TC/CLS Democracy and Higher Ed. Panel
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November 20, 2007 (NEW YORK) — Colleges and universities have defaulted on their democratic responsibility and are failing in their primary mission to train citizens, Columbia Law School visiting professor Lani Guinier said at a recent conference on the future of public education in America.
Guinier argued that university admissions that are not inclusive undermine democracy.
She said the current trends in admissions have created a meritocracy with no sense of public service.
“College students used to be looking for a philosophy of life. Now they’re looking to make money,” said Guinier. Universities, meanwhile, are being misused as “branding factories,” forsaking the historical compact that gives them certain privileges like tax breaks in exchange for “the responsibility to model democracy,” Guinier said.
Guinier made her comments at a recent panel, “Democracy and Diversity in Higher Education,” which was part of a two-day symposium Equal Educational Opportunity: What Now? Reassessing the Role of the Courts, the Law and School Policies after CFE and Seattle. The symposium, held November 12 and 13, 2007, was co-hosted by Teachers College and Columbia Law School.
The panel also included Columbia University President Lee Bollinger and Susan Sturm, Columbia Law School Professor of Law and Social Responsibility.
Panel moderator Jonathan Alger, Vice-President and General Counsel at Rutgers University, said in his introduction that Sturm’s academic work in the field has created “an architecture of inclusion” and that Bollinger “is a leader not afraid to stand up for principles of truth and justice.”
Alger told Bollinger that for Grutter v. Bollinger, the 2003 Supreme Court decision which upheld the use of affirmative action in college admissions, “all of us in higher education owe you a great debt.” Bollinger was president of the University of Michigan when the case was heard, which involved a challenge to the way the University of Michigan Law School used affirmative action in its admissions process.
The panel’s presenters agreed there has been serious erosion of the progress made in providing a quality education to all children which occurred after the seminal 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education. “All the problems are as severe, or more severe, than where they were,” Bollinger said.
Guinier described a sense of despair about our democracy and education, but also said there is “potential lurking in the air.”
She cited as an example of new thinking about affirmative action the ``top 10 percent plan’’ in Texas, which has increased the attendance of minority and rural white students at public colleges in the state, diversifying enrollment by class and race at the University of Texas. The rule, passed by the legislature, guarantees admission to the UT system for all students in the top ten percent of their high school class.
The Texas plan could counter the current college admissions process, which is having a “perverse effect” on upper-middle-class child-rearing as parents “credentialize” their children to build resumes they hope universities will find attractive, Guinier said. “This,” she said, “is not a democratic process.”
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