The Michigan Mandate: Up, Down or Sideways?
Thomas M. Dunn
Professor of Chemistry, Former Chairman
University of Michigan Faculty Senate
The University Record, February 27, 1997

The following comments must be read as being mine alone, in that they have not been discussed by SACUA.

Most faculty members are already aware of the action taken by the Regents of the University of California on July 20, 1995, in which they voted to end affirmative action in admissions, hiring and the awarding of contracts. Also, in early 1996, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that the University of Texas may not consider race as a factor in its Law School admissions policies. These two actions, when added to the earlier ruling in the Bakke case, have focused a great deal of attention on the status and future of affirmative action.

Following the "Hopwood" ruling some important statements were made by the presidents of three major private universities, viz Rudenstine of Harvard, Shapiro of Princeton and Casper of Stanford, each supporting strongly the aims and objectives---and mostly, the methods and results---of affirmative action programs over the past 30 years, at least as they applied to the admissions policies of their universities.

It is interesting to reflect upon these statements and to ask why these university presidents felt it necessary to affirm the value of something that was being overruled in the courts, particularly since those edicts do not apply to their private schools. As Casper expressed it: "As we look for the leaders of tomorrow, if all we considered were capacities measurable on a scale, without taking into consideration the aspects of `being deserving and exceptional,' we would be betraying the Founders .... We do not admit minorities to do them a favor. We want students from a variety of backgrounds to help fulfill our educational responsibilities."

And Shapiro: "Since I believe it is essential to our common sense of humanity, to the effective functioning of our democratic institutions and to America's continued cultural and economic leadership that we achieve as full a degree of participation as possible, I believe we should make every effort to eliminate any social, cultural or economic impediments to this goal (including gender, ethnic, religious and racial biases)." And Rudenstine: "I do not believe we can solve the persistent dilemma of race or ethnicity in American life simply by stating that we live---or have a right to live---in a society where these characteristics have ceased to be significant. Our hope for progress lies in gradually narrowing the real gaps that continue to exist among many people of different races. That can be done only by creating fruitful ways of bringing people together---at the very best by educating them together."

The Michigan Mandate was instituted by President Duderstadt in 1988 but, apart from discussions with individual faculty members, it was never presented to the Faculty Senate or to its representative body, the Senate Assembly. I believe that it is time for us, the faculty, to confront the issues which surround affirmative action and the Michigan Mandate and to move, by consensus, to a faculty resolution as to the future of such initiatives.

Last April, the Senate Assembly passed a resolution affirming the value of diversity in the makeup of the faculty and the University at large. However, there was no advice as to how this desirable state might be achieved. It seems appropriate that, particularly on the eve of a new University presidency, this should now be attempted.

Earlier in the academic year, the Regents requested that the Provost consult with each of the schools and colleges to ensure that their affirmative action processes were within the law. He was able to reassure them on this matter at the November 1996 meeting. Following closely upon this, the annual minority faculty numbers were published in early January and these proclaimed an increase of 0.3 percent (from 15.1 percent in 1995 to 15.4 percent in 1996) in total faculty numbers of 3,921. This represents an increase of only 12 individuals in 1996 as well as showing a loss of five tenure track and three lecturers from the African American faculty population alone, yielding a total of 3.85 percent compared with a national average of about 11 percent. Our Native American faculty members also decreased, by 10 percent---from 10 to nine. Should these figures be a cause for concern? I believe that they should, with regard to both recruitment and retention!

We can always find reasons why our recruitment of new faculty, minority and non-minority, has taken the directions which it has, but it is vital to remember that it is not the administration in which the Regents invest the authority to select new faculty or promote them---it is the faculty, and no initiatives for new faculty recruitment CAN succeed if the faculty are not in agreement with them! Some critical questions then, surely are these:

1. Should we, the faculty, be not only supportive but aggressive in the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority group members?

2. What do we, the faculty, AND the University and the nation at large, stand to gain by bringing these individuals into the academic community?

Let me answer the second question first since I believe that it is the crux of the matter.

It is profitable to reflect that, soon after the year 2000, the groups that make up the minorities in the present population will become the majority but, with our current rate of faculty recruitment, we will have progressed less than half way towards such a composition of the faculty. Why should this concern us?

Surely, one of the most important functions of education at all levels is to open up the prospects of equal opportunity to every segment of the population. In this regard, it is of paramount importance that the tertiary educational system recognize its responsibilities for the preparation of our future social, civic, business and educational leaders, and this, in turn, requires a diverse professoriate. This has nothing to do with the presence of role models! It is only the fact of their presence in significant numbers that will be convincing proof of the absence of discrimination.

