On election day the citizens of Michigan dealt a perhaps fatal blow to state-based racial preferences. By a margin of 58 percent to 42 percent they passed Proposal 2 — also known as the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) — thereby banning the use of such preferences in state contracting, hiring and college admissions.

The role of women in general, and various women leaders in particular, in this landmark vote merits discussion.

Inside Higher Ed points out, citing a CNN exit poll of Michigan voters, “that the ban passed because of support from men. Sixty percent of men, but only 47 percent of women said that they backed the ban.” By such indications, most women in Michigan continue to be taken in by the politically correct elites and to reject the principle of equal treatment.

So slickly did the pro-affirmative action troops tar those opposing quotas as outcasts and bigots that many of those who wanted to support MCRI could not summon the courage to do so, and many who in the end backed the proposition would not admit to doing so. In an interview before the vote with Harry Stein in the City Journal, an exasperated Jennifer Gratz, the MCRI’s executive director and the former lead plaintiff in a landmark affirmative-action lawsuit against the University of Michigan, said, “There’s just this fear of standing up and doing the right thing.” The heroic Gratz, who in filing the suit claimed to have been discriminated against on the basis of race at the university, confided, “I can’t tell you how many people have whispered in my ear, ‘I’m with you, but I can’t say anything publicly.'” So much for civic bravery.

A main tactic on the part of the pro-affirmative action forces was to barrage women with the claim that their interests would be harmed by doing away with preferences. For example, Patricia Gurin, a women’s studies professor at the University of Michigan, had argued vigorously in the past that racial preferences are a compelling governmental interest. As I noted prior to the vote, Gurin revived her argument in the MCRI struggle, and John Rosenberg argued back — persuasively, in my view — against her position: 

She’s at it again — arguing that passing the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI)would be bad for (you guessed it) women. So, despite (or because of) how much her work is a waste product of the “diversity” debate, it is unfortunately necessary to perform Gurinanalysis once again.

The day after the vote Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, took to her bully pulpit to reprimand Michigan’s backward voters and threatened a lawsuit to nullify the result. “Diversity matters at Michigan,” she grandstanded before a screaming crowd of hundreds of student and faculty protesters in Ann Arbor. “It matters today, and it will matter tomorrow.” She announced as well that she has “directed our General Counsel to consider every legal option available to us.” Thomas Bray, writing in The New York Sun, criticized Coleman for her condescending and contemptuous response:

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!

As Bray also remarks, Coleman’s tirade should make parents shudder to imagine what their “children are being taught when prominent schools like the University of Michigan show such contempt for the voters and the democratic process.”

Moreover, there is the question of whether prominent leaders such as Coleman and Gurin acted in good faith in the struggle over MCR. What accounts for their obdurate refusal to acknowledge and communicate the hard facts about the destructive failure of affirmative action policies? Peter Kiranow in the National Review elaborates:

Perhaps twenty years ago academic elites could hide behind the veil of uninformed good intentions to justify racial preferences; today, hard evidence continues to mount demonstrating that racial preferences have a devastating impact on preferred minorities — because of the mismatch effect caused by affirmative action (i.e., under-qualified minorities being admitted to schools at which they have difficulty competing) — black law students flunk out at two-and-a-half times the rate of whites and are six times less likely to pass the bar, [and,] half of black law students never become lawyers, academic elitesalso fail to tell Asian students that many, if not most, admissions offices discriminate against Asian applicants in a manner resembling the Jewish quotas of the 1950s. How many Asian students know that their odds of being admitted at selective schools are 200 times worse than those of a similarly qualified black or Hispanic applicant?

Women were a vital, indeed potentially determining, force in this watershed vote. There is a need to analyze why in this and other instances they come down on the side of discriminatory practices dangerous to this democracy.

The lesson in the case of the MCRI battle? Women need to speak up for equal treatment of all.