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October 20, 2000 - Image 14

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The Michigan Daily, 2000-10-20

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14 - The Michigan Daily - Friday, October 20, 2000



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A ffirmative action is not
just an issue for rallies on
the Diag or in the courtroom.
And with professors
including the heated issue in
the content of several
undergraduate and graduate
courses, affirmative action is
taking on greater meaning for


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Supporters of affirmative action crowd the Diag yesterday on National Day of Action for Affirmative Action. Busloads of students from high schools
and colleges across Michigan came to Ann Arbor for a rally and march.

From political science to philosophy,
from law to history - professors are
exposing students to the background, the
laws, the politics and the arguments sur-
rounding affirmative action.
But the University's unique position, as
the defendant in two lawsuits attacking its
use of race in admissions, challenges the
classroom to deal with affirmative action
with sensitivity and objectivity.
The Center for Individual Rights filed
lawsuits in 1997 on behalf of white
applicants against the University's Col-
lege of Literature Science and the Arts
and Law School. Two applicants claim
LSA denied their admission when less-
qualified minorities were accepted. The
other makes a
similar com-
plaint against the
Law School.
Lutrell Lev-
ingston, a second
year Law stu-
dent, is enrolled
in Law 240,
"Race, Gender
and Affirmative
Action," taught
by adjunct Law
and philosophy
Prof. Elizabeth
Anderson. "It's
difficult being an
can sitting in the
Law School," he
said. "We're the
people they're
talking about."
By including
the issue in their Philosophy Prof. Carl {
courses, profes- opponent of the Unive
sors are faced affirmative action in a
with the complex
question of how to approach teaching
affirmative action when it is has such a
strong presence on campus, in the
administration and in students' lives.
Admissions in the classroom
Anderson also includes affirmative
action in the curriculum of Philosophy
359, "Law and Philosophy."
"I present the main arguments for and
against it' Anderson said.
She said she emphasizes "getting the
facts straight" on major court cases and
the reality of racial discrimination. Stu-
dent opinions in the classes vary and have.
the potential to change, Anderson said,
adding that she works hard to maintain a
"safe environment for those views."
"It's really important when I teach to
provide legitimacy for all sides to
express their points of view," Anderson
said. "It's all part of learning and it pro-
vides challenges to work through."
But Anderson said while she never
states her opinion on the issue directly,
most students "probably know" she sup-

ports affirmative action.
"Because so many arguments against
affirmative action are based on flawed
reasoning or factual inaccuracy and it's
my job to point it out, students can prob-
ably tell where I stand," Anderson said.
Adjunct Law Prof. Liz Barry said she
faces an even more daunting challenge
with her course, "Higher Education and
the Law," which she will teach next
semester - when the suit against the
Law School is scheduled to go to trial.
As deputy general counsel in both of the
University's lawsuits, she has a vested
interest in the issue. "I feel it's my obliga-
tion to present both sides," she said.
But, she added, "to be an effective
teacher, I have to
be straight on
where I stand."
Barry said at
least half of her
students in the
last two years
enrolled in the
class as an oppor-
tunity to talk
about affirmative
action. "Many
students came
into the class with
certain ideas on
affirmative action
and they changed
their minds. That
is, they examined
their views in
deeper ways," she
said. "They can
change their incli-
NORMAN NG/Daily nation. I've seen
hen is a vocal it happen both
Ity's use of ways."
missions Assistant histo-
ry Prof. Matt Las-
siter, who teaches History/American
Culture 374, "Politics and Culture of the
1960s," said while he validates all view-
points, he wouldn't describe his teaching
style as "objective" because he supports
affirmative action.
"I wouldn't say that I present it in a
neutral way," Lassiter said.
Lassiter, who started teaching at the
University this term, said he has yet to
fully understand the classroom dynamics
in Ann Arbor but has a lot of experience
dealing with the issue in the classroom.
"For example, I would say that it's per-
fectly reasonable for a student to argue
for a colorblind society but it's not rea-
sonable for him to say (Martin Luther
King Jr.) would oppose it."
In his class, Lassiter pointed out that
some argue King would be against affir-
mative action - citing his "I Have a
Dream Speech," particularly the line
where King said he does not want his
children to be "judged by the color of
their skin but by the content of their
Lassiter said he disagrees with that


