The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

RLF Recap: How to Frame Three Hard Cases - Abortion, Same Sex Marriage, and Affirmative Action

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Read a student's account of our most recent session in our Rockefeller Leadership Fellows program below. For more information about RLF, click here. 

This week, RLF had the pleasure of welcoming Professor Sonu Bedi from the Government department. Professor Bedi, who has a PhD in political science and a law degree, drew from his extensive background on constitutional law and political theory to discuss three controversial topics with the fellow: abortion, same-sex marriage, and affirmative action.

As the session progressed, Professor Bedi drove home the message that conventional rights-based debates around each of these three issues are fundamentally flawed. He instead argues for the importance of fully hashing out the rationales behind each side’s beliefs before then using shared values to shift the framing of these debates. For example, affirmative action is often controversial due to its focus on race and whether or not disadvantaged ethnicities should have the right to supercede merit alone in admissions decisions. Neither side disagrees that merit, in a perfect world, should be the only determinant of admissions, but proponents of affirmative action highlight institutional racial biases that have prevented a fair meritocracy for years upon years. Instead, Professor Bedi advises that people approach the issue from the other side: legacy preferences. These do essentially the same thing as affirmative action in undermining merit alone, but benefit those who are advantaged as opposed to those who are disadvantaged. The question is how one can be accepted practice and the other a raging controversy.

These lessons apply to leadership because as leaders, we must understand how to address tough, divisive issues, and only through an awareness of alternative frameworks can we surpass arguments that go no where (which are, unfortunately, what we see in much of the public discussion today). Underclassmen, take the opportunity to sign up for Professor Bedi’s classes if these frameworks, and what the freedom of speech really means, sounds interesting to you!

--Eric Yang '14, 2014 Rockefeller Leadership Fellow

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The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences