Staged affirmative action debates are a mistake, said Frank Wu, dean of the Wayne State University Law School last night.

In his speech opening the University’s 2007 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium, Wu said that because debates don’t provide solutions, they are more about entertainment than negotiation. Instead, debates are decided by who is funnier and best dressed.

Wu said dialogues, though, lead to progress.

About 40 people attended the speech in the Pendleton Room of the Michigan Union.

Gena Flynn, the symposium’s coordinator, said she chose Wu to open the symposium because of his past affiliation with the University as a visiting professor and his management of admissions policies at Wayne State Law School since the November passage of Proposal 2, which banned the use of affirmative action by public institutions in Michigan.

Wu testified before the Supreme Court on the University’s behalf when it faced twin lawsuits from white applicants who had been denied admissions. The Supreme Court upheld the use of affirmative action in admissions when it decided the cases in 2003. But it’s that decision that Wu said led to Proposal 2’s passage, an event he decried.

Wu said the University is a leader in minority groups’ struggles to get higher education.

Since the election, the Wayne State Law School has begun to consider a variety of factors that could help maintain diversity without running afoul of the new law.

Last month, the school announced an overhaul of its admissions policies that included automatic admission for students with grade point averages or LSAT scores above a certain threshold. Students who scored below the threshold still could be admitted, though. Their chances would also be buoyed by coming from Detroit or overcoming discrimination.

Wu said focus of the affirmative action dialogue needs to return to the civil rights argument. He said the passage of Proposal 2 threatens those rights, and affirmative action supporters need to make an effort to preserve them.

Rackham student Maria Johnson said she came to the lecture because she was interested in Wu’s work at Howard University, a historically black university where Wu was a faculty member before coming to Wayne State. In addition to Howard and the University of Michigan, Wu has also taught at Columbia and Stanford.

Eventually, race won’t matter, Wu said.

He cited studies that say the United States will lack a single racial identity. Instead, institutions and people will be forced to look beyond color.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the annual symposium, which is devoted to commemorating the work and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. The theme of this year’s symposium is “Building the Beloved Community.” Gena Flynn, the 2007 Symposium coordinator, said that one of her goals for this year’s symposium is to reach the students of the campus community – the program is designed specifically for students. Former congressman and former NAACP Chair Kweisi Mfume will give the event’s keynote speech on Jan. 15, 2007 at Hill Auditorium at 10 a.m.

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