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Affirmative Action On Campus Does More Harm Than Good

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  • Does Affirmative Action Harm Asian Americans?

    Clip: Harvard Law Professor Randall Kennedy and UCLA Law Professor Richard Sander discuss how Asian Americans are affected by affirmative action policies aimed and black and latino students.

  • What If There Had Been No Affirmative Action?

    Clip: Professors Gail Heriot and Richard Sander tell Charles Fried how they imagine America would look today without any affirmative action. Professors Randall Kennedy and Theodore Shaw look to the potential future with affirmative action in place.

  • Studies that Counter the Benefits of Affirmative Action

    Clip: Gail Heriot and Richard Sander make the argument to Theodore Shaw that studies show that affirmative action has not had any proven benefit for racial minorities.

Debate Details

Affirmative action, when used as a factor in college admissions, is meant to foster diversity and provide equal opportunities in education for underrepresented minorities. But is it achieving its stated goals and helping the population it was created to support? Its critics point to students struggling to keep up in schools mismatched to their abilities and to the fact that the policy can be manipulated to benefit affluent and middle class students who already possess many educational advantages. Is it time to overhaul or abolish affirmative action?  

The Debaters

For the motion

Gail Heriot

Professor of Law, USD School of Law & Member, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

Gail Heriot is a professor of law at the University of San Diego and a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Prior to entering academia,... Read More

Richard Sander

Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law

Richard Sander, a professor of law at UCLA School of Law, has been working on questions of social and economic inequality for nearly all of his career... Read More

Against the motion

Randall Kennedy

Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Randall Kennedy is the Michael R. Klein Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, where he teaches courses on contracts, criminal law, and the regulation... Read More

Theodore Shaw

Professor of Law, Columbia Law School

Theodore M. Shaw is a professor of professional practice in law at Columbia Law School and Of Counsel to Fulbright & Jaworski LLP. Previously... Read More

Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion
  • Despite its noble goals, affirmative action is a counterproductive, and arguably unconstitutional, social policy that depends on the very principle it stands against: racial discrimination.
  • Placing students in schools mismatched to their abilities has led to higher rates of minority failure and attrition.
  • This academic mismatch reinforces negative stigmas and racial stereotypes that have harmful social consequences, resulting in self-segregation on campuses and undermining racial equality in larger society.
  • Color-blind admissions, along with a class-based form of affirmative action, would better achieve the goals of social equality, with far fewer costs and more beneficial outcomes.
Against The Motion
  • Affirmative action is necessary to redress past racial injustices—and their ongoing effects—and to fight the present forms of discrimination that pervade society today.
  • The active integration of marginalized groups into mainstream academic institutions more fairly distributes opportunity, access and power.
  • In addition to benefiting individuals and minorities, affirmative action invaluably strengthens entire institutions through diversity, as testified by major corporations and the U.S. military.
  • Color-blind alternatives, while beneficial as a supplement to affirmative action, do not adequately or honestly address the persistent presence of racial inequality in the U.S. To eliminate racial preferences in higher education would have disastrous consequences on the whole of society.

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The Research

The Research

How Minorities Have Fared in States With Affirmative Action Bans

New York Times
June 24, 2013

In states that have banned affirmative action in college admissions, prominent public universities have tended to enroll fewer black and Hispanic freshmen.

Racial Justice: Affirmative Action

December 31, 1969

Affirmative action is one of the most effective tools for redressing the injustices caused by our nation's historic discrimination against people of color and women, and for leveling what has long been an uneven playing field.

The New Affirmative Action

Victor Davis Hanson
March 14, 2013

Like Prohibition, affirmative action and then diversity were originally noble efforts that were doomed — largely by their own illiberal contradiction of using present and future racial discrimination to atone for past racial discrimination.

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