Project To Promote Broader Participation In Higher Education

Project To Promote Broader Participation In Higher Education


Press contact: Erin St. John Kelly [email protected] 212-854-1787/Cell: 646-646-284-8549/Public Affairs Office: 212-854-1787

November 4, 2008 (NEW YORK) – Columbia Law School has collaborated to launch a project designed to bring researchers, university leaders, change agents and other innovators together to identify and promote new ways to ensure that America’s marginalized have greater access to and broader participation in higher education as both students and faculty.

The project, an initiative of the Law School’s Center for Institutional and Social Change, comes as U.S. courts have introduced limits on racially targeted admissions policies. The project’s goals also reflect a growing awareness by researchers and others that ensuring diverse participation in higher education cannot be viewed in isolation – many parties at many levels must address the challenge.

“Those on the front line of efforts to increase diversity and opportunity in higher education must retool their strategies,” said Columbia Law School Professor Susan Sturm, director of both the Center and its Higher Education Project. “They have to figure out how to pursue opportunity, inclusion and diversity in an environment of structural inequality and significant legal risk.”

Sturm leads the effort to bring together education policy leaders and researchers to study the ways that colleges, universities and other institutions can ensure access for a diverse population of students and, in the process, respond to the knowledge needs of our world.

“You can’t think about improving education without thinking about problems with the justice system and housing issues,” Sturm said. The various institutions involved play many overlapping roles, and those seeking effective change need to keep that broader context in mind, she said.

“A university does more than educate students and conduct research,” Sturm said. “It is also a community citizen. It is an employer. It is a property owner and a landlord. That’s why the Center plans to look at all these issues in an interrelated, holistic way, so that such institutions can conduct all aspects of their work in ways that are more responsive across the board.”

Sturm said that some innovation has come through the efforts of charismatic leaders at individual institutions, but the Center will examine strategies that are more lasting, can be replicated at multiple schools, and will ensure that change permeates all levels of leadership within an institution.

The Center engages in collaborative research aimed at advancing the university’s role as a public problem-solver, community citizen, and catalyst for transformative leadership. This will include examining how universities can collaborate beyond current disciplinary, professional and campus borders to effectively address issues that impact diverse communities. These issues include access to quality education, housing and health care.  
The project will also look at ways in which public policy can build universities’ capacity to expand inclusion, as well as innovative strategies to help faculty, students, staff and administrators maximize their potential to advance the values and goals of higher education.   This work includes documenting and analyzing the strategies of innovative change agents and lawyers working with higher educational institutions, developing seminars to involve students and practitioners in the research, and building networks of innovative practitioners and researchers.

The Higher Education Project will host a major academic conference Dec. 3 to 5, 2008, “The Future of Diversity and Opportunity in Higher Education: A National Forum on Innovation and Collaboration.” The event, to be held at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, is collaboration among the Center for Institutional and Social Change, Columbia University, Rutgers University and The College Board. 

Sturm’s Higher Education Project has received grants from the Ford Foundation and Columbia University’s Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy. The project has also received support from Harvard University, the Kirwan Institute and the University of Maryland at Baltimore County.

The project is a collaborative effort of Columbia Law School’s Center for Institutional and Social Change with Columbia University, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and other organizations focused on advancing inclusion.

Sturm is Columbia Law School’s George M. Jaffin Professor of Law and Social Responsibility. Her research focus includes institutional change, structural inequality in employment and higher education, employment discrimination, public law remedies, conflict resolution, and civil procedure. She is a founding member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Diversity at Columbia University. In 2007, she received the Presidential Teaching Award for Outstanding Teaching at Columbia.

Sturm has engaged in similar collaborative efforts on a smaller scale throughout her academic career. For instance, she and Harvard Law School Professor Lani Guinier created, on online resource for building multiracial learning communities.

Susan Sturm is available to discuss the project. Interviews can be arranged through Columbia Law School’s Public Affairs office at 212-854-2650. Public Affairs can arrange for TV and radio interviews using the Law School’s studio equipped with IFB and ISDN lines.
Columbia Law School, founded in 1858, stands at the forefront of legal education and of the law in a global society. Columbia Law School joins traditional strengths in international and comparative law, constitutional law, administrative law, business law and human rights law with pioneering work in the areas of intellectual property, digital technology, sexuality and gender, and criminal law.