Questions and Answers Regarding the State of Michigan’s Proposal 2 of 2006
Updated March 29, 2013.
Q: What is Proposal 2?
A: Proposal 2 was adopted by Michigan voters on November 7, 2006, and took effect in late December of that year. It amends the Michigan Constitution to ban public institutions from discriminating against or giving preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on their race, gender, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public education, public employment, or public contracting.
Q: Does the University follow the law?
A: Yes. The University certainly obeys the law. We recognize the voters’ decision, and comply with Proposal 2. Given that most terms of the amendment are not defined, differences of opinion may arise over time about how to interpret its application to specific programs. Resolving those differences may sometimes require clarification. For example, similar ballot proposals were interpreted as permitting targeted outreach to underrepresented populations in Washington but prohibiting it in California. Over time, these uncertainties will be sorted out.
Q: Wasn’t Proposal 2 declared unconstitutional? Hasn’t the University reverted to its pre-Proposal 2 pactices in light of that decision?
A: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Circuit held en banc that Proposal 2 was unconstitutional as applied to public university admissions. However, that decision has been stayed (put on hold) pending U.S. Supreme Court review. The Supreme Court's decision is expected during its next term, which runs from October 2013 through June 2014. In the interim, the University is, as it must, continuing to follow the strictures of Proposal 2.
Q: Does Proposal 2 prohibit public institutions from seeking diversity?
A: No. Proposal 2 precludes discrimination and preferential treatment on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, or national origin in public education, public employment, or public contracting. It does not in any way mean that diversity is no longer a permissible, indeed compelling, interest. The University of Michigan is firmly committed to the goal of creating a diverse educational environment. We continue to work to build a community that is comprised of faculty, staff, and students who come to U-M with a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. This diversity contributes to the excellence and dynamism of the University’s learning environment.
Q: Why does the University of Michigan believe diversity is so important?
A: We know from research, and from our experience as educators, that building a diverse community adds to the quality of our teaching and learning, our scholarship, and our creative endeavors. U-M President Mary Sue Coleman discussed this in her November 2006 address to the University community when she said, “Diversity makes us strong, and it is too critical to our mission, too critical to our excellence, and too critical to our future to simply abandon. This applies to our state as much as our University. Michigan’s public universities and our public bodies must be more determined than ever to provide opportunities for women and minorities, who make up the majority of our citizenry.”
Q: What is the relationship between the University’s pursuit of diversity and its academic excellence?
A: The University strives first and foremost to be academically excellent. Diversity is an essential component of our excellence. The quality of our academic programs is enhanced by the rich and varied contributions of our diverse students and faculty, who approach problems from different perspectives. Many top scholars are attracted to our community because they can study and conduct research with others who challenge their ways of looking at the world. The University of Michigan has become one of the top public universities in the world precisely because it is diverse—and measures such as our graduation rates, scholarly production, rankings of our academic programs and the number of applications for admission are evidence of this success.
Q: What has the University done about admissions and financial aid since passage of Proposal 2?
A: As stated in the language of Proposal 2, our admissions and financial aid processes do not discriminate against, nor grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. However, the amendment also specifies certain exceptions, including one for federally funded programs, and we follow those exceptions as well.
Q: Are underrepresented minority students still welcome at U-M?
A: Yes. All students who excel at their studies, and who aspire to attend the University of Michigan, are encouraged to apply, and, if admitted, to enroll. Our entire community works together to ensure that our climate is welcoming, and that the success of every student is supported.
Q: What is happening to underrepresented minority enrollment at U-M under Proposal 2?
A: The University continues to do everything in its power, within the law, to build a community that is broadly diverse, including with respect to racial and ethnic diversity. While we experienced some declines in minority enrollment following passage of Proposal 2, we have worked hard, and thus far successfully, to avoid the sharp declines seen in California’s top public universities following passage of that state’s Proposition 209. We are cautiously optimistic about current data, which suggest the potential for positive future trends in minority enrollment. Our greatest assets in our efforts are faculty, administration and staff, current students, alumni, and community members, all of whom play an important role in encouraging minority students to apply to U-M, and to enroll here if admitted.
