Monday, April 28, 2014
The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action affirmed the ability of states to ban the use of racial preferences in state institutions of higher education. Although those committed to diversity in higher education view this decision as further evidence of the erosion and eventual demise of affirmative action, this decision also should serve as a wake-up call that the nation must undertake a renewed effort to close the opportunity gap in elementary and secondary education.
The Supreme Court has been tolling the death knell for affirmative action for many years. The Schuette decision is merely further evidence that the end is not far off. In the 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, the court approved the consideration of race as one factor among many in creating a diverse class at the University of Michigan Law School. However, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s majority opinion noted that given the growing number of minority applicants who had earned high test scores and grades, “[w]e expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”
In the 2013 decision in Fisher v. University of Texas, the Supreme Court permitted colleges and universities to prove their continued need to sometimes consider the race of students to admit a diverse student body. Yet, the court’s constitutional analysis can trap many institutions between the Scylla of insufficient evidence on the racial composition needed to reap the benefits of diversity, and the Charybdis of specific evidence regarding how much diversity they seek, which the court is likely to label a quota.
Undoubtedly, Schuette’s approval of state bans on racial preferences will advance the eventual demise of affirmative action by removing all constitutional barriers to such bans. Schuette also will embolden supporters of those bans to seek similar bans in other states.
The erosion and impending demise of affirmative action must serve as a reminder that the continued need to use affirmative action is caused in substantial part by the nation’s failure to remedy the opportunity gap that continues to plague our nation’s elementary and secondary schools. Far too many minority students and poor students of all races continue to attend schools with the least effective teachers, inadequate resources and poorly maintained facilities when compared to their more affluent peers, as President Obama’s Equity and Excellence Commission report confirmed last year.
The need to end this deeply entrenched opportunity gap is a moral imperative for the foundation of a just and equitable society. Justice Anthony Kennedy acknowledged this when he stated that “[t]his Nation has a moral and ethical obligation to fulfill its historic commitment to creating an integrated society that ensures equal opportunity for all of its children” in his 2007 opinion in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District.
Moreover, both those who support affirmative action and those who seek to abolish it bear the heavy costs of the educational opportunity gap. Research establishes that the current failure to provide an adequate education to all schoolchildren costs the nation billions in lost taxes, public assistance, criminal justice support and health care costs. For instance, the nation forfeits $156 billion in income and tax revenues during the life span of each cohort of students who do not graduate from high school. (“The Price We Pay: Economic And Social Consequences Of Inadequate Education,” Clive R. Belfield & Henry M. Levin, eds. 2007). Furthermore, the cost of the opportunity gap will increasingly weaken our economy as the changing economy demands more workers with higher-level skills and the number of Hispanic and African-American children becomes an increasingly larger share of the school-age population.
Affirmative action is in part a bandage that seeks to reduce the hemorrhaging from our broken elementary and secondary school system. It is important to keep this bandage in place as long as possible or the hemorrhaging will increase. Therefore, those committed to diverse institutions of higher education and a diverse workforce must continue to push for race-sensitive approaches as well as race-neutral means to achieve diversity in higher education.
In addition to these critical efforts, the United States must wake up to the need for comprehensive reforms that close the educational opportunity gap. Scholars, activists, business leaders and ultimately the public must call on leaders in Congress and the White House, as well as in state legislatures and local school boards, to take action to close this gap. Ultimately, if the nation fails to take on this challenge now, it does so at its own peril.
Kimberly Jenkins Robinson is a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law and a senior fellow at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
The Department of Education announced new regulations Friday for-profit career institutions to show that they are preparing students for gainful employment. This is the Obama administration's second round of "gainful employment" rulemaking after a federal district court struck down the ED's first set of regulations, Program Integrity, in 2012. In Ass'n of Private Colleges & Univ. v. Duncan, 870 F.Supp.2d 133 (D.D.C. 2012), the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia vacated the regulations as arbitrary because the ED had not given a “reasoned explanation” for its student debt repayment rate test that required that at least 35% of an institution's graduates had to be repaying their student loans for a for-profit to qualify for Title IV student aid. The Department said the 35% rate identified the lowest-performing quarter of for-profit institutions. The ED has set new metrics in its latest proposed regulations. From the ED's statement on Friday, the new regulations require that "the estimated annual loan payment of typical [career college] graduates does not exceed 20 percent of their discretionary earnings or 8 percent of their total earnings and the default rate for former students does not exceed 30 percent" and that "institutions must publicly disclose information about the program costs, debt, and performance of their gainful employment programs so that students can make informed decisions." The administration is targeting student outcomes in some of the nation's for-profit colleges, which represent about 13 percent of the total higher education population, but about 31 percent of all student loans and nearly half of all loan defaults. The administration says that 72% of for-profit gainful employment programs produced graduates that earned less than high school dropouts. Read the proposed regulations here.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
I have long argued that once federal student loan debtors began to have their loan balances forgiven through the various income-based repayment options the whole narrative about student loans would change. All of a sudden, student loan debtors would go from being hapless victims of an exploitive system to being crafty beneficiaries of an exploitable system. It has been my prediction that this shift in narrative would result in political backlash against the forgiveness provisions that would result in a tightening of eligibility requirements—or the doing away with the provisions altogether.
