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Updated 10:00 AM October 16, 2006




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Leaders address Diversity Summit

The state of Michigan's battered economy could suffer further if its residents fail to value diversity.

That was among key messages delivered Oct. 9 at the Fall Summit on Diversity at the Michigan League. U-M leaders and prominent guests stressed that diversity benefits all citizens both socially and economically, adding that any rollback of efforts to promote diversity would be harmful, even to nonminorities.

"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," said President Mary Sue Coleman in remarks at the Mendelssohn Theatre to open the summit. "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."

The forum was organized by the President's Diversity Council, amid increased attention to issues relating to diversity and affirmative action, including issues exemplified by Proposal 2, a Michigan constitutional amendment that seeks to end public affirmative action programs.

Coleman noted that 11 years after California passed a ban on affirmative action, the University of California, Los Angeles has 96 Black students in its freshman class—just 2 percent of the class in the nation's second-largest city.

"We know that affirmative action works, and the Supreme Court provided us with moderate guidelines that we are following," Coleman said."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."

Former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, who sits on the corporate boards of Johnson Controls Inc., Compuware Corp. and Masco Corp., said passage of Proposal 2 on Nov. 7 could hurt the state economy.

"Businesses across the United States are very committed to diversity," Archer said. "They're not going to be enticed to come to our state. We lose economically. We become a very negative state. This chilling effect is a very real possibility."

Keynote speaker Eva Paterson, founder and president of the Equal Justice Society and former chair of the California Coalition for Civil Rights, recounted the effects of anti-affirmative action legislation passed in California.

"It's horribly embarrassing what's happened to our state," Paterson said. "I hope it doesn't happen to you."

She said because the University of California now is less diverse than before, "White kids are not coming; they don't feel it's a conducive environment."

Archer was joined on a panel by Paterson; U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz, R-Battle Creek; Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom, Michigan surgeon general; and Antonio Flores, president and chief executive officer, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.

Wisdom said provisions in the proposed legislation could hurt state health officials' ability to address minority health-related programs.

"Michigan might not be able to compete for federal funding," she said. Schwarz and Flores also called for continued attention to efforts to value diversity.

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