The Leadership Conference is working diligently to see that Tom Perez is confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor. Perez is an eminently qualified public servant and consensus builder who has dedicated his career to ensuring that all individuals are treated fairly and have the opportunity to succeed. He has served with integrity and distinction at the local, state and national level, compiling an outstanding record of achievement.
Anti-Affirmative Action Initiative Debated on Michigan Campus
Feature Story by Tyler Lewis - 1/10/2006Frank Wu, Dean of Wayne State University's School of Law, defended affirmative action programs in a debate against former California regent Ward Connerly at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan before nearly 1,000 people, calling the programs society's attempt to remedy pervasive "subtle, structural disparities."
The debate, held November 21, addressed the merits of Connerly's so-called Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) ballot initiative, which would end equal opportunity and affirmative action initiatives in higher education, employment, and contracting in Michigan.
Connerly said he doesn't believe that diversity is a compelling state interest and that race should not be a factor in higher education, employment or contracting, despite the 2003 ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger, a Supreme Court case upholding those two principles. He called programs that use race as a factor in achieving diversity "preferential treatment" and unfair.
"I believe it's inappropriate for the government to choose sides between its citizens," said Connerly. "My government should not discriminate against me or discriminate for me."
Wu explained that affirmative action is one remedy for the very complex problem of race in America. "We will need the remedy as long as the problem exists," Wu said.
Racial disparity has not gone away in the 50 years since Brown v. Board of Education, said Wu. Citing the drop in enrollment of minorities and women in California colleges and universities after Connerly's Proposition 209 passed in 1996, Wu said efforts to roll back affirmative action programs rest on the misguided assumption that America has become, as Connerly professed, a "color-blind" society.
Connerly said California's drop in enrolled minorities and women can be attributed to the elimination of "preferential treatment." He said, "We [should] admit people on the basis of their merit, not as a service of diversity...we [should] treat people fairly, we [should] apply the same standards, let the chips fall where they may."
Connerly said that affirmative action wasn't the remedy to address the decrease in minority and female enrollment.
The use of the term "preferential treatment" in the MCRI ballot language was included to mislead voters, Wu said. He said that in an "up or down" vote, most Americans support affirmative action and equal opportunity programs aimed at achieving diversity and that many Michigan voters were not fully aware of what their vote actually meant.
"What will we do to make good on the promise of a diverse democracy? Affirmative action is but a modest set of programs. It is necessary, but not sufficient. We must have at least the ability to take race into account because it is the most effective, sometimes the only, means that we can address these difficult issues of race," said Wu.
On December 20, the Michigan Court of Appeals issued a decision that placed MCRI on the 2006 general ballot, after the Board of Canvassers deadlocked twice in its consideration of its certification. The Board must finish its approval of the ballot language by January 20.