Jews weigh in on landmark lawsuits against
the University of Michigan.
Stories by Staff Writer
i ailing to reach a decision on Brown vs.
On April 1, Ann Arbor-based U-M will present
Board of Education in 1952, the U.S.
oral arguments before the Supreme Court to
Supreme Court revisited the case two
defend its affirmative-action admissions policy in
years later. This time, civil rights
two cases charging unconstitutional discrimina-
attorney Thurgood Marshall, who would be
tion. In one, two unsuccessful white applicants
appointed the first African-American
challenge the U-M undergraduate admissions pol-
Supreme Court justice 13 years later, won a
icy; in the other, a rejected white applicant chal-
unanimous decision from the court.
lenges the law school. A decision is expected by
The Brown decision heralded the end of legal-
ized segregation in education in the United States,
"This is the most important civil rights case in a
with the Supreme Court declaring racially sepa-
decade," says Betsy Kellman, director of the Anti-
rate education could not be equal and schools
Defamation League Michigan Region.
must desegregate with "all deliberate speed."
Sheldon Steinback of the American Council on
With this goal in mind, a half-century later,
Education, a Washington, D.C.-based higher edu-
universities and colleges around the country are
cation advocacy group, calls it the most significant
still working on affirmative
civil rights case in 25 years.
action policies to find consti-
While the Jewish corn-
tutional ways to welcome
munity and its organiza-
qualified minorities, includ-
tions are known for their
ing African Americans,
great interest and contribu-
Hispanics and Native
tions in education, and for
Americans, to their campuses.
their active role in the civil
The numbers of the minori-
rights movement, the U-M
ty have not risen precipitously. Betsy
Law r ence
case for affirmative action
Since 1970, when University
has exposed divisions in
of Michigan students boy-
cotted classes until the univer-
The major concerns expressed in inter-
sity would consider increasing minorities, the per-
views with students, heads of organizations, pro-
centage of undergraduate African-American stu-
fessors and former U-M students can be summed
dents went from 2-3 percent then to a range
up in three issues:
between 7-12 percent over the past few years.
• Whether or not the U-M policy is quota
Ironically, it's U-M's attempt to change the
based, and therefore illegal.
number of minority students through its affirma-
• Whether race — like religion — is constitu-
tive action policy, which grants extra consideration
tional to use in evaluating potential students.
to minority applicants, that has brought national
• Whether the U-M policy unfairly gives
attention to this landmark legal battle.
African Americans a leg up and, if in so doing,
selects minority students not as qualified as other
The lawyers and researchers involved in this
case offer some surprising insights to both sides.
Jews And Quotas
Well aware of the effects of the quota system,
Lawrence Jackier, president of the Jewish
Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, says he was
excluded from Princeton University in Princeton,
N.J.; as an undergraduate in the early 1960s
because of a quota in place to keep down the
number of Jews. He went instead to U-M.
"We Jews faced negative action quotas, but
what the U-M is doing is affirmative — it's creat-
ing an opportunity to bring students in who don't
have the opportunity," he says.
Jackier believes one of the university's missions
is to make a positive impact on society — a chord
that resonates beyond the education of any one
"It gets very personal if my grandson applies fo
U-M and doesn't get in," he says. "But I have to
take a step back and recognize the university has a
higher calling. So my grandson will go somewhere
else, and the overall society he lives in has the
potential to be a better society."
Others are more critical of U-M's policy, which is
reminiscent, they say, of quota systems that once
kept Jews out of colleges and universities until the
"Strictly speaking, the university doesn't use a
quota, but what they do amounts to one," says U-
M philosophy professor Carl Cohen, 71, of Ann
AFFIRMATIVE ACTION on page 12