The University Record, August 16, 1999

Gerald Ford joins ranks of U-M supporters in lawsuits

By Rebecca A. Doyle

Earlier this month, support of the U-M’s admission processes that take into account an applicant’s race came from a well-respected alumnus. An opinion article by Gerald R. Ford, president of the United States in 1974–76 and a 1935 graduate of the University, was published in The New York Times Aug. 8, almost exactly 25 years after the day he was sworn in as the 38th president of the United States. His opinion article supporting the University’s stand was distributed worldwide by the Associate Press wire service.

In the piece, he told of a fellow U-M football player who withdrew from a game against a Southern school after players on that team said they would not participate if one of the U-M players was Black.

“My classmates were just as adamant that he should take the field,” Ford wrote. “In the end, Willis decided on his own not to play.

“His sacrifice led me to question how educational administrators could capitulate to raw prejudice. A university, after all, is both a preserver of tradition and a hotbed of innovation.”

Ford said that he had wondered how different the world might have been in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s—”how much more humane and just”—if those in his generation had been exposed to more racial diversity in school and in neighborhoods.

He called the lawsuits against the University “a threat to such diversity.”

Two separate lawsuits that seek to eliminate the consideration of race in applications for admission were filed in fall 1997. They charge that the practices at both the Law School and LS&A give illegal preferential treatment to minority students.

“So drastic a ban,” Ford wrote, “would scuttle Michigan’s current system, one that takes into account nearly a dozen elements—race, economic standing, geographic origin, athletic and artistic achievement among them—to create the finest educational environment for all students.”

The University’s position has been a careful and stoic stand in support of its policies, arguing that a diverse student body provides a better education and an understanding of differences that is mandatory for students, who will then be better equipped to function in a diverse world environment.

“A first-class education is one that creates the opportunity for students, expecting differences, to learn instead of similarities,” noted President Lee C. Bollinger and Provost Nancy Cantor in an article titled “The Importance of Race,” published in the April 28, 1998, issue of The Washington Post. “Likewise,” they said, “encountering differences rather than one’s mirror image is an essential part of a good education. Race is educationally important for all students, because understanding race in America is a powerful metaphor for crossing sensibilities of all kinds.”

The entire text of Ford’s article is on the Web at www.ford.utexas.edu/library/speeches/990808.htm.

The text of the Bollinger-Cantor piece is on the Web at www.umich.edu/~newsinfo/Admission/washpost.html.