On February 27th Intelligence Squared, the highly popular debate show hosted by ABC News’ John Donvan was recorded for NPR from the Ames Courtroom on the campus of Harvard Law School. Students and faculty crowded into the Ames Courtroom to hear two sides argue in support and in opposition to the proposition: Affirmative action on campus does more harm than good. The participants for the proposition were Professor Gail Herriot of San Diego Law School and Professor Rick Sander of the UCLA School of Law, while HLS’ very own Professor Randall Kennedy and Professor Ted Shaw of Columbia Law School argued in opposition.
Intelligence Squared follows a format based on Oxford-Style debating in which the audience votes on a motion prior to the beginning of the debate. The debaters on each side are then given a few minutes for an opening statement followed by two question and answer periods. During the first Q&A period the moderator asks questions designed to advance the debate, while during the second Q&A period the audience is allowed to ask questions. Finally each side makes short closing arguments and then the audience casts a second vote. The results of the initial vote are then compared with the results of the second. Whichever side has convinced more people is declared the winner.
The debate was heated at times with impassioned declamations and cool responses on both sides. One thrust by Kennedy and Shaw touted the overwhelming societal good of affirmative action – giving opportunities to minorities and increasing access to higher education for disadvantaged groups. Sanders and Herriot pointed to a number of studies, which showed that African-American students are actually harmed by affirmative action. They argued that the more elite institutions admitted less qualified African-American students, which led to those students underperforming in comparison to their peers. Kennedy and Shaw countered that even if that is the case (and they disputed the studies demonstrating that it was), affirmative action still does more good than harm. The good comes from the institutions themselves benefiting from having a diverse student body, the message it sends for minorities, and the opportunities that it provides.
After the rhetorical dust settled and the second vote was taken, Herriot and Sander had swayed 14 percent of the audience while 7 percent was swayed by Kennedy and Shaw, making them the winners under the debate rules. However, the majority of the audience sided with Kennedy and Shaw, with 55% agreeing with their position and only 36% agreeing with Herriot and Sander.
The event was hosted by the HLS chapter of the American Constitutional Society in conjunction with the HLS chapter of the Federalist Society.
You can check out the debate for yourself here: http://intelligencesquaredus.org/iq2-tv/item/1092-affirmative-action-on-campus-does-more-harm-than-good