The constitutionality of affirmative action in university admissions policies was addressed last night at International House by a diverse panel of intellectuals representing numerous disciplines.
With the U.S. Supreme Court decision still pending on the University of Michigan (U of M) case, the event highlighted the need for public discourse on the issues of race politics in education.
The group of speakers included Theodore Shaw, the associate director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a lawyer in the pending U of M case; Karen Narasaki, the president and director of the National Asian Pacific Consortium, who submitted an amicus briefs to the Supreme Court on behalf of the U of M case in favor of affirmative action; Gerald Torres, a professor of law and history at the University of Texas, who also worked on briefs in the case; and Adolph Reed Jr., a professor at the New School University in New York City.
Barbara Ransby, the director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture at Chicago moderated the panel.
While complex in nature, the discussion touched upon several key points of affirmative action, asking what merit it would have in higher-education admissions if validated in the U of M case. The panel also attempted to clarify several misconceptions about color-blindness, meritocracy, and reverse discrimination.
Shaw's responses dealt mostly with the legal ramifications of the U of M cases and the legal background that explains the importance of the case. He cited several previous Supreme Court decisions and some lower court decisions that attempted to deal with affirmative action, in an effort to explain how the U of M case could affect constitutional law.
Torres argued that one must examine a university's mission when determining its admissions process, saying that diversity does not mean ignoring race but, rather, recognizing that we need an integrated and diverse community, especially in education.
"If we simply stop seeing race, we also stop seeing other things about our society and culture," Torres said.
Another key point of the discussion focused on whether or not higher education should be considered a right and not a privilege under the Constitution. Reed addressed this question, arguing in favor of full state-funded tuition for all, so that every student could have the opportunity for a college education.
The discussion was co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture and the International House.