At the same time that University of Michigan officials were touting their commitment to ending sex discrimination in their hiring practices, they were also seeking an audience with Elliot L. Richardson, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW), to make their case that his compliance officials were trying to push the University too far.
In this telegram, President Robben W. Fleming asserted that it would be "unworkable" for the University to increase the number of women faculty to reflect their share of the pool of potential applicants, presumably the percentage of women holding doctorates in a particular field. The University also continued to challenge HEW's jurisdiction over its policies for admissions to doctoral programs.
Fleming wrote that he was confident that Richardson did not want to use "the contract compliance device to coerce universities into signing agreements on matters of profound significance" without reviewing the matter with his top officials. Further, Fleming asserted that "some research and service activities in support of federal programs will be impaired within the next few days" if HEW did not lift its "embargo" on contracts.
Fleming proposed three ways in which Richardson could work with University presidents to resolve the crisis. In the first, he urged Richardson to lift the embargo until he could discuss the issues with "the Arthur Flemming group with which you have been meeting." Flemming had previously served as HEW secretary and was now president of Macalester College. The next day, Fleming also wrote David D. Henry, president of the University of Illinois, sharing details of the strategy Michigan was pursuing.
We are currently negotiating compliance agreement re sex discrimination with HEW. A telegram of our commitment has gone to Chicago today and we are attaching a copy for you. There appears to be substantial agreement except for two items: (1) a proposal from HEW which we regard as unworkable that we "achieve a ratio of female employment in academic positions at least equivalent to their availability as evidenced by applications for employment for those positions," and (2) HEW's assertion of jurisdiction over admissions policy with respect to certain Ph. D. programs. These are serious internal educational policy questions affecting not only this institution but many others. We are confident that you do not wish to use the contract compliance device to coerce universities into signing agreements on matters of profound significance without providing an opportunity to review the matter with your top officials.
Because HEW is currently withholding approval of new or continuing contracts, some research and service activities in support of federal programs will be impaired within the next few days if the current embargo is not lifted.
On the basis of our commitment telegram attached hereto; we respectfully suggest three alternatives for resolving the problem: (1) Lift the contract embargo on The University of Michigan until you can discuss these policy questions with the Arthur Flemming group with which you have been meeting; or (2) grant us an opportunity on December 10 or 11 to meet with you and your advisors so that a temporary suspension of the embargo can be arranged pending clarification of these points; or (3) ask a select group of university representatives to meet with you to evolve a common policy for a common problem. We would point out that HEW's position cannot be prejudiced by taking such a step since there is a steady flow of contracts with the University of Michigan should the Department determine later to reinstate the embargo.
We are unqualifiedly opposed to discrimination on the basis of sex, but we do not believe you intend that Executive Order 11246 be administered in a manner which could imperil vital educational objectives.
We will be grateful for an early reply.
R. W. Fleming, President
The University of Michigan
December 8, 1970