Graduate Liberal Studies Program

Course Description

GLS 517: Affirmative Action and Social Justice

Instructor: See note to right

Introduction, through discussion, debate and dialogue, to the philosophy of racial justice. Topics include equality and the Constitution, slavery and segregation, the philosophy of civil rights, affirmative action, and theories of social justice and racial healing.

Following the civil rights revolution of the 1960s, a new set of policies, grouped around the term "affirmative action," emerged to address the dilemma of remediating the gap between our ideals of equality and opportunity and our history of inequality and discrimination. These policies have become intensely controversial in the past decade. To conservatives, the policies betray the principles of our national founding, and threaten to shape an ever more racially divided society. To liberals, they are problematic, but necessary under some conditions to compensate for past wrongs, realize equal opportunity, and provide for racial reconciliation. To radicals, they cohere with the recognition of racial oppression and with the formation of a multicultural democracy that is not racially hierarchal. This course begins with a brief reprise of dramatic moments in our racial history, examines the basic concepts involved in the conflicting philosophies of social justice, and culminates in a student debate, pro and con, on affirmative action policies.

This course is interdisciplinary in more than one sense. It draws on reading materials from history (including Mel McLaurin's Segregated Pasts and historical selections dealing with slavery and the civil rights movement) and sociology (including Hacker's Two Nations and other selections dealing with race relations in the US today), as well as philosophy, and it integrates the teaching of debate skills and team debate with the method of philosophical discussion and dialogue.

Last Update: February 2, 2017