We have seen this type of overreaction before. Up until the 1970s, student loan debt was dischargeable in bankruptcy to the same extent as other forms of unsecured debt. But sensationalized stories about doctors and lawyers receiving discharges just before embarking on lucrative careers prompted Congress to impose increasingly onerous restrictions on the discharge of student loan debt. And while the perceived impossibility of student loan discharge is overblown, there are undoubtedly debtors facing genuine hardships who are not afforded the benefit of a fresh start through bankruptcy, all because a few debtors abused the system.
Unfortunately, the Obama Administration’s newly-released budget proposal appears intent on forestalling any media backlash about the forgiveness provisions. One specific proposal calls for capping the eligibility for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) at the maximum aggregate loan limit for independent undergraduate students—currently $57,500. The effect of such a cap would be to essentially render graduate and professional school loans ineligible for forgiveness through the PSLF program.
As it currently works, PSLF allows debtors who qualify for hardship, or income-based, payments to seek forgiveness of their student loan debts after making 120 monthly payments while employed in an eligible public or non-profit sector job. The program was signed into law during the waning days of the George W. Bush presidency, as part of the College Cost Reduction Act. The twin purposes of PSLF were 1) to provide relief for debtors struggling to make student loan payments and 2) to incentivize employment in the public and non-profit sectors, especially among those who may have more lucrative options in the private sector.
There are no caps on the amount of debt that is eligible for forgiveness, a logical omission given the high cost of higher education. But if the proposed changes are adopted, any amount above $57,500 would be subject to a 25-year window (300 monthly payments, with any forgiven amounts counted as income for the tax year in which they are forgiven). This cap would render the program ineffective at serving either of its original purposes—especially for individuals with graduate and professional school debt.
But once again, there is a theme here. In 2011, the President signed a bill ending student loan interest subsidies for needy graduate and professional school students. The ostensible reason was to shore up the need-based Pell Grant program, which was under fire by Republicans. Unfortunately, this political compromise is costing the typical needy graduate or professional school student thousands of dollars in additional accrued interest—an absurd proposition when you consider that the federal government generated $66 billion in profit from student loan debtors between 2007 and 2012.
The stated justification for capping PSLF is to keep schools from increasing tuition. In other words, the Administration wants to punish students for the “sins” of their schools. It seems that Georgetown Law School’s manipulation of its tuition rate to take full advantage of the PSLF program means that every student who pursues an educational path that ends up costing more than $57,500 will have to suffer. This is a wrongheaded and patently unfair approach.
There are perverse political forces lurking beneath the surface as well. There has always been suspicion of the federal student aid program. So "reforms" typically work against students. Additionally, this Administration seems to believe that graduate and professional school students are undeserving of support and hardship relief. The reality, however, is very different.
Not every graduate and professional school student is a trust fund baby or destined for a lucrative career, especially not early on. Many of these students struggle with the same types of hardships facing the neediest undergraduate students—and when it comes to student debt, these students are carrying the heaviest burdens. In higher education, the vast majority of students must pay to play. Unfortunately, the game is expensive—often much more than $57,500. Moreover, when you consider that student loans are often the only means of financing education for individuals from poor backgrounds, the effect of this proposal would be most severe on those who already have the least.
