August 16, 2012, 1:07 pm
On Monday, the Obama administration, along with most of the higher-education and business establishment, weighed in with amicus briefs in support of racial preferences at the University of Texas at Austin. Given Barack Obama’s mixed messages on affirmative action in the past—he has said his own daughters do not deserve a leg up in admissions and that he understands the resentment toward preferences by whites who do not feel particularly privileged—there was a modest hope that he would break with longstanding Democratic Party orthodoxy to promote a better kind of affirmative action that looks at gaping economic inequalities in our country rather than just counting skin color. He blinked, however, and filed a brief that is unlikely to do anything to change the minds of Supreme Court justices and may do real damage to the president’s own re-election chances.
August 8, 2012, 12:28 pm
On Monday, as Peter Schmidt noted in the Chronicle, the University of Texas at Austin filed its brief with the U.S. Supreme Court defending the use of racial preferences in admissions. Like the brief of the petitioner, Abigail Fisher, the UT Austin argument is pitched directly at the likely swing vote on the Supreme Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy. I doubt it will be persuasive.
UT Austin faces an uphill battle because the Supreme Court has long held that race can be used to promote diversity in higher education only if it is “necessary”; Kennedy has emphasized that race should be used as a “last resort,” where race-neutral means won’t suffice. For years, supporters of affirmative action argued that no workable alternatives existed for creating racial diversity. In the words of Justice Harry Blackmun’s opinion in the 1978 Bakke case: “I suspect that it would be impossible…
July 26, 2012, 5:56 pm
The New York Times Education Life section featured a fascinating story on Sunday about the “New Community College,” an experiment within the City University of New York (CUNY) to reinvent two-year schools with more resources and a higher degree of paternalism. This mixture has proven quite successful in some K-12 charter schools, most notably the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), so the New Community College approach is being closely watched by national observers. As noted in the article, by Richard Perez-Pena, the New Community College, set to open next month, is nothing less than “a multimillion dollar experiment in how to fix what ails community colleges.”
Reading the article, I was of two minds – hopeful that the new approach will work better than most community colleges do, but also bothered by the premise that students from low-income households are unlikely to be…
July 16, 2012, 8:58 pm
In a Washington Post column today on “Our inequality of opportunity,” former Harvard president Lawrence Summers proposes that top schools do more to recruit low-income students, showing the same commitment to economic diversity that universities have to racial diversity. He then couples this powerful challenge to include disadvantaged students with a jarring defense of admissions preferences for the children of alumni.
“It is unrealistic to expect that schools that depend on charitable contributions will not be attentive to offspring of their supporters,” he writes. “Perhaps, though, the custom could be established that for each ‘legacy slot,’ room would be made for one ‘opportunity slot.’”
This formula—to provide a preference for poor applicants equivalent to a preference for legacy applicants—was also advanced by former Princeton president William Bowen in…
July 11, 2012, 5:51 pm
Universities jealously guard their right to make decisions about whom to admit as a fundamental element of academic freedom. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter long ago cited “four essential freedoms” of a university: “to determine for itself on academic grounds who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study.”
These rights are not, however, unlimited. The Civil Rights Act, for example, curtails the ability of both public and private colleges to engage in racial discrimination; and the statute, along with the 14th Amendment, have been applied to limit the ability of universities to engage in affirmative action on behalf of under-represented minorities. Quotas were outlawed in the 1978 Bakke case, and a system awarding bonus points based on race was outlawed in the 2003 Gratz case.
In the area of legacy preference, too, legislative…
July 3, 2012, 2:25 pm
Elite columnists and reporters, highly attuned to their upper-middle-class readership, rarely cover community colleges. Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews once wrote, “My page view totals and e-mail traffic indicate readers move on quickly … whenever they see the words ‘community college.’”
So I was momentarily pleased to see that Joe Nocera devoted his New York Times column this morning to the role that two-year institutions can play “to help grease the wheels of social mobility.” The piece, “Filling the Skills Gap,” notes that community colleges, which educate a disproportionate number of low-income and minority students, are severely underfunded and overcrowded and deserve better. So far so good.
But where Nocera lost me was in his contention that today community colleges should be primarily about preparing students for “middle-skill jobs,” rather than…
June 14, 2012, 12:28 pm
The New York Times—the most valuable real estate in journalism—devotes its op-ed space today to an argument by University of Chicago professor Luigi Zingales to “eliminate government subsidies” of college students (by which he apparently means all Pell Grants and federal student loans). He would replace this system with one in which venture capitalists invest in promising students and in return, receive “a fraction of a student’s future income,” or, better yet, “a fraction of the increase in her income that derives from college attendance.”
This proposal is worth discussing not because there is much danger that it will literally come to pass but because it shines sunlight on the mind-set of many conservatives, exposing a way of thinking that does in fact result in many policy decisions that are hurting American higher education.
There are lots of problems with…
June 6, 2012, 12:06 pm
The failure of organized labor and Democrats yesterday to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican who has championed anti-union legislation, is a major set-back for the union movement—and suggests the need for new approaches.
Walker, who stripped public-sector unions of collective-bargaining rights, has become a conservative celebrity, attracting substantial right-wing support nationally that helped him outspend his Democratic opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, by more than seven to one in the most expensive campaign in Wisconsin history.
The vote was not a repudiation of the right to collective bargaining per se. In Ohio, where a clean vote was taken over similar legislation to curtail the rights to public-sector collective bargaining, voters supported union rights by 61 percent to 39 percent in November 2011. The Wisconsin vote, by contrast, was not an…
June 1, 2012, 11:29 am
The amicus briefs for those challenging affirmative-action policies at the University of Texas were due to the Supreme Court earlier this week, and among the most talked about are those filed by Asian-American groups. Traditionally, most Asian-American organizations have supported affirmative action, but as Peter Schmidt notes in the Chronicle, the decision of three major Indian-American organizations to oppose affirmative-action policies this week “reflects a marked departure from the position most other Asian-American groups have taken on the issue.” The Indian-American groups joined the Asian American Legal Foundation, which has long opposed affirmative action, in filing amicus briefs calling for an end to racial preferences.
The increasing split within the Asian-American community is awkward for supporters of affirmative action because the case of Asian Americans highlights…
May 29, 2012, 6:30 am
In February, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear a challenge to the use of racial preferences at the University of Texas, supporters of affirmative action understood the move to be a bad sign. But at least in the lower courts, opponents of affirmative action had argued that the University of Texas’s use of race was illegal under a 2003 precedent, Grutter v. Bollinger.
Now, as Peter Schmidt notes in a Chronicle story, court papers filed by opponents of affirmative action last week go further and invite the Supreme Court to overturn Grutter, a decision which allowed universities to employ race under certain circumstances.
It is possible that the Supreme Court will simply reverse Grutter. Indeed, there may be four conservative justices—John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Atonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas—who are willing to apply to higher education Chief Justice Roberts’s…