The place of diversity in higher education was brought into question Friday afternoon in a heated debate on the topic of “Affirmative Action Post-Michigan: The View from Opposite Ends of the Debate.”
Roger Clegg LAW ’81, Vice-President and General Counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, and Jodi Masley of the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary argued the pros and cons of a state interest in affirmative action before approximately 75 students in Sudler Auditorium at 2 p.m. Friday.
Valerie Hayes, Director of the Office for Equal Opportunity Programs in the Provost’s office, provided the legal background for the debate by giving a brief history of the June 23, 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger U.S. Supreme Court decisions. The rulings decided the outcome of two lawsuits targeting affirmative action policies at the University of Michigan.
“On June 23, the Court upheld race-conscious admissions,” Hayes said. “Promoting diversity is a compelling governmental interest.”
The debate, which was sponsored by over 22 groups on campus, began with a 10-minute presentation by each participant, followed by three-minute rebuttals and a question-and-answer period.
Clegg said affirmative action once meant that institutions were proactively working against discrimination, but the meaning of affirmative action now amounts to discrimination because it calls for unequal treatment based on race.
Clegg named three possible benefits of affirmative action, but he argued that none are persuasive enough to overwhelm its costs.
“It is a system of institutional discrimination, where we have a lower standard for blacks than we do for Asians and whites,” Clegg said. “Is that how we get to the society we all want?”
Masley introduced her presentation in the context of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court Decision, which she said established the doctrine that “separate can never be equal.” Masley said that integration is fundamental to equality in education.
“Affirmative Action programs are de-segregation programs,” Masley said.
Masley spoke of her childhood in Detroit, Mich., where she said she saw firsthand that segregated high schools are inherently unequal. She said today’s society is less integrated than it was 50 years ago.
In his rebuttal, Clegg said he disagreed with Masley’s claim that affirmative action was necessary in today’s world to combat discrimination.
Masley responded to Clegg’s statement by saying that inequalities of privilege persist in educational systems and many minorities go to “segregated schools.”
Nathan Hood ’04 asked the speakers about their opinions on the “10 percent plan” championed by former Texas Governor and U.S. President George W. Bush ’68. The Texas plan aims to achieve diversity by making public universities admit the top 10 percent of students at all Texas high schools.
Clegg said he had mixed feelings about the Texas plan, while Masley said she did not like the plan because it was based on segregated lower schools.
“The reason that the 10 percent plan is wrong is that it relies on segregation and inequality to achieve diversity,” Masley said.
Audience member Vicki Chan ’07 said that the two speakers both had very strong opinions, but she thought they did not always provide evidence for their statements.
“[Both speakers] had good ideas, but did not always back them up,” Chan said. “I did not think either was particularly persuasive.”