It is often observed that we are living in a polarized era, where advocates on controversial issues often talk past one another rather than working through to the nub of their disagreements. This is certainly a problem in America’s argument over affirmative action and is one of the motivations for creating this website. In this section, we present examples of serious debate and engagement by thoughtful advocates.
The video link below features a debate sponsored by Intelligence Squared, a nonpartisan, non-profit debate society, held at Harvard Law School in February 2014. Four law professors debated the proposition “Affirmative Action on Campus Does More Harm Than Good.” Arguing for the motion were Gail Heriot, a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law and a member of the US Civil Rights Commission, and Richard Sander, an economist and law professor at UCLA. Arguing against the motion were Randall Kennedy, a professor at Harvard Law School and author of For Discrimination, and Theodore Shaw, a former director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and, at various times, a law professor at the University of Michigan, Columbia University, and the University of North Carolina. More information about the debate can be found here.
The pdf below reprints a debate published by the Journal of Constitutional Law, also in 2014. In this debate, the four authors agreed to a list of questions to discuss, took turns writing an opening commentary, and then exchanged replies and further comments. Two of the authors are generally supportive of racial preferences in higher education admissions: Thomas Espenshade, a Princeton sociologist and author of No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal, and Stacy Hawkins, a professor of law at the University of Rutgers (Camden) and a diversity professional. The other two authors have argued that large preferences of any sort are often counterproductive: Peter Arcidiacono, an economist at Duke University, and Richard Sander, an economist and law professor at UCLA. The result of their exchange was an unusually clear examination of where advocates agree and disagree.