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University of Michigan: The People, Damn Them!

By Thomas Bray

The elitest cocoon within which academia is embedded was on full display in last week's post-election performance by Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan.

Voters in Michigan, like voters in California and the state of Washington before them, had just given 58-42 percent approval to a ballot proposal banning the use of race-based preferences in state hiring, contracting and university admissions. But rather than accept such an affront to the gods of diversity, Coleman took to the streets to denounce Michigan's benighted voters and threaten a lawsuit to overturn the result.

"Diversity matters at Michigan," she blustered to a howling mob of hundreds of student and faculty protestors in Ann Arbor. "It matters today, and it will matter tomorrow." She went on to announce that she has "directed our General Counsel to consider every legal option available to us."

In other words, to paraphrase a politician from another, unlamented era, "preferences today, preferences tomorrow, preferences forever." Moreover, the university may now go to the breathtakingly arrogant extreme of using taxpayer funds to try to undo what the taxpayers and voters approved by a landslide margin. The people, damn them!

Never mind that a similar lawsuit was rejected by the liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after California's very similar Prop 209 was approved a decade ago, or that opponents of Michigan's Proposal 2 had already tried - and failed - to get courts to throw the measure off the ballot before the election on various trumped-up charges.

Coleman's rant was a reflection of the degree to which academia remains firmly in thrall to the forces of political correctness. A national survey of more than 1,200 professors at four-year colleges and universities in the spring of 2005 by the Institute of Jewish & Community Research, a nonpartisan group in San Francisco, found that professors were three times as likely to call themselves "liberal" as "conservative." And that probably understates the case, since most of the rest are middle of the road only by comparison to their brethren.

Thus if Coleman had not toed the line, she could expect to share the fate of Harvard's ex-president, Lawrence Summers, who was run off campus by faculty radicals (and a gutless Board of Overseers) after being caught musing about the mere possibility that gender might play some sort of role in career decisions. The egalitarian fringe would prefer to suppress dissent than to permit open discussion of such matters.

Coleman can't complain that Michigan voters didn't know what was at stake on Nov. 7. Virtually the entire political, business, union and academic establishment of Michigan had combined to mount a noisy, mendacious campaign against Proposal 2 that outspent the pro-Prop 2 forces by nearly four to one.

And this followed years of lively national debate over the use of racial preferences by the University of Michigan in its admissions process. The U.S. Supreme Court tried to split the difference in the Michigan cases, ruling that a more "holistic" use of race and ethnicity was allowable. But even that was too much for Michigan's voters - perhaps because they were aware that minorities continue to gain a huge advantage over white applicants with equal qualifications.

Public colleges and universities across the country constantly moan about lack of taxpayer support. Maybe they should take a long, hard look in the mirror. Voters - and tuition-paying parents -- might be forgiven for wondering what their kids are being taught when prominent schools like the University of Michigan show such contempt for the voters and the democratic process.

Tom Bray writes columns for The Detroit News and RealClearPolitics.com. Email: tbray@detnews.com

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