General Motors Takes
Strong Stand On Diversity Issues
General Motors Corporation filed a legal
brief in support of the University of Michigan as it
fights two lawsuits attacking the school's use of affirmative
action policies in the student admissions process.
In 1997, the University of Michigan
was sued by the Center for Individual Rights (CIR) on
behalf of three students who were denied entry to the
University. The plaintiffs are challenging the University's
affirmative action policy taking the position that the
University's admissions practices unlawfully discriminate
against them, because the University takes race and
ethnicity into account as a "plus" factor among many
factors in its admissions process.
The University's lead counsel, John
Payton, a noted civil rights attorney of the Washington
D.C. law firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering and local
counsel Butzel Long, of Detroit have summarized the
University's position. In short, the Constitution and
civil rights statutes, as interpreted by the Supreme
Court in the 1978 Bakke decision, permit it to take
race and ethnicity into account in its admissions program
in order to achieve the educational benefits of a diverse
student body. A racially diverse student body produces
significant educational benefits because of the current
state of segregation and separation along racial lines
in America. These benefits constitute a "compelling
governmental interest" which justifies the consideration
of race and ethnicity in the University's admissions
The two lawsuits were originally
filed in federal court -- Eastern District of Michigan:
Gratz v. Bollinger, et. al was filed
on October 13, 1997 and was assigned to Judge Patrick
Duggan. It challenges the University's use of race in
its admission process to its largest undergraduate college,
the College of Literature, Science & the Arts. It is
brought by Jennifer Gratz, an unsuccessful applicant
for the 1995 Fall Term, and Patrick Hamacher, an unsuccessful
applicant for the 1997 Fall Term.
Grutter v. Bollinger, et. al was filed
on December 3, 1997 and was assigned to Judge Bernard
Friedman. It challenges the University's use of race
in its admissions process at the Law School and is brought
by Barbara Grutter, an unsuccessful applicant for the
1997 Fall entering class.
In both cases, the Center for Individual
Rights ("CIR") is representing the plaintiffs with Minneapolis
law firm of Maslon, Edelman, Borman & Brand serving
as lead counsel. CIR, a law firm located in Washington,
D.C. has been conducting a campaign of lawsuits to dismantle
affirmative action. They represented Cheryl Hopwood
in Texas; and are currently suing the University of
Washington Law School and several other institutions
over affirmative action programs.
Groups of students and citizens have
intervened to defend the University's policy in both
cases. Although their intervention was initially denied
by the district courts, in August 1999 the Court of
Appeals for the Sixth Circuit allowed the intervention
and made the student and citizen-groups full parties
in the case. The intervenors have been defending the
University's policy on the basis that it is needed to
remedy past and/or present discrimination against minorities.
As one of the intervenors, General Motors
took a strong position in support of the university
citing the importance of diversity in America's workforce.
As an American company, that is a major participant
in today's global automotive business, GM notes in the
brief that its interest in these cases is substantial.
With a presence in more than 200 different countries
and manufacturing operations throughout the world, it
is critical that GM be able to recruit candidates, who
have been educated at selective American universities
such as the University of Michigan, that possess cross
cultural competence and the ability to respond to the
varied needs of a diverse customer base and diverse
As stated by Rod Gillum, GM's Vice
President of Corporate Relations and Diversity:
"It is absolutely essential for our
employees to be racially, culturally and ethnically
diverse to understand our customer bases in each country,
and to position the company accordingly," said Gillum.
"GM's experience is that only a well-educated, diverse
workforce that has learned to work productively and
creatively with individuals from a multitude of races
and ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds, can
maintain America's competitiveness in the increasingly
diverse competitive global marketplace."
In its brief, GM also cites the risk
to corporate America if our academic institutions are
not allowed to maintain racial and ethnic diversity
in the student body: "Such a ruling would reduce racial
and ethnic diversity in the pool of employment candidates
from which the nation's businesses can draw their future
According to Gillum, "Managers unskilled
in considering diverse perspectives may fail to recognize
excellent ideas when they come from unexpected sources.
Diversity fosters acceptance, improves morale, promotes
dialogue and problem-solving, and at the end of the
day, companies like GM will be left with a more productive,
" The GM brief cites two key arguments
in support of the U of M's affirmative action policies:
Consideration of race in university
admissions furthers a compelling interest in educating
students and training them to function in global marketplaces.
Elimination of affirmative action
in leading educational institutions would deprive businesses
of the well-trained minority candidates who are essential
to our nation's economic success.
University of Michigan, President Lee
C. Bollinger expressed his pleasure with GM's support.
"The amicus brief submitted by General
Motors shows that the University's ability to enroll
a diverse student population is not only key to a quality
education but essential to the economic vitality of
our state and the nation. General Motors' amicus brief
further underscores the link between higher education
and business-diversity is as important in achieving
educational quality as it is to producing global economic
competitiveness," Bollinger said "We are deeply gratified
by General Motors support of our educational objectives."
Many organizations and entities have
filed "friend of the Court" briefs in this on going
litigation. In support of the University's position
that diversity is a compelling governmental interest,
the following have filed briefs: the U.S. Department
of Justice on behalf of the United States; General Motors
Corporation; a group of 20 Fortune 500 corporations
led by Steelcase, Inc. and including Microsoft, Intel
and others; the Attorney General of Michigan; the American
Council on Education (and numerous other higher education
organizations); the State of Ohio; the Association of
American Law Schools; the National Association of State
Universities and Land Grant Colleges; the National Association
of Social Workers; the Committee on Institutional Cooperation
(composed of the Big Ten schools plus the University
of Chicago) and Wayne State University.
In support of the plaintiff's position
that diversity is not a compelling interest, the National
Association of Scholars has filed a brief.
The plaintiffs are suing the University,
a public university founded in 1817, and specific University
officials in their individual and official capacities.
Both cases have been certified as class actions for
purposes of reviewing the policies at issue.
Both cases are on appeal in the Sixth
Circuit Court of Appeals, where they are being reviewed
on an expedited basis. Oral argument will be held in
the October 2001 term of the court. (October 22-November