The Diag

Remembering Students Missing After Proposal 2

The student body can be measured by those who are absent, as well as those who attend the University of Michigan. These 950 empty maize and blue chairs help us imagine the number of underrepresented minority students who did not attend the university after Proposal 2 deemed affirmative action unconstitutional in the State of Michigan.

The university’s use of affirmative action in admissions was first adjudicated in 2003 when two lawsuits involving U-M’s policy reached the U.S. Supreme Court (Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger). In the first case, the court upheld the Law School’s admissions policy while in the second, it ruled against the university’s undergraduate admissions policy.  In both cases, the court upheld the use of race as one factor among many in university admissions as an approach to achieving the educational benefits of a diverse student body.

In November 2006, Michigan voters passed the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, also known as Proposal 2, banning most affirmative action in university admissions.  On November 8, 2006, then President Mary Sue Coleman spoke to nearly 1,700 members of the university community at the Diag: “We pledge to remain unified in our fight for diversity.” In April 2014, Proposal 2 was reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court and found to be constitutional. It remains in effect today.

Professor of History and American Culture Matthew Countryman first observed the effect of Proposal 2 in his classroom. How many students, he then asked, were missing from U-M’s student body because of the change in law? The numbers are not easy to calculate, and no number can capture the scope of this loss to our community. Still, Professor Countryman explains that, for 2007-2016, the missing students represented by theses chairs include approximately 860 African Americans, 133 Latino/as and 56 Native Americans.

How Were The Missing Wolverines Estimated?

There is, of course, no way to be sure exactly how many more underrepresented minority students would have enrolled at U-M had Proposition 2 not passed. In order to arrive at an estimate of the number of missing students, one has to make a number of assumptions, assumptions that are explained in this document provided by Professor of History and American Culture Matthew Countryman.

Looking Ahead

“The challenge for the university community going forward is to find ways to reckon with and rectify U-M’s and the nation’s exclusionary past — as symbolized by these empty chairs — while also responding to the imperatives borne of our soon-to-be majority-minority society.”

Matthew Countryman
Associate Professor of History and American Culture

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U-M’s Past

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Related Links

To learn more about diversity, equity & inclusion efforts and challenges at U-M: