Statement on Upcoming Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday

January 12, 2007

On Eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger—former President of University of Michigan, whose Affirmative Action policies made Supreme Court Precedent—Calls for Continued Progress on Equal Opportunity

New York, Jan. 12, 2007—Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger—a former dean of the law school and president of the University of Michigan who was named defendant in the cases of Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger that upheld the University’s affirmative action programs – today issued the following statement in advance of the national holiday observing the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Last week, the University of Michigan was forced to comply with curbs on affirmative action as a result of last November’s Michigan Proposition 2 referendum.

On Monday we will mark the seventy-eighth birthday of America ’s “trumpet of conscience,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We pause to remember his historic accomplishments in ending legal segregation and winning the voting rights of every American—and to consider the work we all still have to do to make his dream of equal opportunity for all a living reality in our nation.

Many want to believe that prejudice is a relic of history. Others of us wish this were true, but conscience and experience tell us better. In the last year, we have seen a majority of Michigan voters pass a ballot measure to dismantle all public affirmative action programs—thus toppling the ladder of equal opportunity in higher education that so many of us fought to build and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 2003. Even as I write, the Court is considering two public school cases out of Washington and Kentucky that seek to erode Brown v. Board of Education’s resounding principle that “separate is inherently unequal.”

Having taken such long strides toward the freedom Dr. King could only imagine from his Birmingham jail cell, we now find ourselves struggling merely to keep from sliding backwards from the kinds of diversity that make our universities, our businesses, our military, and our society so much stronger. As Dr. King knew so well, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” I hope that, not just on this day of the year but every day, we will honor Dr. King by joining in that continuous struggle to ensure that our country lives up to its highest ideals.