Students debate over affirmative action

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    By Erica Williams

    Two BYU students will hash over the pros and cons of affirmative action today in a public debate sponsored by Pi Sigma Alpha, the political science honor society.

    Chris Rich, a history major from Salt Lake City, and one of the main organizers of the event, said these debates are held about once a month as an alternative venue to the campus soapbox.

    “We felt one thing lacking at BYU was a forum for people to express political opinions,” he said. “The soapbox is a good program, but I think a more academic environment is also needed.”

    Rich said anyone is invited to attend the debates. Today”s debate will take place at 11 a.m. in Room 270 of the SWKT.

    Ben Hertzberg, a senior from Lebanon, N.H., said he will take the position that supports affirmative action in college admissions.

    “Affirmative action policies are justified on account of ingrained societal racism that inherently disadvantages minorities,” he said. “As a result, even those who have similar ability to their white counterparts will perform less well on standardized tests.”

    Mitchell Park, a senior from Billings, Mont., said he plans to argue the opposing view.

    “I”m opposed to affirmative action in university admissions because I think they are unfair,” Park said. “I think that they actually divide us along racial lines, rather than unite us.”

    The debate will begin with opening statements by both Hertzberg and Park. A series of alternating rebuttals will follow, and then the audience will have a chance to ask the debaters questions.

    Hertzberg, who also helps organize the debates, said the Supreme Court made two seemingly controversial decisions this summer dealing with the University of Michigan”s affirmative action policy. He said it was such a confusing ruling; they wanted to cover the issue in one of their debates.

    They chose to debate the issue in February in honor of Black History Month.

    He said the debate usually lasts no longer than 45 minutes and is a good opportunity for students to express their ideas.

    “We live in a democracy,” Hertzberg said. “You don”t need to be an expert, you don”t need to have a Ph.D. to have a coherent opinion about these things and voice your opinions in an intelligent way.”

    Chris Rich, another debate organizer, said the debates began last September and have covered several important topics.

    The first issue they discussed was “whether good Mormons could be good democrats.” They have also debated President Bush”s U.N. policy and campaign finance reform.

    Those who want to participate in the debates must submit the position they will take and their main arguments beforehand. Forms are available at the political science office on the seventh floor of the SWKT.

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