Michigan’s Scofflaw Universities

In December, after extended controversy and protest, Michigan passed a right-to- work-law allowing employees to opt out of mandatory union membership and dues. The law goes into effect March 27, leaving all earlier contracts unaffected.

Rushing to beat that deadline, Wayne State University has signed a new eight-year contract with its faculty union, and the University of Michigan has tentatively agreed to a similar contract with its lecturers union. “Union officials were explicit, the Detroit Free Press reports, “in saying the length of the contract” was “to protect themselves from right-to-work law that takes effect at the end of the month.”

“This is a very unusual contract extension,” the Free Press quoted State Rep. Tom McMillin, “since it appears to be the first of its kind for a university in this state.” In response, Inside Higher Ed reports, on Tuesday Michigan legislators, “seeing effort to skirt right-to-work law,” approved legislation stripping the two universities of $75 million dollars in performance budgeting funds.

This is not the first time Michigan universities have evaded the law. The day after Michigan voters passed Proposition 2 in November 2006 prohibiting preferential treatment based on race, University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman virtually stood in the schoolhouse door and issued a speech bristling with resistance and defiance.

By then she had had a good deal of practice. Taken together, Gratz and Grutter, decided in 2003, purported to impose restrictions — some of them apparently strict — on the use of race in admissions: race could not be the “defining feature” of an application; bonus points based on race could not be mechanically awarded; race neutral alternatives must be seriously considered; “outright racial balancing” must be avoided. Michigan responded, however, with what can fairly be described as massive resistance.

In their magisterial book, Mismatch, Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor Jr. highlight (p. 212) “the most remarkable” example of this defiance at the University of Michigan:

… when comparing admissions data from under the pre-Gratz point system (in 1999) and data from a couple of years after Gratz (2005-2006), it is clear that the college gave substantially more weight to race after Gratz than before, more often making it the decisive factor in individual admissions decisions.

Its old point system simply distinguished between “underrepresented minorities” (who received bonus points) and everyone else. Post-Gratz, however, it favored blacks over Hispanics, Hispanics over whites, and whites over Asians — the essence of racial balancing that Gratz and Grutter alike purported to forbid.

“If we compare Asian and black students with similar test scores and grades,” Sander and Taylor wrote in the Washington Post last September, “blacks had a 96 percent chance of admission in 2006, compared with 11 percent for Asians.” (Sander presents even more of this damning data here.)

Michigan is hardly alone in its defiance of law and  court rulings — see, for example, Is The University Of Virginia A Racial Scofflaw” — but it has engaged in massive resistance that in some respects is even more extreme than the segregationist South’s of the 1950s.

John S. Rosenberg

John S. Rosenberg

John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.

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