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?
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John Donvan is the moderator for "Intelligence Squared U.S." He is an author and correspondent for ABC News. He has hosted "Nightline," "World News," "Good Morning America," and NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” in addition to producing “My Generation” for PBS. He has also served as ABC’s Chief White House correspondent and held postings in London, Jerusalem, Moscow and Amman. Recognized by the National Magazine Awards for his 2011 Atlantic profile piece “Autism’s First Child,” he is currently writing a book on the history of autism to be published by Crown in 2013.
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, she practiced law with Mayer, Brown & Platt in Chicago and Hogan & Hartson in Washington, D.C. She also served as civil rights counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary and clerked for the Honorable Seymour F. Simon of the Illinois Supreme Court. A former editor of the University of Chicago Law Review, Herriot has been published in the Michigan Law Review, the Virginia Law Review, and the Harvard Journal on Legislation, as well as The Wall Street Journal, National Review, Los Angeles Times and The San Diego Union Tribune. She is the editor and an author of a forthcoming anthology of essays entitled, California Dreaming: Race, Gender, Proposition 209 and the Principle of Non-Discrimination.
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 of race relations. He served as a law clerk for Judge J. Skelly Wright of the U.S. Court of Appeals and for Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court. He is a member of the bar of the District of Columbia and the U.S. Supreme Court. Awarded the 1998 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for Race, Crime, and the Law (1998), Kennedy writes for a wide range of scholarly and general interest publications. His most recent books are For Discrimination: Race, Affirmative Action, and the Law (2013) and The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency (2011). He is a member of the American Law Institute, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Association.
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. In 2005, he published the first broad analysis of the operation and effects of racial preferences in legal education. Widely considered the leading authority on affirmative action in higher education, he co-authored Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It's Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won't Admit It (2012) with Stuart Taylor. During the 1990s, Sander worked primarily on issues related to fair housing, housing segregation, and economic inequality, and his research closely paralleled a variety of civic work in Los Angeles. In addition to serving as the president of the Fair Housing Congress of Southern California and founding the Fair Housing Institute, he helped the City design and implement what was, at the time, the nation's most ambitious living wage law.
Theodore M. Shaw is a professor of professional practice in law at Columbia Law School and Of Counsel to Fulbright & Jaworski LLP. Previously, he was director-counsel and president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, for which he worked in various capacities over the span of twenty-six years. His legal career began as a trial attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice, and he has since litigated education, employment, voting rights, housing, police misconduct, capital punishment and other civil rights cases in trial and appellate courts and in the U.S. Supreme Court. While a professor at University of Michigan School of Law, he played a key role in initiating a review of the school's admissions practices and policies, and served on the faculty committee that promulgated the admissions program upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003).
Law 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.