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The Michigan Journal of Law Reform will host a symposium on affirmative action Feb. 22.

Michigan Journal of Law Reform Symposium Takes Up Affirmative Action Debate

By Jenny Whalen
Feb. 17, 2014

One of higher education's most controversial issues, affirmative action will lead what organizers of the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform's Feb. 22 symposium hope will be vigorous debate of the policy's advantages, drawbacks, and potential alternatives.

"When you're setting up a symposium, you don't want discussion of the topic to center on the same opinion," said Symposium Editor and 3L Robert White. "This topic is polarizing in a certain way, which makes for a robust discussion."

The Journal's decision to host the symposium, "Affirmative Action and School Diversity after Fisher v. Texas," was motivated by both the timing of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan's past involvement with cases of affirmative action, namely Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger.

Drawing on this local connection, the first panel of the symposium will include two attorneys involved in the University's cases: Marueen Mahoney of Latham & Watkins, who argued on behalf of the University in Grutter, and R. Lawrence Purdy of Maslon Edelman Borman & Brand, who served as pro bono trial counsel for the plaintiffs in both Grutter and Gratz.

Other panels will feature leaders in the field of affirmative action in secondary and post-secondary education, ranging from litigators and policy advocates, to academics and school administrators.

"We've had a great response from our panelists," said Managing Symposium Editor and 3L Ben Clark. "They are experts in the field who are in the heart of national conversation on this topic. But we don't want the panel to just talk among themselves, so we're strongly encouraging the audience to take part in the question-and-answer sessions that will be held at the end of every panel."

The one-day symposium will feature four panels, with a keynote by Columbia Law School Prof. Theodore Shaw, who will speak on "Brown at Sixty: The Quiet and Premature Death of a Beloved Icon."

"We're interested in covering a lot of ground over the course of the day," Clark said. "Most of our panels are focused on the practical consequences of race-conscious admissions and race-neutral alternatives rather than theory. We want a productive, policy-focused conversation. What policies should schools implement? How effective will those be? What sort of litigation might we see down the road?"

The symposium will take place Saturday, Feb. 22, in South Hall Room 1225. It is open registration and refreshments will be served throughout the day, followed by a reception at 6 p.m.

"We encourage anyone with an interest in this area to come," Clark said. "Come for one panel, or stay for all four. Because it is such a contested topic, you can expect to hear relatively controversial viewpoints regardless of where you are on the issue."

Symposium schedule:

  • Panel I — Exhaustion, Race Neutral Alternatives, and the Future of Affirmative Action Litigation, 9-10:40 a.m.
  • Panel II — The Efficacy of Race Neutral Alternatives in Increasing On-Campus Diversity, 10:50 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
  • Keynote Address — Brown at Sixty: The Quiet and Premature Death of a Beloved Icon, 12:45-1:30 p.m.
  • Panel III — Competing Social Science on the Benefits of Race Conscious Affirmative Action Programs, 1:45-3:15 p.m.
  • Panel IV — Challenges to Diversity in the K-12 Context, 3:30-5 p.m.
  • Reception — 6 p.m.

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