The University Record, April 22, 2002


To the Editor:

I write to respond briefly to Prof. Richard Lempert’s defense of affirmative action, as recounted in your report of 15 April.

“Affirmative Action,” as that phrase was used by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was conceived as action taken to eradicate discrimination by race; Title VI of that Act explicitly and unambiguously forbids institutions receiving federal financial assistance, like our University, from discriminating by race, color or national origin. Those like myself who find the race-based policies of our University to be morally wrong, counter-productive and plainly unlawful, do not oppose “affirmative action” that has been honorable and right. We oppose preference by race.

Professor Lempert imputes to his opponents views about historical injustice and its remedy, about student potential, and about the predictive power of grades and test scores that he thinks erroneous. But no such views need be held by one who finds racial discrimination intrinsically wrong and hurtful to the groups preferred. Thurgood Marshall expressed the key point eloquently in his brief for the Legal Defense Fund of the NAACP in the case of Brown v. Board of Education:

“Distinctions by race are so evil, so arbitrary and invidious, that a state bound to defend the equal protection of the laws must not invoke them in any public sphere.”

That was my view also in 1954; the passage of time does not alter its truth. Prof. Lempert, and some in our University’s administration, are quite prepared to invoke distinctions by race to advance results they think good. Decisions by high federal courts may one day rein in their mistaken zeal.


Carl Cohen, professor of philosophy,

Residential College

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