Additionally, in Summer 2010, U-M joined the national Common Application membership association. (This means there is no longer a University of Michigan-specific application.) The Common App’s potential benefits—based on the experience of our peer schools that are also members—include increases in racial and ethnic diversity among applicants, additional geographic and socioeconomic diversity, and larger applicant volumes overall, as well as enhanced quality of the applicant pool overall.
Q: How are undergraduate admissions decisions made at U-M?
A: In recent years, we annually received 40,000 or more applications for an incoming freshman class of approximately 5,900 students. In evaluating those applications, we seek to enroll academically excellent, broadly diverse students who are engaged in extracurricular activities about which they are passionate. We consider academic qualifications in the forms of grade point average, within the context of the high school environment and the rigor of the curriculum selected, as well as standardized test scores. We also consider students’ essays, extracurricular activities, leadership, awards, service and letters of recommendation form both an academic teacher and a high school counselor so that we may assemble an incoming class each year that will best contribute to the University community.
To achieve this, we use an individualized and holistic process to evaluate each application. Every application receives a minimum of two independent reviews. The reviewers all bring substantive professional experience, and receive training each year regarding the admissions process. Application Readers evaluate numerous complex factors as they make a recommendation for the final decision:
- Academic achievements are by far the most important consideration, as demonstrated by the applicant’s high school record. Did s/he follow a rigorous course of study? Did s/he take advantage of opportunities, such as accelerated and advanced placement courses in the areas where s/he does his/her strongest work? If those courses were not available, did the applicant take advantage of the opportunities that were available? The grade point average is recalculated using all courses, 9th-11th grade, on an un-weighted 4.0-scale. The rigor of the curriculum selected by a student within his/her specific school environment provides the context necessary to enable us to identify those students who have distinguished themselves. Standardized test scores, the SAT and/or ACT, often provide context for this achievement as well.
- Based on the student’s essays, letters of recommendation, and extra-curricular experiences, we seek a personal understanding of the student as an individual. What are her/his interests, demonstrated leadership, and talents (i.e., in the arts, sciences, athletics, etc.)?
- What are the student’s life experiences, and how might those contribute to the University community? (i.e., Is s/he first-generation in the family to attend college? Did s/he achieve excellence despite financial and/or other challenges that made academics and/or extra-curricular involvement more difficult?)
- Is s/he from a geographic area, socioeconomic profile, neighborhood, or high school that is currently underrepresented in our student community?
All students who aspire to the University of Michigan are encouraged to submit their applications during the fall of their senior year. Every student who applies before the application deadline will be given full and fair consideration.
Q: How do you let people know about your admissions process? Aren’t there secret parts of the process that you don’t share with applicants, their families, and the general public?
A: No. There are no secret parts of the process. In fact, U-M may be the only major school in the country to have such a transparent undergraduate admissions process, which is fully available online.
Q: Are race, ethnicity, national origin, and gender still on the application? If yes, why?
A: Proposal 2 forbids granting preferential treatment on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, and gender in public education, but does not forbid collection of that information. Moreover, the University is required by law to report these data in some instances.
Q: How do you know that the undergraduate admissions staff who can still see race, ethnicity, gender, and national origin on the application aren’t using those factors in their decision-making?
A: We make the rules clear to all our reviewers and fully expect that they follow them. All our application reviewers are experienced professionals, and—given the confidential nature of much of the information students share on their applications—we take the integrity of our reviewers very seriously. Additionally, checks and balances built into the multiple-review process, such as having each application independently reviewed by at least two staff members, also help to ensure compliance by individual reviewers.
Q: Does the University make financial aid awards based in part on race, ehnicity, gender, or national origin?
A: No. University-funded financial aid programs do not consider race, ethnicity, gender, or national origin when making awards. Where Proposal 2 permits consideration of these factors, such as in certain federal grant programs, we comply with the requirements of those program requirements.
Q: Can U-M replace race- and gender-conscious programs with ones that focus on socioeconomic status?