argument. "I don't think that's over-
stepping my bounds to say that's
wrong. It would be wrong if I said
you're wrong because I disagree with
you," he said.
Students who oppose affirmative
action seem quieter in class though, Las-
siter said. "Some students are unwilling
to say something controversial that they
think will get them in trouble."
Lassiter said students not feeling com-
fortable enough to express their opinions
on the issue concerns him.
"In the list of problems of the world, I
put it low on the list, but anytime a stu-
dent feels uncomfortable, it's a problem;'
he said.
While most instructors who tackle
affirmative action support its use,
philosophy Prof. Carl Cohen is a
vocal opponent of the University's
admissions policies. Students in his
Residential College first-year semi-
nar on philosophy are reading and
discussing documents from affirma-
tive action court cases, including the
Supreme Court case The Regents of
the University of Calfornia v. Bakke
(1978), which set the standard on
which the University bases its admis-
sions policies.
"I'm not teaching affirmative action;
I'm using the Bakke case as an example
of thoughtful, philosophical judicial
opinions; Cohen said. "I'm introducing
students to the reasoning of appellate
Cohen added that he doesn't make his
views known to the class while they dis-
cuss the issue.
"The reason I don't take sides is that
I'm talking about all sides of that case,"
he said. "I don't seek to cause students to
adopt any opinion on that case.
"I do have a position on these matters,
of course, and I have to be thoughtful
about how I suppress my views. Eventu-
ally I let them know how I feel about the
subject. I don't mean to be coy."
Learning history
As professors struggle to bury their
opinions on the issue, students struggle
to develop and voice their opinions,
sometimes in an unobjective classroom
Gary Bartz, a third-year Law student
enrolled in Anderson's law class, said
Anderson is "more fair than most," but
he feels his views against affirmative
action are not taken as seriously as the
views of students who support it.
"You can visibly see her straining to
make it an entirely open atmosphere, but
it's not always happening," Bartz said.
Lutrell Levingston, a supporter of
affirmative action, said he also recog-
nizes the professors opinions seeping
into classroom discussions.
"I feel that she's so wedded to her dis-
cipline that we can't get an open discus-
s Aficuln- in
rnerican sittng
n the Law
)Chool We're the

sion,"'he said.
Levingston said the class spends a
lot of time studying empirical evidence=
and survey data and not enough time
discussing why some people strongly.
oppose affirmative action while others
"cling to it."
Although Anderson and Bartz said
affirmative action supporters make up a-
significant majority of the class, Lev-
ingston said opponents "make their views
Levingston said he thinks there are
probably more students who oppose it but
don't feel comfortable saying arthing.
In Cohen's philosophy semihar, stu-
dents said their opinions on affirmative
action were influenced by the informa-
tion provided and the discussion pro-
voked but they weren't altogether,
"Our professor has made it very
clear that we should be making up our
own minds," RC freshmen Ruth Barker
There's a variety of perspectives on the
issue, RC freshman Erin O'Leary said,
and the discussion is causing students to
rethink their opinions.
O'Leary said the class has solidified
her opinion against affirmative action
policies. "It's made me more sure," she
Barker said she had a similar experi-
ence. "The class has strengthened my
opinion," Barker said. "I listened to
those who argued for it, and it only
strengthened my belief that only harm
can come from affirmative action."
)'Leary and Barker both said Cohen
was presenting the information objec-
"I don't know what his opinion is,"
O'Leary said. "He'll probably tell us
later, though."
"If I hadn't grown up in Ann Arbor
and hadn't known about it, I wouldn't
know about (his opinion) because of the
class," Barker said.
Lee Haugly, a third-year Law student

in Andersonls class, said the University
needs faculty with diverse opinions.
"The basic problem is that you have a
faculty who is so ideologically bent in
one way" for affirmative action, he said.
"This school doesn't value diversity of
viewpoints. What is the likelihood of
you getting hired if you disagree with
the University's policies?"
He also said class discussions are
skewed because students who take
courses that involve affirmative action
already hove strong beliefs, usually in
favor of it.
"It's the kind of topic where exchanges
are pointless. Opinions are already
made," Haugly said.
Lassiter said he agrees there's a type
of student who tends to take classes
that study affirmative action.
"I think there's a culture in the class-
room, maybe some self selection, that
createsthis kind of environment," he
Anderson said she also noticed this
History Prof. Margaret Steneck said
her RC senior seminar on women and
higher education directly examines the
University as a case study.
Steneck said the class deals with why
affirmative action exists, not whether it
should exist.
"How do you go from a white male
Protestant institution to today? We talk
about that every step of they way" she
While the first court date for the Law
School lawsuit barrels toward the Uni-
versity, professors can't help but incorpo-
rate the case in the classroom.
"The lawsuits against the University
make the issue much more intense than
other institutions I've been at;' Lassiter
But Steneck said the lawsuits aren't
yet a part of her history class.
"We don't yet talk about the lawsuits
because they aren't a part of history,' she
said. "But they will be."


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