December 7, 2006
No pies in the face
There are campuses in this country where conservative speakers have a better chance of getting shouted down or even of having a pie or worse thrown at them than of getting their point across. There are even more campuses where invited speakers tend to come disproportionately from one side of the political arena, and where debate tends as a consequence to suffer. To Penn's credit, it sidestepped both onesidedness and incivility Tuesday night, when the university sponsored a debate about affirmative action. The players were Ward Connerly, architect of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, and pro-affirmative action activist Tim Wise. And this is how it went down:
In a heated debate last night, experts disagreed about whether affirmative active is the solution to the problem of racial inequality, or the problem itself.
The Hall of Flags in Houston Hall was packed with people eager to listen to two authors who have both written extensively on the effects of affirmative action.
In his opening statement, Ward Connerly, the founder and chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute and a former regent of the University of California, argued against affirmative action as a practice that has outlived its usefulness in its current form.
Connerly said it is necessary to move beyond issues of race.
He explained that affirmative action is harmful when decisions treat people differently based on race or color.
In contrast, Tim Wise, an "anti-racist" activist and educator, said affirmative action is necessary today because, in fact, it has always existed - but for whites.
He said white people have inherently experienced preferential treatment and, until this is resolved, affirmative action must be instituted to compensate minorities and to level the playing field.
Connerly added that parts of the 1964 Civil Rights Act are evidence that we can "trust the majority" to end inequality.
However, Wise said the very need for the Civil Rights Acts shows that the majority cannot be trusted to solve this on their own.
College junior St. John Barned-Smith likewise said that, while he thought both speakers were great, he agreed more with Wise.
"We live in an imperfect world, with imperfect systems like affirmative action," he said.
Temple University student Jack Posobiec said he sided more with Connerly, noting that the speakers remained more civil than he expected for such a hot topic.
Posobiec added that Connerly sounded "preachy - almost like a Southern Baptist."
Like Smith, he believed both speakers were very good.
College junior Sean-Tamba Matthew said he was pleased that "both sides of the debate" were presented fairly.
"This allows each person to make up their own minds, with knowledge of both sides of the issue," he said.
Each person making up his own mind, with knowledge of both sides of the issue -- how simple, how straightforward, and how very hard to come by on campuses these days.
On campuses? That's hard to come by anywhere.
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