Defending Affirmative Action


Supreme Court Hearing Columbia Law School to Host Two-Day Event on Affirmative Action

New York, NY (March 20, 2003) -- On April 1, 2003 the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments concerning the University of Michigan admissions policies. In anticipation of this hearing, Columbia Law School's Center for Public Interest Law (CPIL) and the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) will host a pair of events on affirmative action on March 27th and 28th at Columbia Law School.

According to the African American Policy Forum, even though the decision in this case may profoundly reshape access to higher education and other American institutions in ways that may never be undone, media coverage and public debate on this issue has been under-informed by the actual facts about how these policies function, what their justifications are, and what the consequences of retracting them are likely to be.

Kimberlé Crenshaw, a professor at Columbia and UCLA law schools and a member of the AAPF, says, "We believe it is essential to educate both the Columbia University community and the wider public about what really is at stake in the upcoming Supreme Court decision and, more broadly, about the necessity of affirmative action policies with respect to equal access, social justice, and diversity." Professor Crenshaw and Luke Charles Harris of the African American Policy Forum, in conjunction with Columbia Law School's Center for Public Interest, decided to contribute to broadening the discussion about affirmative action by facilitating a teach-in and an affirmative action strategic intervention workshop.

The two-panel teach-in scheduled for March 27th will be open to the Columbia University community and the general public. The first panel, "Understanding Grutter v. Bollinger," is designed to challenge erroneous assumptions about affirmative action by facilitating a more informed discussion of arguments offered in support of the Michigan policy. Panelists include two expert witnesses in the Michigan case, Stanford University Professor Claude Steele, author of numerous articles on the effects of "stereotype threat" standardized test performance, and Professor Eric Foner, noted Columbia historian on racial discrimination; Gerald Torres, co-creator of the Texas 10% plan; Erica Woods, amicus curiae brief writer for the Student Coalition Against Resegregation in Higher Education, ("SCARE"); Jory Steele, amicus curiae for Concerned Black Law Graduates; and Ted Shaw, Associate Director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and legal counsel for the student interveners.

Using the ideas generated during the first panel discussion as a point of departure, the second panel, a roundtable titled "Reconstructing the Rhetoric of Affirmative Action," will explore the available research that challenges the many mischaracterizations of affirmative action that are often uncritically reported in the media. The roundtable will also address approaches toward reframing the public debate including ideas for how to respond to the distortions and commonly heard criticisms of affirmative action policies. Roundtable participants include Janine Jackson of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting ("FAIR"); Prof. Devon Carbado, UCLA Law School; Prof. Cheryl Harris, UCLA Law School; Lee Cokorinos, Research Director, Institute for Democratic Studies ("IDS"); Marianne Lado, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest; Sumi Cho, DePaul Law School; Anthony Solana, SCARE plus other invited guests.

On the following day, Friday, March 28, an all-day strategic intervention workshop will be held. In this smaller strategy session themes from the previous day's teach-in will be drawn upon in order to facilitate a discussion on how most effectively to counter anti-affirmative action rhetoric in the mainstream and alternative media. Discussants include: Laura Flanders, Working Assets radio program; Walter Fields, Northstar Network; Rob Tarver, former Legal Correspondent MSNBC; Makani Themba, The Praxis Project; and Sheryl Flowers, Executive Producer, The Tavis Smiley Show. Expert discussants include: Eva Patterson, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights; Rasheeda Kilpatrick, SCARE; Sidney Majalya, Committee of Concerned Black Law Graduates; Eric Alterman, author, What Liberal Media; Al Ross, Institute for Democracy Studies; Gerald Torres, Luke Harris, Claude Steele, Sumi Cho, and Jory Steele.

For more information, please visit the African American Policy Forum's web site ( for instructions or contact them at [email protected] or by phone at (212) 854-8041.