Jason L. Riley

“My hope is for a discussion that is more light than heat.”

That is how Wall Street Journal editorial board member and Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Jason L. Riley described his desired outcome for the upcoming Common Ground event, "Affirmative Action - Support, Critiques, and What’s Lost in the Discussion." The moderated four-person panel will be held Wednesday, Jan. 29, at 7 p.m. in the Chapel.

As part of his job with the Manhattan Institute, Riley visits about a dozen colleges each year. He said “academe tends to lean left,” and he offers a perspective that students are less likely to encounter. His trips have taken him to many different institutions, including community colleges, law and business schools, historically black colleges, large research universities, and liberal arts colleges.

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“Affirmative Action is in the news on multiple levels throughout the nation today,” he said, noting the Harvard admission case recently decided by the Supreme Court, the debate over whether testing is discriminatory for selective high schools in New York City, and California’s consideration of whether to eliminate the SAT for admission into University of California colleges because of racial disparities seen in the tests. This topics "can get emotional,” he said.

Riley attended the University of Buffalo in the early 1990s and recalled a more open atmosphere. "We heard from all types of speakers,” he said and mentioned conservative George Will and CUNY Professor Leonard Jeffries, known for his controversial Nation of Islam rhetoric, as examples.

His view of today’s campuses is different. “It’s a problem across the spectrum of growing intolerance to hear differing points of view … not just liberal campuses not wanting to hear from different voices, but conservative ones as well. It is not the college atmosphere I recall, and the situation is worsening.” He said speakers as varied as Cornel West and Madeleine Albright, both of whom have spoken at Hamilton College, have been disinvited at other institutions.

The Hamilton panel will offer a variety of voices, at least one of them with a more conservative perspective. In addition to Riley, other panelists include Stanford law professor Rick Banks, University of Maryland education professor Julie Park, and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights attorney Genevieve Bonadies Torres. Harvard Associate Dean Julie Vultaggio will serve as moderator.

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