In the midst of rising racial tensions at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law, the controversial figure at the center of the drama has come to Harvard Law School. Richard Sanders, infamously known for his strong stance against affirmative action, visited the law school today to state his case. Sanders, along with three other leading scholars took to Ames Courtroom to debate the following motion: affirmative action on campus does more harm than good. Unsurprisingly, Professor Sanders, with the help of Gail Heriot of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, argued for the motion. Arguing against the motion was Harvard Law’s Randall Kennedy and Columbia Law School’s Ted Shaw.

Key excerpts from the debate are reproduced below. The debate in its entirety can be found at


Richard Sanders, Professor at UCLA School of Law
• “We are not approaching this as an ideological matter. ”
• “When you use very large racial preferences, you open up a credentials chasm.”
• “If you reduce social mismatch, if you decrease that gap… you produce better outcomes.”
• “[Affirmative action] might be beneficial if we provide the institutional support to go with it. That is generally is lacking.”

Gail Heriot, Member, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
• “We’re not against outreach, but the preferences that have been practiced have had unintended consequences.”


Randall Kennedy, Professor at Harvard Law School
• “We’re not supporting stupid affirmative action.”
• “One speaker says let the chips fall where they may… and we know where those chips will fall.”
• “All people must contribute to social missions that are worthwhile.”
• “Does affirmative action have consequences? [Yes,] but it’s always a question of compared to what?”

Ted Shaw, Professor at Columbia Law School
• “Nobody has an absolute right to be admitted to these institutions.”
• “What we are talking about is choosing among qualified students [when affirmative action is done correctly].”
• “I am unapologetically a beneficiary of affirmative action… doesn’t mean that I, or people like me, aren’t qualified.”

Intelligence Squared US, an organization dedicated to bringing together the world’s leading authorities on the day’s most provocative issues, hosted this debate in collaboration with Harvard’s American Constitution Society and Harvard’s Federalist Society.”

Art by Thomas James.