Prof Wants a Vote on Affirmative Action Ban Enrollment, Hiring Practices Targeted Nebraska Petition

United States


Omaha World-Herald

November 14, 2007   


By Matthew Hansen

A University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor, with help from a California group, has filed a ballot petition seeking to bar the state’s public universities from considering race, ethnicity and gender when enrolling students, handing out scholarships and hiring professors.

Marc Schniederjans, a UNL management professor, said he and a group called "Super Tuesday for Equal Rights" filed the petition with Secretary of State John Gale on Friday.

With that act, they set into motion a yearlong process expected to culminate when voters head to the ballot boxes next November.

If history is any guide, they also started a dust-up: Similar anti-affirmative action ballot measures in California, Michigan and Washington have sparked high-spending, high intensity campaigns on both sides of the issue.

Supporters of the measures, such as Ward Connerly, the California businessman behind Super Tuesday for Equal Rights, argue that affirmative action practices are unfair and actually demean minority groups who benefit from them.

"Do Nebraskans want to have a situation where we’re treating people differently?" said Doug Tietz, director of Connerly’s group, on Tuesday.

That stance for the past decade has infuriated college officials across the country who say Connerly’s ballot initiatives make it harder to build a diverse student body.

Since California voters banned affirmative action a decade ago, the number of black and Hispanic students at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, Los Angeles, has dropped to its lowest point in decades.

The ballot initiative also comes at a time when the University of Nebraska’s four campuses are starting to attract more low-income and nonwhite students, said David Cicotello, the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s recruiting director.

"Anything that would have a chilling effect, an adverse effect on providing access to college is problematic and certainly controversial," Cicotello said.

There’s considerable debate about how, if at all, an affirmative action ban would affect public universities in Nebraska.

Schniederjans and Tietz say they can find plenty of examples where the public universities in the state have given racial or ethnic minorities preference over whites.

Tietz mentioned a policy at UNL’s law school that he said encouraged law school leaders to recruit more nonwhite students. Schniederjans, who has been a professor at UNL since 1981, said he has seen affirmative action at work in the state of Nebraska. Neither would be more specific Tuesday.

But Ron Withem, the University of Nebraska’s lobbyist, said the university has changed all its publicly funded scholarships that used to go strictly to minority students. Now, he said, those scholarships are available to low-income students no matter their race or ethnicity.

"My sense is we don’t have quotas, we don’t have preferential admissions, we don’t have the type of things that have been the issues in other states," Withem said. "So I’m not sure why people think this is necessary to put into our constitution."

The initiative petition must first pass constitutional muster before it is circulated. In other states, courts have struck down similar measures, deeming them overly confusing and misleading.

Supporters of the affirmative action ban would have to get 100,000 petition signatures to get it onto the ballot, Tietz said.

Connerly’s group has ample experience organizing petition drives and then directing campaigns. The group succeeded in passing affirmative action bans in California, Washington and Michigan. A ballot initiative backed by Connerly’s group has never been defeated in a statewide election.

That success led Connerly to back the ballot initiative efforts in Nebraska as well as those in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri and Oklahoma during this election cycle.






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