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Affirmative Action Debate Draws Crowd

By Olivia Ralston, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

More than 1,000 students attended last night's affirmative action debate to catch a glimpse of Harvard's powerhouse professors arguing over one of the nation's most controversial issues.

The debate, sponsered by The Minority Student Alliance (MSA) and other student groups, included Professor of Government Michael J. Sandel, Professor of Afro-American Studies Cornel R. West '74, Professor of Yiddish Literature Ruth Wisse, and Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield '53. It was originally supposed to take place in Emerson 105.

However the enormous turnout forced the organizers to relocate the debate twice, first to Science Center B, then to Sanders Theatre--the University's largest auditorium.

"I never anticipated such interest in the topic," said Dr. S. Allen Counter, who moderated the debate and is director of the Harvard Foundation for Race Relations.

Jobe G. Dananan '99, co-president of MSA, said he too never expected such a showing.

"Everyone's interested in affirmative action because it affects everyone," Dananan said.

But some students said that it was what Dananan called an "all-star panel" that drew the large crowd.

Given that West lectures always attract a large audience and Sandel also has a significant following, Greg A. Feldman '99 said that he was not surprised by the number of people that showed up.

Equally important, Feldman said, was that people always want to "see Mansfield get the shit kicked out of him."

Giaurav A. Upadhyay '00 said he attended the debate because the panelists were all "incredible speakers."

The debate began with an introduction by Counter, which was followed by a brief discussion by each of the panel members about affirmative action, after which questions were fielded from the audience.

Wisse said she "welcome[s] growing opposition to affirmative action" because the policy, unlike other anti-discriminatory movements of the past, has no specific goals.

Wisse centered her discussion around women, whose past as a "historically disadvantaged" group is more sig- nificant than any other's according to her.

West, who is in favor of affirmative action, posed the question of how to "wrestle with white supremacy and balance merit and fairness and the public interest."

He then listed what he considered four myths about affirmative action, including that it gives certain people access to positions they don't deserve, that it is "un-American" because it emphasizes the group as opposed to the individual, that it is unnecessary because anti-discrimination laws are adequate and that racism no longer exists.

Mansfield, who vehemently opposes affirmative action, catalogued the advantages and disadvantages of the policy, singling out blacks as the subject of his address.

Although Mansfield reiterated the traditional stance of those who support affirmative action, he also took up the view that affirmative action is reverse discrimination, saying that "two wrongs don't make a right."

Mansfield described affirmative action as an underhanded and insulting policy, that causes blacks to be defined by the past.

"Americans are not racist," Mansfield insisted.

Sandel took a different tack in favor of the policy. Instead of using a "compensatory rationale," he said diversity should be preserved through affirmative action because diversity itself is a meaningful contribution to a community, particularly at colleges and universities.

The question-and-answer period that ensued was a blend of questions from the audience and informal debate among the panelists.

When Mansfield said that racism will always exist insofar as skin pigmentation differentiates people, West asked in response, "How much racism would have to exist for it to be significant?"

"As much as there was when I was kid," Mansfield replied.

"This debate couldn't have taken place three or four years ago," Wisse said, because too much hypocrisy and Cynicism surrounded the issue of affirmative action.

She noted that the honesty and candidness of exhibited by the panel was necessary to have a meaningful discussion of affirmative action

West, who is in favor of affirmative action, posed the question of how to "wrestle with white supremacy and balance merit and fairness and the public interest."

He then listed what he considered four myths about affirmative action, including that it gives certain people access to positions they don't deserve, that it is "un-American" because it emphasizes the group as opposed to the individual, that it is unnecessary because anti-discrimination laws are adequate and that racism no longer exists.

Mansfield, who vehemently opposes affirmative action, catalogued the advantages and disadvantages of the policy, singling out blacks as the subject of his address.

Although Mansfield reiterated the traditional stance of those who support affirmative action, he also took up the view that affirmative action is reverse discrimination, saying that "two wrongs don't make a right."

Mansfield described affirmative action as an underhanded and insulting policy, that causes blacks to be defined by the past.

"Americans are not racist," Mansfield insisted.

Sandel took a different tack in favor of the policy. Instead of using a "compensatory rationale," he said diversity should be preserved through affirmative action because diversity itself is a meaningful contribution to a community, particularly at colleges and universities.

The question-and-answer period that ensued was a blend of questions from the audience and informal debate among the panelists.

When Mansfield said that racism will always exist insofar as skin pigmentation differentiates people, West asked in response, "How much racism would have to exist for it to be significant?"

"As much as there was when I was kid," Mansfield replied.

"This debate couldn't have taken place three or four years ago," Wisse said, because too much hypocrisy and Cynicism surrounded the issue of affirmative action.

She noted that the honesty and candidness of exhibited by the panel was necessary to have a meaningful discussion of affirmative action

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