The University Record, November 12, 1996
U-M is a public body, not a private
Can I possibly be the only person astounded by the chutzpah embodied in Regent Power's column printed in the October 29, 1996 Record regarding the Circuit Court's decision as to the presidential search procedures? Did the Regents learn nothing from the very similar (if belated) Court decisions in connection with the procedures used to select the previous president?
Regent Power, the University of Michigan is NOT a private corporation which can conduct its business in the secrecy of a closed boardroom. The Open Meetings Act applies to public bodies, and the University is (like it or not) a public body. The president of that body must deal with a vast and diverse constituency, including elected representatives; if an applicant for any responsible position with the University (including the presidency) is uncomfortable with the fact that the University's business must be conducted in the light of day, then perhaps it is just as well that they do withdraw their name from consideration.
Four of the five finalists apparently did not feel any such compunctions; what do Regent Power's comments say about them? Are their qualifications somehow diminished because they do not share his views on this matter?
Regent Power also manages to impugn the motives of the press by
attributing the fact that they have pressed their case to their
alleged wish to "...look over shoulders and report about scandal in
the background of candidates and back room deals between the
Regents." On what do you base this contention, Regent Power? Where do
you see this tabloid-like coverage? Given the University's
predilection for conducting its business in private, however, do you
wonder why people (not just the press) might be just a tad
Steven J. Hendel
Editor's note: The following letter was addressed to Provost J. Bernard Machen and sent to The University Record with a request from its author that it be published.
U-M needs to be honest in public statements
Greetings. Your quest for intellectual diversity among our incoming students (University Record, 5 November 1996) is shared, of course, by all thoughtful members of our University. That aim, however, does not justify deliberately unequal treatment of applicants for admission on the basis of race or ethnicity. But our admissions practices and policies do give marked preference to applicants on the basis of race and ethnicity. This is a fact, provable beyond doubt using official records and documents obtained (under the Freedom of Information Act) from the University of Michigan.
Our Constitution requires that no state deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. Your claim that the racial preferences we knowingly give in admissions are "both legal and fully justified" is therefore disputable, of course, and likely to be tested before long in our federal courts.
But you and I and all of us will surely agree upon this much: a public university ought to be honest in its public statements of policy. On many of our official documents we announce that:
"The University of Michigan is committed to a policy of nondiscrimination and equal opportunity for all persons regardless of race, sex, color, religion, creed, national origin or ancestry, age, marital status, sexual orientation, disability, or Vietnam-era veteran status in employment, educational programs and activities, and admissions."
I am proud of that unambiguous commitment, as I am sure you are also.
Our conduct, however, is flatly inconsistent with that profession. Our administrators know this, or ought to know it. A decent respect for the people of the State of Michigan requires that we, of all institutions, be forthright. If the racial preferences we give in admission are defensible, as you contend, our University has the obligation to explain those preferences publicly and truthfully, and to show how we think they can be justified, rather than hiding our practices in "confidential" documents for "internal use only" as we now seek (unsuccessfully) to do. Candor about our racially preferential admission practices will of course oblige us to withdraw or to qualify our professed "commitment to a policy of nondiscrimination."
If, on the other hand, we conclude that the preferences we give are not publicly defensible, and we are sincere in our intention to refrain from all discrimination by race or ethnicity, then we certainly ought to eliminate the racial preferences that now pervade our systems of admission to the Law School, the Medical School, and the College of Literature, Science and the Arts. But under no circumstances, you will certainly agree, can we justify saying one thing while secretly we do another.
Affirmative action is not at issue; we all support affirmative action to ensure fair and non-discriminatory practices in employment and admissions. What is at issue, and what we will soon no longer be able to avoid confronting, is preferential treatment on the basis of race or ethnicity. Obfuscation and hypocrisy in the effort to retain practices whose morality is seriously questioned by a great percentage of the citizenry is not worthy of us, Prof. Machen, and is not seemly for a great university.
Your straightforward and public attention to this profoundly
important matter will be greatly appreciated.
Carl Cohen, professor of philosophy