Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Risky business

One of the stranger aspects of the debate over the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative is the opposition of big business. A column in the Detroit News examines this phenomenon.

Big Business bosses oppose Proposal 2 because, they say, it threatens to scuttle efforts to diversify their work forces when their customer base -- and the global economy -- is diversity writ large. Big Labor and civil rights groups oppose it. Gov. Jennifer Granholm and her challenger, Dick DeVos, oppose it.

Big names, but not enough pull and not enough big money. That's why One United Michigan, a broad coalition formed to defeat Prop 2, is holding a fund-raiser Tuesday in Detroit, why Jesse Jackson is expected to be here this week, why a Washington political consultant, the Dewey Square Group, has been hired to galvanize opposition.

Clock is ticking

Each of Detroit's automakers has contributed $250,000. Comerica and DTE Energy each spent $150,000, people close to the effort tell me, and Toyota Motor Co. has pledged $100,000. Still, organizers are concerned they are running short on cash and time.

They worry that they have not yet stated a compelling case for why the proposal would be bad for Michigan, especially as it's gutting through a brutal transition from Old Economy industrial state to, theoretically, a New Economy knowledge state.

They haven't stated a compelling case, because they don't have one.

One real-world answer: That despite the wide disparity in school systems across Michigan, applicants to state universities would be treated the same, even if the resources and environment of their educations are anything but -- and everyone knows it.

Another real-world answer: That Michigan risks providing a legal template for challenging myriad programs -- say a university's outreach to girls interested in math and science -- when it most needs to attract and nurture talent. How does that help?
As much as we may dislike disproportionate outcomes, they are a reflection of reality. They are not going to go away by pretending they don't exist. We can't use universities to fix bad public schools.

From the perspective of our economic well-being, why does it matter whether our scientists are men or women? If we want more mathematicians and scientists, why not promote these subjects to both boys and girls?

Essentially, these business leaders are saying that the way to improve Michigan's economy is to promote less qualified people in place of more qualified people. With these people running major businesses, it's no wonder that our economy is in such bad shape.

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