focus and energy as an institution, and I am ready to begin that work right now. We will find ways to overcome the handcuffs that Proposal 2 attempts to place on our reach for greater diversity.

As Susan B. Anthony said in her crusade for equal rights, “Failure is impossible.”

I know many in our community have been wondering what this election outcome means for you in a directly personal way.

For our current students, I promise that we will honor all financial commitments we have made to you. This is a contract we have with you, and the University of Michigan honors its contracts.

Your scholarships, fellowships and grants will remain just that: yours. The funds we awarded you are available today, and they will be there for you tomorrow, because the University of Michigan embraces diversity.

For University employees who fear that their livelihood is at risk with the passage of this proposal, please know that you have no cause for worry. No one’s job at the University of Michigan will go away because of Proposal 2. We will continue to review all of our programs dedicated to minority affairs and campus diversity to ensure that they comply with the law, as we have done for many years.

Let me be very clear about this: Your work is more important now than ever before. I will do everything I can to support you in this work, because the University of Michigan promotes diversity.

To the hundreds of thousands of Michigan alumni, I ask for your support in recruiting the finest students for your alma mater. You more than anyone know the benefits of an education at this great university.

I urge you to share that enthusiasm with prospective students, because the University of Michigan wants diversity.

To high school principals, counselors and teachers throughout Michigan, please know that our outreach efforts to your schools will continue. We believe this outreach is on firm legal ground, and we will continue these programs because we want your graduates at our university. Our high school partnerships are critically important pipelines for drawing great students to Michigan, and those programs will go on.

Those programs will go on because the University of Michigan believes in diversity.

Finally, to high school students and their families, my message is simple: We want you at the University of Michigan. We want your intellect, we want your energy, and we want your ambition. We have one of the finest universities in the world, and it is remarkable precisely because of our students, faculty and staff. We want you to aspire to be part of this amazing community.

It is amazing because the University of Michigan is diversity.

We know that diversity makes us a better university—better for learning, for teaching, and for conducting research. Affirmative action has been an effective and important tool for creating this rich, invigorating environment.

We believe so strongly in affirmative action that we went before the United States Supreme Court to defend its use, and we prevailed.

Today, I pledge that the University of Michigan will continue that fight.

Look around you. We are standing at the heart of our campus, where all the divergent pathways of the Diag come together.

We still have much to do to bring together all the people of our university. All walks of life must be present and welcome at the University of Michigan.

We should never forget a challenge issued by Henry Tappan, the university’s first president, who said, “We must take the world as full as it is.”

Ours is a university of the leaders and best. We must always be vigilant about recruiting and retaining the best students and staff and the finest faculty—individuals of all backgrounds and experiences—so that they may further enrich the fabric of this university. We simply cannot lose these bright minds.

As the days and weeks unfold, I know you will have questions about what this proposal means—for the University overall and for you personally, as students, faculty and staff. We do not yet have all the answers, but I vow to keep you fully informed as we explore the full effects of this initiative.

Of course the University of Michigan will comply with the laws of the state.

At the same time, I guarantee my complete and unyielding commitment to increasing diversity at our institution.

Let me say that again: I am fully and completely committed to building diversity at Michigan, and I will do whatever it takes.

I will need your help. As individuals and as a University, we absolutely must continue to think creatively about how to elevate Michigan’s role as a national model for diversity in higher education.

In the days and weeks ahead, you will hear from us about specific ways you can help in our cause. Starting today, I am asking all of our students and alumni of this great university to fire up their networks and spread the word. Tell people, “I am what a U-M education looks like—please join us.”

Together, we must always work to make ours a welcoming campus. Always. Let the world know that we are a university that embraces all. No one—no one—should ever forget that every student at Michigan is highly qualified, and has rightfully earned his or her place here.

Martin Luther King Jr. told us: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Let’s stand together to tell the state and the nation that the University of Michigan embraces … promotes … wants … and believes in diversity.

Let’s stand together to say we value all those on our campus who make this such a remarkable institution.

Let’s stand together to say: We are Michigan and we are diversity.