In recognizing the errors of the past we need to acknowledge that many people were deprived of the opportunities they should have had to partake fully of the social, economic and educational opportunities from which the majority of people in this country have derived so much happiness, profit and intellectual excitement. The problem, however, is to find ways to remedy the problems that are with us now.

I have to admit that I was originally unconvinced that the civil rights legislation of the 1960s could achieve the kinds of national attitudinal changes concerning racial discrimination they were crafted to accomplish, but I believe, in retrospect, that I had totally left out of my considerations the importance of being required, as a departmental chair, for example, to consider the possible legal consequences of my actions. The legislation certainly had the effect of drawing my attention to the almost complete absence of most minority groups in the faculty at that time.

It is helpful to reflect upon what might have happened had there been no civil rights or affirmative action legislation. I am convinced that although difficult problems remain, without those legislative actions, this nation would have nothing like the degrees of social amity, economic prosperity or educational equality which we have achieved. We have only to observe the social upheavals stretching from African countries to the Middle East and the Balkans, as well as the once powerful USSR to see the results of past minority oppressions and their aspirations that have erupted in the last five years and the directions they have taken. I believe that there have been significant benefits from these civil rights and affirmative action policies. However, we have a long way to go before minorities are represented in numbers that reflect their abilities and their presence in the community at large.

We have arrived at the first question that, of course, applies to all significantly underrepresented minorities, not only African Americans and Native Americans. It might be thought that a special case could be made for these two groups in recognition of the errors of the past, but my case does not rest upon this. Rather, it rests upon the present and the future and not the past. The feature of the African American and Native American groups that draws my special attention is due to the length of time we have had to secure their full inclusion, and how much still remains to be accomplished.

It is too early to guess where the current legal issues on affirmative action will end so I will not attempt to foresee them. I believe that, particularly for higher education, the legal position should be unimportant and that the basic attitudes expressed by Presidents Casper, Shapiro and Rudenstine should be sufficient for us to seriously attack this imbalance in the makeup of our faculties and our student population.

The Senate Assembly has already affirmed the desirability for a diversity of our faculty and our university generally but no consensus emerged during the discussions as to how to proceed. Reading many of the articles written on affirmative action by business and social leaders, as well as higher education, one consistently notes their concern for a leadership pattern which is inclusive of all groups---religious, ethnic, racial, gender and so on. I feel sure that this is a very important factor in the attitudes of many of the university presidents in their support of affirmative action, viz---that they are very aware of the changing demographics and they are determined that their universities will continue to have those leaders among their alumni and alumnae. We, in our turn, can hardly do less!

The issue, then, is that nearly everyone avows the importance of diversity in higher educational faculty, but there are objections from some faculty and some legal rulings against race as a valid basis for affirmative action. However, I do not think that anyone has ever suggested affirmative action based purely upon racial origin but rather, that merit is not a strictly or simply quantifiable characteristic.

As a faculty, we are concerned with the selection, retention and promotion of future and current faculty members. In selecting new faculty we actually base our decisions on many factors. Within every department there are usually many different fields and even within these fields there are choices as to which areas are likely to be most fruitful in the future. Also, to be frank, we now often weigh in heavily in terms of areas described as "fundable" with all of the ambiguities inherent in the values involved.

With all these choices available, we often hire candidates on the basis of a string of assumptions that are not always based upon their individually demonstrated abilities but, rather, on a set of criteria which are often seated in political values more than academic attainment. To be sure, there are cases of such exceptional demonstrated academic abilities that a singular, opportunistic appointment can be achieved, but these represent a small percentage of new appointments, especially at the beginning level. Again, there are certainly cases where the pool is void of minority candidates, but then this may well be a "Catch 22" matter that only time can erase.

What, then, am I advocating with respect to minority recruitment? It is that we must do our best to define our future academic needs in terms that are far broader than we have hitherto been inclined to do, and to recognize, a priori, that the decisions we make DO involve complex social, political and academic motives. The more specialized---or over-specialized---our constraints become, the more unlikely it is that we will attract a diverse group of candidates who will be able to present their own views of the future of the subject. In the broader circumstances I believe that we, the faculty, will be far more open to the nature of the decisions we are making and be more likely to recognize the value of perspectives that minority candidates can bring to the educational profession.

In these terms "affirmative action" represents a state of awareness of the total climate in which our recruitment and promotion decisions are made, rather than viewing them in the more limited dimensionality of our perceived individual subspeciality mandates and their current fundability.

Let us, then, as the people who are invested with the authority to recruit and promote our future and present colleagues, exercise this great responsibility by broadening our understanding of what we are doing every time we engage in this process and strive to enhance our faculty diversity. Only by increasing representation of the widest racial, ethnic, religious, political and gender representatives will we find the kind of unity which all those differences ultimately make possible.


Return to list of authors.

Return to Home Page.