All posts by Richard D. Kahlenberg


Obama’s Affirmative-Action Brief

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 wi…


The University of Texas’ Weak Affirmative-Action Defense

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 …


The KIPP Charter Model Goes to College

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,…


Larry Summers’s Unsatisfying Proposal

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 contrib…


Transparency About Legacy Preferences

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 e…


Defining Community Colleges Down

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 …


Indentured Servitude for Students?

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 inc…


How Can Labor Bounce Back?

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 seve…


Asian Americans and Affirmative Action

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 positio…


Overturning or Modifying ‘Grutter v. Bollinger’?

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 furt…