A: Socioeconomic status has long been considered in our programs, including admissions and financial aid, and it continues to be a priority for us to ensure that opportunities are extended to all students regardless of their financial circumstances. But consideration of socio-economic factors, alone, does not help us enroll a student body that is racially or ethnically diverse, nor does it help us achieve gender diversity. For example, there are far more white students from low-income families applying to the University than minority students from low-income families. Socioeconomic status is not a substitute for race or ethnicity. This has been shown clearly at other schools that have tried to achieve racial or ethnic diversity through consideration of socioeconomic factors. And socioeconomic status is not at all helpful in promoting gender diversity.
Q: What is U-M doing about University-funded financial aid programs that formerly included some consideration of race, ethnicity, gender, or national origin factors?
A: University-funded financial aid programs that were previously available to admitted students based in part on race, ethnicity, gender, or national origin no longer consider those factors and are now available to students based on other criteria that remain permissible under Proposal 2. Those criteria include factors such as: high school attended, socioeconomic status, first-generation-college status, those living in single-parent homes, participation in certain federal programs such as Upward Bound, Gear Up, or Trio, etc. The Jean Fairfax Scholarship and the Michigan Experience Scholarship are examples of University-funded programs that are currently offered.
The University of Michigan makes more than $144.8 million dollars in grants, or free money, available to our admitted students. This is one of the largest pools of financial aid resources available at any public institution in the country. U-M’s generous grant aid makes it more affordable to attend U-M than any other public university in the state or any public university in the Big Ten.
A total of 73.3 percent of U-M students receive some type of financial aid. A significant portion of financial aid is based on student’s need. The University covers the full demonstrated financial need of every admitted Michigan-resident undergraduate—a policy that has been supported by the U-M Board of Regents for many years.
Consistent with the amendment’s terms, federally funded aid is not affected by Proposal 2.
Q: How does Proposal 2 interact with federal laws?
A: The amendment contains an exception that permits any actions—even those that consider race, ethnicity, gender, or national origin—that are mandated by federal law or that are necessary in order for an institution to become or remain eligible to receive federal funding or to participate in a federal program.
Q: How does Proposal 2 impact U-M’s capacity to apply for federal grants that consider race, ethnicity, gender, or national origin?
A: Individuals at the University should, as always, continue to disseminate announcements of federal grant programs and may apply for grants under federal programs that seek to promote diversity. If the University is chosen as a grant recipient, then it should comply with the terms of that grant, including any terms that require consideration of race, ethnicity, gender, or national origin in pursuit of the goals of the federal program.
Q: How does the University think about national origin in its efforts to build a diverse community?
A: The world is more interconnected than ever before, and graduates of our University must learn about the complexities of operating in a global environment if they are to be successful leaders. U-M works to build a learning community that is broadly diverse, and that includes welcoming students, staff, and faculty from all across the globe. These international scholars contribute to our vibrant intellectual community.
Q: What is the relationship between the University’s pursuit of diversity and its role in the state’s economic growth?
A: The state of Michigan is undergoing a difficult economic transition, one in which the education and preparation of its citizens for a new economy will be more important than ever before. A number of reports have identified the urgency of ensuring that an ever-greater cross-section of Michigan’s population is able to attain a college degree. We must tap all available talent in our state if we are to prosper in the future. The University of Michigan and other public universities in our state will play a critical role in extending these opportunities to all our citizens.
Q: Following passage of Proposal 2, has U-M undertaken new efforts to achieve the goal of a diverse community?
A: Yes. The Center for Educational Outreach was established to advance the University’s continuing commitment to educational outreach and collaboration with K-12 schools, service organizations, and communities. The Diversity Matters at Michigan website provides a comprehensive compilation of the University’s diversity resources and programming.
These resources, along with numerous other new and enhanced initiatives throughout the University, evolved from the recommendations of the University-wide Diversity Blueprints Task Force, which was appointed by President Coleman in December 2006 to develop strategies that sustain and enhance diversity, reaffirm the University’s commitment to the educational value of diversity, and help assure equal treatment of groups and individuals regardless of race, gender, color, ethnicity, or national origin. The Task Force’s final report made concrete recommendations on recruiting, precollege/K-12 outreach, admissions, financial aid, mentoring/student success, climate, curriculum/classroom discussions, diversity research and assessment, and external funding opportunities, and the University has committed significant resources to the report’s most promising recommendations.
