Column: The Grosse Pointe Gross Point System

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Mr. Thompson, Professor of Public Administration, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is the author of Legalized Gambling: A Reference Handbook (Santa Barbara and Denver: ABC-Clio, 1994 and 1997-2nd ed.).

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What goes around comes around--in the same circle. In the 1960s I was a political science student, first at Michigan State University, then at the University of Missouri. I observed a process of applying points to one's race up close in local media as well as in the literature of my academic discipline. Political Scientist Norman C. Thomas of the University of Michigan wrote a book entitled, Rule 9: Politics, Administration, and Civil Rights (1966). The book chronicled and analyzed a major policy controversy in the state of Michigan. The fight involved "open housing" policies. Perhaps the methods realtors in Detroit suburbs used to select homebuyers--and even their motivations--provided the model that has been more recently used at the undergraduate admissions office of Thomas's University of Michigan.

In the Spring of 1960 as a result of a court case, the realtors association of very affluent suburban Grosse Pointe (the association brought together realtors from all the Grosse Pointes--Farms, Woods, etc.), just to the northeast of the city of Detroit, was "exposed." They were shown to have been using some rather "questionable" techniques when determining if a particular homebuyer would qualify to purchase a home in one of the Grosse Pointes. They had a rather "normal" goal of wishing to "preserve property values," by having only people with certain qualifications buy homes. They came up with an "ingenious" system for determining an individual's qualification as a buyer. The Grosse Pointe Brokers Association (GPBA) freely admitted what they were doing in open court, and they found the court upholding their actions. However, the revelations hit the local Detroit public media and then they quickly became a national news story. The Michigan political leadership was not amused, especially Governor G. Mennen Williams, a liberal Democrat and a resident of Grosse Pointe. He was quickly in touch with the state attorney general, Paul Adams, another notable liberal Democrat. Adams and a subordinate of his, Lawrence Gubow, the state corporations and securities commissioner, concluded that Gubow had the authority to contrive an administrative rule that would prohibit discrimination in housing sales. He held hearings, and he promulgated Rule 9.

However, things are not always that simple. The realtors responded with a court case resulting in a 7-0 state supreme court decision saying the rule was a violation of powers held by the commissioner, that such a provision as in the rule could only be adopted by legislative action. Paul Adams had been appointed (and then elected) to the court, but he did not participate in the 1963 case.

After several false starts, open housing legislation was passed in a subsequent legislative sessions when Republican Governor George Romney gave his support for the action. The Grosse Pointe system could no longer be implemented. Not ironically, George Romney became U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Affairs in the Nixon Administration.

The Grosse Pointe system became known as the Grosse Pointe Point system, and thereby it serves as an interesting precedent for the system used by the University of Michigan in recent years.

Under the system a realtor would find a potential purchaser for a home. Then a private investigator would be hired to make a report on the person. The report would be given to a committee of three brokers and they would take information from the report and use it to assign points to the buyer. Points would be given for matters such as the "extent to which" the buyer was "Americanized," along with his "general standing." This included references to the "swarthiness of appearance," "friends," "dress," "religion," "education," "use of grammar," and "accent."

Norman C. Thomas writes: "The screening process was not required for persons of Northern European ancestry, e.g., Anglo-Saxons, Germans, French, Scandinavians, etc. Out of a maximum 100 points, Poles had to score 55 to pass, Southern Europeans 65, and Jews 85. Negroes and Orientals were not eligible for consideration, their disqualification being automatic." If a house was sold to a buyer who did not survive with a favorable point total, the realtor would forfeit all sales commissions to the association--that is if they wished to continue to do business as part of the GPBA.

Times change, but same thinking remains. Fortunately the final word is also consistent over decades. The Grosse Pointe Point system has fallen at the hands of correct thinking liberal and moderate forces. Colleagues and soul mates of the same Michigan liberals who brought down Grosse Pointe Points also brought Grosse Pointe thinking to the admissions office of the University of Michigan. In the admissions process points were assigned to applicants for a variety of factors including their race. Discrimination on the basis of race was resurrected. But now because of correct thinking conservatives and moderates on the U.S. Supreme Court another race point system has fallen.

As a Michigan State grad I only suggest that the University of Michigan now try to revive their corrupt Basketball program by scoring some points on another court. I suspect they won't be successful with points there either--for many years to come.

