Civil rights commission addresses diversity post-Proposal 2
The Michigan Civil Rights Commission (MCRC) has issued its findings on the impact of Proposal 2 on state efforts related to diversity and equal opportunity. While the report presented to the governor March 7 contains only a few recommendations specific to higher education, it offers an overall interpretation of what is and is not permissible under the law, officials say.
"The commission's report has provided a great deal of guidance for how to achieve diversity within the boundaries of Proposal 2. We will be reviewing it closely for specific recommendations and their possible application to higher education, says University spokesperson Kelly Cunningham. "More specifically, we are pleased to see several areas of convergence between the University's current interpretation of the provisions of Proposal 2 and that of the commission." Two of those include the Michigan Indian Tuition Waiver and K-12 student outreach, both of which the commission says are allowable under the law.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm ordered the review by the MCRC immediately after the Nov. 7 passage of Proposal 2, a constitutional amendment that bans discrimination and preferential treatment on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, and national origin in public education, employment, and contracting.
After reviewing some 45 state programs, reading related state and federal statutes, and analyzing best practices from other states, the MCRC concluded that Proposal 2 does not require state programs and institutions to abandon all affirmative action programs.
"Proposal 2 does not end equal opportunity or the critical pursuit of diversity and inclusion in the State of Michigan. Neither does it mean that the terms 'race' or 'sex' are banished from the official state vocabulary, as it relates to the state's decision-making process," the report states.
"Proposal 2 was a clear objection to one method of securing diversity and equal opportunity," says Linda Parker, director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. "We believe that the goal of promoting diversity and the message behind Proposal 2 are not mutually exclusive."
With regard to the Michigan Indian Tuition Waiver, which is offered to North American Indian students who attend public community colleges or universities, and tribal community colleges, the MCRC cited the nation's highest court.
"The U.S. Supreme Court has uniformly held that statues dealing with members of recognized tribes are not based on impermissible classifications such as race. Instead, such statutes are based on the unique legal and political status of indigenous Indian tribes that are recognized by and enjoy a trust relationship with the United States." The commission said, likewise, the Michigan Indian Tuition Waiver is based on a political relationship, not race.
The report addresses use of affirmative action in hiring and contracting as well, and makes recommendations for maintaining diversity and economic growth across state institutions. Although the commission did not do a comprehensive review of public education, it offered the following suggestions for moving forward under the law:
• Expand outreach to, and partnerships with, K-12 schools to increase preparation for all students and address the achievement gap between students from different backgrounds;
• Expand criteria employed to define academic achievement to include qualitative factors, such as improvement in academic performance;
• Expand admission/enrollment criteria to encompass a broader range of personal talents and achievements; and
• Establish a consortium of higher educational institutions in the state, operating from the governor down, to ensure that institutions work together to accomplish the same goals in promoting diversity and otherwise preparing for the 21st century economy.
The full report is available on the state's Web site, www.michigan.gov/mdcr/.