MADISON -- The president of the group alleging the University of Wisconsin discriminates against whites debated a law professor Tuesday night on the merits of race-based university admissions policies. Hundreds of students rallied and attended the debate.
The Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO) released a report Tuesday stating that the University of Wisconsin-Madison admission policies, which take race and other factors into account, amount to "severe racial discrimination" against white students. Of the university's 42,180 students, 2.6 percent are African-American and 3.8 percent are Hispanic. CEO's president Roger Clegg held a press conference announcing the finding earlier in the day, and as CMD reported, was met with resistance from faculty and student supporters of the university's policies.
Tuesday night, Clegg debated Wisconsin Law School professor and constitutional law scholar Larry Church on the legal and social issues surrounding affirmative action. Before the debate, a few hundred students rallied on the university's Bascom Hill, then marched to the event where they joined a lively crowd of around 850 attendees. The crowd chanted and waved their hand-made signs until the two took the stage.
Clegg, speaking in measured tones, argued the "purported benefits" of race-based policies don't outweigh the costs. Affording to Clegg, the most effective justification for affirmative action is that diversity contributes to a positive learning environment, which he said has been "relied upon because the Supreme Court has bought it." The trouble with the argument, Clegg said, is that it assumes "we can tell something about a person's background and experiences based on their skin color or country of ancestry." For Clegg, the costs include that affirmative action policies are "divisive," "stigmatizing," "remove the incentive for academic excellence," and "promote a victim mindset."
Professor Church, tall, wizened and soft-spoken, said affirmative action is an effort to make the Declaration of Independence's "all men are created equal" phrase "realistic." As for the Fourteenth Amendment's mandate that no public body can deny any person equal protection under the law, he asked whether it is satisfied by a "technically equal" application that had a "racially skewed result." "Equal protection means not just the right to take a [law school admissions exam], but to participate in the fruits and benefits of society," he said. Church also cited changing demographics in the U.S., noting that the latest census shows only 50% of the under-18 population is white, and that considering race in university admissions is necessary because "we can't afford in any circumstances to have a permanent underclass."
Neither disputed the continued existence of discrimination against racial minorities. In response to Clegg's assertion that affirmative action is "stigmatizing" for racial minorities, Church stated "what else is new?", eliciting cheers from the crowd. "If [a person of color] is going to stigmatized anyway, [they] may as well take affirmative action in the process," he said. For Clegg, ongoing societal discrimination is less an issue that university policies that say "if you are African-American or Latino, we expect less of you." Clegg repeated throughout the evening that "I'm the one up here who opposes discrimination."
During the question and answer session, Clegg was asked, "have you ever taken the time to speak with the students who face discrimination on a daily basis? To find out what it feels like to be one of two minorities in a class of 500?"
Clegg brushed-off the question.