By: Mario Gruszczynski, Julia Christensen, and Brigid Kennedy
(Originally posted in the Michigan State University Roosevelt Blog)
MSU’s purchasing office staffs a diversity team and “encourages business opportunities for minority business enterprises (MBE), woman-owned business enterprises (WBE), small businesses and other disadvantaged businesses.” However, there are a variety of obstacles in the way of effectively pursuing this goal.
Over the last year, we at Michigan State University’s Chapter of the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network have participated in an ongoing initiative called Rethinking Communities. The project focuses on anchor institutions, such as universities and hospitals, and their potential to positively impact the surrounding community. Essentially, we studied the role of MSU in the surrounding communities, including Lansing and East Lansing.
We found that one of the largest areas for potential improvement at MSU is recording and encouraging university purchasing from women- and minority-owned businesses. MSU’s purchasing office staffs a diversity team and “encourages business opportunities for minority business enterprises (MBE), woman-owned business enterprises (WBE), small businesses and other disadvantaged businesses.” However, there are a variety of obstacles in the way of effectively pursuing this goal. These include a state constitutional ban on affirmative action, the lack of a statewide minority business office, an understaffed diversity team, and technical difficulties that have contributed to the loss of MSU’s data for WBE and MBE.
A ballot initiative passed in 2006 by Michigan voters banned affirmative action. The lawstates, “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting”. The “public contracting” element makes it difficult for public universities like Michigan State to set procurement goals for WBE and MBE. Michigan’s lack of a minority business office only exacerbates this problem as it means there is no state certification process or database of WBE and MBE. In the past, MSU maintained a detailed database of their WBE and MBE suppliers. However, a change in computer systems led to the loss of this data, and thus the loss of the database itself, several years ago. Due to the minimal staffing of the diversity team, the database has not yet been rebuilt.
As a first step toward ameliorating these issues, we presented our findings at the RICN Hyde Park Conference in August of 2014, winning a grant in the process. With this support, in February of 2015, we established an internship that will work to reacquire the WBE and MBE data and to rebuild a database of women- and minority-owned businesses for MSU purchasers to use as a resource. While we’re thrilled that our work has already begun to make a difference, the problem is much larger than one intern can solve. Over the coming weeks and months, we will continue to work on this issue, writing policy, organizing on campus, and working with other students across the state including the RICN Chapter at the University of Michigan.