TEACHERS COLLEGE CONFERENCE on EDUCATIONAL EQUITY
Democracy & Diversity in Higher Education
This panel featured the distinguished Visiting Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, Lani Guiner. In 1998, she became the Bennett Boskey Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman of color appointed to a tenured professorship. Lee Bollinger, current President of Columbia University and former President of the University of Michigan and Susan Sturm, a Professor of Law at Columbia University rounded out the panel which was moderated by Jonathan R. Alger, Vice-President and General Counsel at Rutgers University. This panel looked at the role the University plays in our society today and how it can change to be more responsive to the needs of a changing community.
Professor Guiner gave a thought provoking talk on the nature of democratic merit and how our university operates today. Guiner notes that part of the problem is that today’s parent is very concerned with getting their child enough “credentials” to get admitted to the school of their choice. What this reinforces is a system where the university is a private actor, an institution, that treats students as consumers.
Gunier explores a new paradigm based on “democratic merit” where universities can direct their admissions practices to expand to the whole community, and be of service to a lively democracy.
Dr. Bollinger, was engaged in a ground-breaking affirmative action case which was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2003 while dean of the University of Michigan Law School. He noted that inner metro Detroit is more segregated today than it was in 1960. “The very problems that were there from the beginning are still there,” Bollinger said. “I view this as a very, very serious matter.”
Guiner gave two illustrations as to how a University can expand, and be a transformer of change, which can affect immediate neighborhoods, and hundreds of lives.
The Texas 10% plan was a direct response to a federal court decision. It said that anyone who graduated from a Texas public high school in the top 10% could attend the University of Texas. This opened the doors to blacks, latinos, and rural whites, who were underrepresented. This plan has been in effect for the past ten years and leads to a diversified freshman class.
Guiner also spoke about the neighborhood around Clark University in Worcester, MA, which was blighted, had a high crime, and kept students and teachers away from the school site. The University took a seat on the local Community Development Board and asked what they could do to help. They were told to help provide better housing and help construct a school for K-12 grades. The University Park Campus School started and transformed the neighborhood. Startling statistics about the graduates included that 100% went to college; 100% of the graduates also passed the MCAT, a state test for those interested in attending college. Partnering with the community, it transformed the neighborhood, a salient example of democratic merit at work.#