Victor Bittorf/The Daily Cardinal
Behind a banner reading "You cannot oppress the unafraid," an estimated 850 students with signs chanted and marched to Union South Tuesday to watch a debate over affirmative action on college campuses.
Students' outrage began Monday after a conservative think tank released two studies saying UW-Madison discriminates against white and Asian students by favoring African American and Latino students in its admissions decisions.
Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, the group that released the studies, argued against affirmative action while UW Law professor Larry Church spoke for it.
Despite students' anger toward CEO's studies, the debate focused on affirmative action as a whole and did not address details of CEO's studies.
Students gave Church a standing ovation as he walked toward the podium, where he vigorously argued for affirmative action.
"We can't wait forever to achieve the glacial path to full integration to the US. 220 years is enough," Church said.
Clegg, whose arrival provoked boos from the audience, said the costs of affirmative action far outweigh benefits by giving preferential treatment to African Americans and Latinos.
"We cannot have a policy that sorts people according to their skin color and according to where their ancestors came from, treating some better and others worse."
Much of the crowd roared in disbelief when Clegg called affirmative action unfair and divisive, saying it lowers the standard for excellence at universities.
"If you are African American or Latino, [institutions] don't expect as much of you," he said.
Church said the university needs a policy that reflects changing demographics in America.
In 40 years, Church said, non-white citizens will compose the majority of America's population.
Church also said an "imperfect standardized testing system" puts students of non-white cultures at a severe disadvantage when taking standardized tests.
In a student-led discussion after the debate, UW-Madison student Beth Kovars said she thinks high school preparation plays a large role in performance on standardized tests.
Kovars said she grew up in a privileged middle-class suburb where she attended a prestigious high school. Despite her lazy study habits, she said a high quality high school education contributed to her success on the ACT, and ultimately her admission to UW-Madison.
In contrast to Kovars' experience, a member of Posse said many minorities from inadequate high schools work tirelessly to succeed, but their poor education does not prepare students for standardized tests.
Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate Damon Williams said he was pleased with students' conduct at the debate.
"I'm most excited about how well the students represented themselves, the passion with which they engaged, the respectful tone in how they did it and the thoughtfulness of their questions and interactions," Williams said.
Although Clegg's appearance was met by outward disapproval from most of the audience, Church said Clegg "did a good job in trying circumstances."
Clegg was not available for comment following the debate.