In earlier columns for HNN I wrote in praise of the Veterans Preference point system used by the Civil Service. I believed that "point" system had merit because it was simple to understand, and that it gave rewards specifically to people who were qualified, to people who had served their country, and had suffered lost job opportunities during that service. I also indicated how I (a white person, male and 40 years old) had presumably received the rewards of an affirmative action system that required universities to cast the net very very wide as they sought job candidates. In my university's search for minority job applicants they had cast their net over me among many others, and I got the job. I suggested that everyone should be willing to support programs that strive to find applicants from a diverse lot. I still think a point system could be supportable in some circumstances, ergo ones like the military preference system--when all applicants must first be "qualified," and when there is a demonstration that the applicant has specifically suffered opportunity losses due to his or her condition. Perhaps it could be used where in the past there was a definite discrimination pattern. But lacking a legitimate reason for individual preferences based upon racial backgrounds, it is best that affirmative action emphasize the "affirmative" and not negative labeling of peoples. Of course in adopting the rationale of the University of Michigan cases we ask for more confusion in the future, but endemic in all our policy making, as Deborah Stone emphasizes as the main point in her book Policy Paradox, is the notion of ambiguity and unclear political mandates.

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Clayton E. Cramer - 7/11/2003

"We are not a color blind society as the Republicans like to say." And your solution to this is more racism, as some sort of balance? Gandhi said that, "An eye for an eye will blind the world." Racism, and the appearance of racism, just encourages more in retaliation.

"Without a educated population, our country is doomed to fail. We are already seeing the results of the dumbing down of America by the lack of questions we ask of our current leaders." Yet this dumbing down of America took place while our institutions were focusing on diversity--not education. Do you suppose that there's a connection?

"I did not meet black people until I went to college and I certainly would not want my children to go to school with only whites." I find it amazing that anyone in the U.S. didn't meet black poeple until they went to college. I live in Idaho now, and while this is definitely a pretty white part of the country, there are black kids at my son's high school. Where were you living?

What makes you think that ending affirmative action programs is going to result in white-only colleges? Most black students at University of Michigan were admitted under the same standards as white students. In most schools, affirmative action admissions are typically 1/3 of the black students. That means 2/3 of the black students are getting there without any racist assistance.

HF Hazelbaker - 7/10/2003

Intelligence, initiative, commitment and performance are far more importtant than a diversity based solely on biolgical accidents. The diversity promoted by the nation's elites and the Supreme Court is a devise to push aside those whites, and in some places East Asians, who have the effrontery to outperform government sanctioned minorities. As such it is inherently racist. It is especially repellent when preference is given to those who have recently entered the country becasue they fit some bureaucrat's ethno-racial qouta at the expense of a citizen who is descended from those who have worked, struggled, fought the wars and paid the taxes for generations.
Ms. Brabat is quite right. We do not have a colorblind society. Those who are white can be excoriated and belittled at will.In the hallowed academe where Third World Marxism reigns, they are charged with all the ills of the world, and in the current growth-indistry "Whiteness Studies" (why aren't Black Studies called "Blackness Studies"?) they can be intimidated into doing the kangaroo court "privilege walk". Our Supreme Court has now decreed--in contravention of the 14th Amendment and the 1964 Civil Rights Act--that whites are no longer guaranteed equal protection under the law.
The goal of an educated society can not be furthered by crippling those who have demonstrated ability and achivement because they happen to be of the wrong race. Torrents of money have poured into eduction over the past thirty years and yet measurable achivement (yes, you can mandate subjective criteria to manufacture any result you want)has gone down. Money is of little use when schools are plagued with violence, and academic study and acheivement is scorned as "acting white" by blacks.
The "diversity" of racial quotas taints the achievements of blacks who have earned their positions by the same standards that apply to everybody else. Everybody knows what a "qouta hire" means--think Jason Blair. The qouta admission to college is the same thing. It's equivilent to putting a handicapped sticker on a car. It gives the owner the right to special treatment, but everyone knows that's because the holder of the sticker can't function at the level expected of others. The more qoutas are used the more they lead to the impression that all the government snactioned minority members in a firm or school are in that category. It's offensive. Or ought to be.
H F Hazelbaker

Catherine Brabant - 7/9/2003

Diversity is a very important goal for our schools and country. We can learn much from each other. We are not a color blind society as the Republicans like to say. Yes we need to fix the schools that produce students who are unable to perform at the college level, but how can this be done without alot of money and effort. Until our country as a whole makes education a goal for all we will fail in preparing all for the world. Without a educated population, our country is doomed to fail. We are already seeing the results of the dumbing down of America by the lack of questions we ask of our current leaders. I did not meet black people until I went to college and I certainly would not want my children to go to school with only whites. They need to be prepared for the world and the world is not all white.

James Thornton - 7/8/2003

I favor the elimination of race or ethnicity as a question on applications across the board. A candidate's credentials and experience should speak for themselves and race should never be a factor in one getting a job or admission to a university. Public education needs to be reformed to address racial inequities.