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FREE SPEECH 40: Affirmative Action Under Attack: What's At Stake?

With Professor Frank Wu, UC Hastings College of Law

Don’t be fooled. The lawsuit against Harvard University about its admissions practices and criteria, Professor Frank Wu explains succinctly in this conversation, does not seek to get more Asian-Americans admitted to that august institution. In the “prayer for relief” (a legal term), the plaintiffs ask for a “declaratory judgment, pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, from the Court that any use of race or ethnicity in the educational setting violates the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI” (page 118). Title VI is the part of Civil Rights Act of 1965 that prohibits discrimination based on race. It was created to end discrimination against minorities, especially African-Americans who had been excluded from education, housing, transportation, employment, medical care, and other public amenities for over a century. In the Harvard case, Frank Wu explain, affirmative action is used as a distraction from the broader goals of equity and social justice.

How to make sense of this? The lawsuits claims that Asian-American students are discriminated against by Harvard's admissions policies, while other minority candidates get a leg up. Asian-American students are pitted against African-American applicants, in the lawsuit that aims, as Professor Frank Wu explains, to end affirmative action for good. What is at stake? Who are the players? And how do we best think about this legal issue, playing out in the Ivy League, one of America's great symbolic sites for equality of opportunity, improvement of one’s own conditions, and the leveler of circumstances for all talented students? Professor Frank Wu is Distinguished Professor at San Francisco's UC Hastings College of Law, and has published widely, both in professional journals and in many media outlets, on legal, political and culture issues ranging from affirmative action and civil rights and more. His publications include: Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White, and Race, Rights and Reparation: Law and the Japanese American Internment.

This is one of four conversations on Think About It focused on affirmative action. Check out the conversations with Professor Randall Kennedy of Harvard University, Professor Natasha Warikoo of Harvard University, and Mark Tseng-Putterman of Brown University for more insights into this complicated case.