Diversity loses in some areas, holds steady in others

As the U.S. Supreme Court continues to wrestle with the issue of affirmative action in Michigan and around the nation, it’s time to take a look at what the end of the practice in public and university decision-making has meant in our state.

Proposal 2 of 2006 banned the type of smart affirmative action and diversity programs in government hiring, education and contracting that are commonplace in the private sector. Private sector companies have a clear dollars and cents incentive to take extraordinary steps to ensure qualified individuals and companies are engaged with their operations. It’s been proven repeatedly that organizations without diversity are not as efficient at delivering services to the constituencies they are supposed to be serving.

Today, those kinds of diversity and affirmative action efforts are prohibited in the public sector in Michigan. And a study commissioned by the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion looking at college enrollments, hiring at the state and local level, and contracting practices and outcomes since 2006 shows there has been an impact.

It wasn’t easy gathering information for this study. Many state agencies and local governments apparently don’t want to know if they are diverse and are not collecting this potentially controversial data, or are making it hard for researchers to easily obtain. That’s a real problem, one that state officials should look at correcting. If you don’t know the numbers, you can’t see if you are experiencing a problem.

But we also found:

Major reductions in the participation of people of color in some areas: In some state agencies and operations, minority hiring seems to have almost vanished – starting with Gov. Rick Snyder’s office, where there are only six women and no people of color serving as of June 2013 – a major reduction since 2008. Editor's note: A spokesman for Gov. Snyder disputes this contention, and states there are five people of color and 21 women working in the office. Costello states he was referring to the governor's cabinet, not his office staff. Bridge regrets the confusion.

There was also a major reduction in enrollment of people of color in public university law and medical schools, a major public policy concern going forward since few white doctors choose to serve communities of color.

Little slippage in some areas: Undergraduate enrollment at major universities and the employment of people of color in many state and local government departments remains at pre-Proposal 2 levels in many cases, largely a result of expanded outreach efforts.

In Michigan’s three major medical schools – University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Michigan State University and Wayne State University – trend lines for medical students shows a steep decline in enrollment of people of color with these universities enrolling 5 percent fewer African Americans, 3 percent fewer Latinos, and 28 percent lower enrollment of all students of color from 2006 to 2011.

This will have an impact on the ability of urban residents to obtain medical care in years to come. The fact is few white physicians, dentists, psychiatrists and other medical providers set up operations in inner city neighborhoods. And limited mass transit opportunities make it difficult for people of color to reach suburban providers.

As Michigan decides how to ensure adequate opportunities for all to have access to public education, jobs and contracts, this report will provide valuable data. Often, opponents of affirmative action simply act as if racism has been abolished in Michigan. They talk about equal treatment “under the law.” But if we don’t have anything close to equal treatment in a variety of settings, we will have only the unfulfilled hope of “equal treatment.”

Our hope is that this report will be part of an honest and open discussion about race in our state, so that the unfulfilled hopes and dreams of many can be changed into real opportunity for all.

Thomas Costello
After 30 years of practicing law, Thomas Costello left the corporate world to advocate for diversity and inclusion in Michigan. He became President and CEO of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion in March 2008. This human rights and social justice organization is dedicated to building sustainable inclusive communities in Michigan. Prior to joining the Michigan Roundtable, he served on its Board of Directors and was general counsel and vice president for an information technology company in Detroit. His early practice years included work in criminal and juvenile justice.

The Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion
The Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion has been a not-for-profit human rights organization located in Detroit working to overcome discrimination and racism by crossing racial, religious, ethnic and cultural boundaries. We bring together community leaders from government, law enforcement, education, faith, grass roots organizations and business to understand different points of view and then take action to overcome structural impediments to inclusion and equity. Our programs are recognized by national organizations for bringing about sustainable change. Our mission is: “serving as a catalyst for change, we develop, organize, and empower individuals and communities to advance equity and opportunity for all.” We have a vision of opportunity for all.

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Wed, 09/25/2013 - 8:52am
"Our hope is that this report will be part of an honest and open discussion about race in our state, so that the unfulfilled hopes and dreams of many can be changed into real opportunity for all." Won't happen, discussions about race usually end up with those making accusations and those defending the status quo not coming to anything close to a real understanding of each other.
Thu, 09/26/2013 - 9:18am
I disagree. Hard data speaks and will encourage action. For example, the shameful White Man Dominance of the Snyder administration will be noticed more now because of this work. If he gets re-elected, I believe he will look at the demographic data and hire more women and staff of color.
Thu, 09/26/2013 - 9:40am
Why should he wait until he gets re-elected? why not take action now? You missed the part about "open and honest discussion", behind closed doors decision making is not the same thing as "open and honest discussion". Most people are very intimidated about talking openly about race, I have seen it over and over again.
Thu, 09/26/2013 - 9:17am
Wow, president & CEO of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity & Inclusion. From the article it looks to me as if he is obsessed with racial quotas. Here’s a radical thought; perhaps people should be hired or admitted to a college based on their qualifications, not because of the color of their skin. It seems to me there was a dynamic preacher back in the 60's who had a dream that such thinking would become the norm. The Roundtable is apparently unaware of this concept.
Thu, 09/26/2013 - 11:04am
Diversity means a lot more than race or sex but the grievance gallery doesn't have the creativity, intelligence or motivation to really pursue its full meaning. Which is why when you close your eyes, the institutions that you consider diverse are nothing but ideological and economic monoliths. Clearly the only thing you really care about is race and sex and for this reason the vast majority of citizens don't and shouldn't pay any attention.
Gene Markel
Thu, 09/26/2013 - 11:54am
For 175 years white affirmative action was the rule of the land. Beginning with people of color who were property and counted as 3/5 of a person. Once emancipated, people of color were segregated and the Supreme Court sealed the deal with Plessy vs Ferguson and separate but equal. People of color gained a bit of equality with Brown vs The Board of Education. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 opened the door. The voting act of 1965 brought the poeple of color closer to being treated as citizens. Affirmative Action leveled the playing field. I think affirmative action should be strictly enforced for at least 100 years to give people of color an advantage that white people have enjoyed for 175 years. In 2015 it will be one hundred fifty years since the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, yet there is reluctance to accept people of color. Why?
Fri, 09/27/2013 - 1:17am
Gene, I am not clear on your 'white affirmative action'. Was that when hunkies', 'pollocks'. and other 'white' ethnic groups were denied jobs simply because they were of certian ethnic groups. The reality is that we cannot change the past and unless we can let go of it we will never change. I had no responsibility of how my parents chose to live (it was a different time and place), I can only live my life here and now. My children are not responsible for how I live, they must live their lives as they choose. What happen 175 years ago didn't happen to anyone living today, the world has changed and we need to live in the here and now.
Fri, 09/27/2013 - 1:06am
I was taught that what the person did/does, not who they were/are that makes them important. The Mr. Costello seems to care more about the number of women of a certain status on the Governor’s staff than what they contribute or what others on the staff contribute. Rather than seeing the importance of the diversity of ideas a staff person offers he seems to see more importance the numbers based on gender and ethnicity. I believe that ethnicity, gender, or life style should not be used as barriers to opportunities such as education, work, etc. However, I do not believe it should be used in place of competency, productivity, preparedness, civility, work ethic, etc. when being chosen for work or in retaining a job. I have learned we are each unique and through that uniqueness we can offer a variety of ideas and perspective, the diversity of ideas and actions provides value to each community. I am sorry for Mr. Costello and others because it can’t be distilled to a number they can throw around, but that doesn’t diminishes the value diversity of ideas provides.