Skip to comments.Some Companies Back Michigan's Affirmative Action Policy
Posted on 01/28/2003 7:00:05 PM PST by GeneD
Some of the country's biggest corporations, concerned about their ability to recruit women and minority applicants, are supporting the University of Michigan in its court battle to preserve affirmative action in opposition to the Bush administration.
Dozens of companies, including 3M, Microsoft, Bank One, Steelcase, PepsiCo and Exelon, plan to tell the Supreme Court that universities should be allowed to consider race as a factor in admissions. In the lower court cases against the university, more than 30 companies argued that diversity in college was essential because future employees need the experience of working with people from different backgrounds.
Though executives at the companies would not discuss it openly, several conceded privately that they were also motivated by the desire to polish their corporate image and to head off future lawsuits. But they also said that without a diverse pool of educated applicants supplied by colleges and universities, their own efforts at minority recruitment would suffer.
A loss by Michigan would "have a very detrimental effect on companies and others trying to have a diverse work force," said Randall E. Mehrberg, general counsel at Exelon, a large energy company based in Chicago. "That is what is first and foremost on my radar screen."
Several companies that filed briefs in the University of Michigan case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit stated that they had longstanding relationships with universities to help them identify and recruit talented applicants, whether minority students or not.
Procter & Gamble, which signed that brief, "has historically relied upon nearby universities of superior academic training, such as the University of Michigan, as a key source of new employees," according to a statement.
General Motors has filed a brief in support of the university, and a group of retired military officers plans to file a brief as well out of concern that policies at elite military academies could also be undercut by the Supreme Court's decision.
Staking out a position in support of the University of Michigan earns companies respect in the eyes of employees and job applicants, said Susan Sturm, a law professor at Columbia University. "Putting aside however genuine their concerns are, taking a position in favor of inclusiveness buys respect," Professor Sturm said. At a time that investors and employees may have less trust in corporate America, she said, "it buys them legitimacy with their employees and it buys them that with the public."
She added, though, that the argument of the companies about more difficulty in recruiting is also valid. "If affirmative action policies in colleges and professional schools are undercut, it's going to put a lot of pressure on firms to compete for a very small number of minority employees," Professor Sturm said. Their task will be complicated by all the conscious and unconscious biases of company employees responsible for hiring, she added.
The tack chosen by the companies also puts them at odds with the Bush administration, which has indicated that it will argue that the policy at the University of Michigan is impermissible. Mr. Bush criticized the university earlier this month, saying it gave preference to some applicants "not because of any academic achievement or life experience, but solely because they are African-American, Hispanic or Native American."
The fact that the president's position differs from that of executives is "a story about division within the Republican coalition," said Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, where the affirmative action policy was challenged in the mid-1990's.
Larry Purdy, a lawyer for one of the people challenging the university's affirmative action program, disputed that view and said that the friend-of-the-court briefs filed in the past by companies had not defended the specific policy in place at the University of Michigan, using race as only a factor in admissions.
"It would be both sad and disappointing that any major corporation would be taking a position supporting policies that are fundamentally at odds with the colorblind principles embodied in our great civil rights legislation," he said. He added that eliminating the affirmative action policy at the university would not necessarily result in shrinking the minority population there.
Executives at companies supporting the university said that if Michigan lost, they would try to find ways to identify and hire women, African-Americans, Hispanics and other minority applicants.
"Businesses are extremely resourceful, and they'll work hard to overcome it," said James P. Hackett, president and chief executive of Steelcase. He fears, though, "we may actually cede the progress that we've made."
The companies emphasize that their customers, suppliers and partners increasingly operate all over the world.
"They want to be able to have people from all backgrounds who match and mirror the populations they serve," Mr. Mehrberg of Exelon said. "We believe they will be better equipped to work in the global environment, in diverse communities, if they are educated in an environment of diversity."
Lawyers at some companies may be worried that a movement against affirmative action could eventually lead to challenges of their own personnel policies, Professor Sturm said.
How many of the companies that signed lower court briefs on behalf of the University of Michigan will sign the Supreme Court filing is not yet certain because some companies do not want to commit themselves until they see the final version, which will be filed by Feb. 18, said David W. DeBruin, a partner at the law firm of Jenner & Block in Washington. Mr. DeBruin is one of the lawyers working on the Supreme Court brief. "Many of the companies have committed. What I just don't have is the final lineup," he said. "Ultimately there is a very good chance that we will have many more companies."
Wonder what these boneheads would say if it was their own deserving kids who were denied entry because of their skin color. What kind of company would want an executive who didn't want the best and brightest recruits? I would seriously have trouble buying the stock of a company with this kind of attitude....
So they aren't getting the "superior" academic trained employees if the student ONLY gets in due to the color of their skin OR they don't think minorities can get in on their own merit and are therefore racial bigots.
Corporations will have to pay less to Dumb & Dumber graduates.