Q: Is the University planning to take any legal action in connection with Proposal 2?
A: We do not plan to initiate any lawsuits at this time, but will respond as needed to any legal challenges that arise. In the meantime, we will make our best attempt to interpret the language of Proposal 2, and continue our programs in a manner that both complies with the law and legally protects our diversity and our academic excellence. If challenged, the University of Michigan is prepared to defend our programs and our interpretation of the law.
At this time, we are named as defendants in a federal court lawsuit that is challenging implementation of Proposal 2. That suit was filed by a coalition of groups, including Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), and has been consolidated with a later suit, filed by a coalition of groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, which does not name U-M as a defendant. In March 2008, the federal court rejected the challenge to Proposal 2. However, in November 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found Proposal 2 unconstitutional as applied to public university admissions. That Sixth Circuit decision had been stayed (put on hold) pending the Michigan Attorney General’ request for U.S. Supreme Court review.
Q: Will U-M discontinue the programs that encourage and support diversity within its student community, like Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs (MESA), Comprehensive Studies Program (CSP), Women in Science and Engineering (WISE), Undergraduate Research Opportunities (UROP), etc.?
A: No. These programs are needed more now than ever before. These programs have been reviewed since the passage of Proposal 2, and they do comply with the law.
Q: Has U-M discontinued programs that reach out to specific minorities or genders, such as those that encourage girls to study science or engineering?
A: We have reviewed these outreach and pipeline programs and believe they are on firm legal ground.
Q: Has U-M continued outreach programs directed to women and underrepresented minority high school students?
A: U-M is committed to continue outreach programs, because we must be able to extend the opportunity for a college education to all students, and because we believe our targeted outreach programs remain lawful. The success of the state of Michigan depends on these types of outreach efforts. Partnerships with high schools are an important pipeline for drawing great students to Michigan, and those programs will go on.
Q: Will U-M student clubs and other organizations that focus on race, gender, or nationality, like the Society of Women Engineers or the Black Student Union, still exist under the provisions of Proposal 2?
A: The University supports a wide range of student organizations, and those will be able to continue. All recognized U-M student groups are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, or national origin (among other factors) in their membership criteria. Many of those student organizations have as their mission the support of a particular gender or racial or ethnic group, and that does not need to change, as long as the student organization membership is open to all who support that mission.
Q: Has U-M changed its employment practices to comply with Proposal 2?
A: Employment practices at U-M already complied with Proposal 2, and therefore, did not change. In addition, the University’s nondiscrimination policy remains in effect. The passage of Proposal 2 does not change U-M’s commitment to diversity, nor does it alter the University’s employment practices or the protections and requirements of various federal and state laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which prohibits a wide array of discrimination extending far beyond race and gender. Federal law requires the University, as a federal contractor, to take affirmative steps in the employment process in order to adhere to the equal employment opportunity and affirmative action provisions of Executive Order 11246 regarding race, gender, color, religion, and national origin.
Q: Does the University continue to seek minority and women faculty members?
A: Yes. Recruiting and retaining a diverse faculty is critical to our academic excellence. This important work will continue. Contact the Office of Institutional Equity for information on current guidelines.
Q: What has happened with the resources that, before Proposal 2, were dedicated to underrepresented minorities and gender-related programming?
A: Building a diverse community is an essential part of the University’s mission, and this work continues. A decrease in resources dedicated to these efforts is not anticipated, though, of course, those resources will be used in a manner that complies with applicable law.
Q: Has there been a change in the climate on the U-M campus?
A: The entire University community is working together to make sure our climate is welcoming, and that the success of every individual is supported. Every student admitted to U-M is highly qualified, and has earned his or her place at the University through hard work and academic achievement. Our faculty and staff are among the best in their fields, and are the foundation of our academic excellence. The University’s Expect Respect and Campus Commitment initiatives are significant reminders of the importance we place on respect for every individual.
Q: Where can I go for more information?
A: The University website, Diversity Matters at Michigan, is devoted to information, resources, and research about diversity. Updates are posted there regularly. In addition, U-M faculty, staff and students may submit questions to the Office of Institutional Equity, which will route their queries to the appropriate areas for response.