It is irresponsible to try to control college costs on the backs of students, not to mention baffling that this Administration would open budget negotiations with such a willingness to sacrifice needy students. The budget proposal has been characterized as “dead on arrival” (largely because of its attempts to expand the social safety net in other areas); we should all hope that provisions such as the PSLF cap are not selectively resurrected.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Aaron Taylor's two recent posts with us call into question the sincerity of some elite universities that profess a commitment to merit based admissions. His posts suggest a commitment to money. Unfortunately, one of the nation's very finest public universities is heading toward that camp. The University of Virginia is one of the least socioeconomically diverse colleges in the country. According to the study in LaJuana's post this morning, only the University of Delaware has a smaller percentage of students attending on Pell Grants. To UVA's credit, it, like the Stanfords of the world, previously adopted an extremely generous financial aid package for low-income students, whereby it would cover the full financial need of students whose families fell below 200% of the poverty line. Announcements of these sorts almost always gain universities praise on NPR. In fact, I recall a slew of these stories in recent years ago, as the elites sought to outdo one another.
As critics often point out, however, these programs often have little effect on these universities because students from that income bracket rarely gain admission to these top universities. In other words, it is not a diversity in admissions program, but rather financial aid premised on making it through the admissions process.
The problem for UVA is that its program worked too well. Low-income students have gained admission and taken the university up on its offer. "The proportion of students eligible for need-based aid under the program has grown from 24 percent to 33 percent. And the share of the student body that is low income has risen from 6.5 percent to 8.9 percent." UVA's response: end its no-loan policy for low-income students next year. The most flattering version of this story is that UVA is a victim of its own success and now cannot afford the program. Given the wealth of UVA and its overall budget, Ed Central doubts this. The least flattering version is that UVA was more interested in the public relations benefits of the program than diversity.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Forbes recently published an editorial entitled, The Farce of Meritocracy: Why Legacy Admission Might Actually Be a Good Thing. The thesis of the piece is that legacy admissions preferences are so absurd that they may actually be useful in exposing the farcical nature of our meritocratic notions. While I agree that legacy preferences are antithetical to conceptions of merit, I strongly disagree that they are in any way “a good thing.”
As the author points out, legacy preferences tilt the admissions game in ways that allow social, financial, and political capital to masquerade as merit, thereby further disadvantaging already disadvantaged applicants. Put simply, legacy preferences preserve privilege. I understand what the author was attempting to do—use irony to highlight an absurdity. But I guess I have less faith in the ability of some to grasp the shrewdness of the piece.
I have written in other spaces about the effects of un-meritocratic privilege in selective admissions. So there is no need to revisit those points here; but the author made one point is that I think is deserving of further emphasis. He writes the following about Stanford’s admission process:
Applicants are not just given preference because they are children of alumni, but because they are children of alumni who donate money…If alumni have donated money, the admissions office will know about it. In any other circumstance, this would be considered bribery. But when rich alumni do it, it’s allowed. In fact, it’s tax-subsidized.
This point cannot be emphasized enough. The tax code subsidizes the de facto (if not actual) bribery of selective colleges and universities all over the country. Privileged individuals are allowed to use un-meritocratic means (in this case, money) to tilt the admissions process in their favor (legacy applicants at Stanford are three times more likely to be offered admission), and in the process, they receive a tax deduction. And if that is not bad enough, the institution is allowed to collect the payoff free of taxes as well. In this context, less affluent individuals are contributing, in the literal sense, to their continued disadvantage.
We spend seemingly endless amounts of time arguing about the appropriateness of so-called “welfare” programs for the poor, but rarely give the same attention to welfare for the rich. Similarly, we express passionate indignation (righteous and otherwise) about racial preferences, while accepting socioeconomic preferences as simple facts of life.
But let us be clear: not all preferences are created equal. And racial preferences premised on broadening access to opportunities are far nobler than those, like legacy admissions, that merely preserve the unequal and unjust status quo.
Monday, November 18, 2013
How Diversity Stole the Show at Oral Argument in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, by Scott Greytak
I was still in the early stages of using my neighbor – an apathetic marble pillar – as an armrest when Schuette’s oral argument turned into a debate over diversity in higher education. This was mostly a surprise, considering how the appeal before the Court concerned Proposal 2, a 2006 Michigan ballot-initiative-turned-constitutional-amendment that hinged on the applicability of something called the “political restructuring doctrine.”
A little background: After the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of race-conscious admissions some ten years ago in the now-famous case Grutter v. Bollinger, Jennifer Gratz, the plaintiff from its companion case, started rolling the snowball for what would become Michigan’s Prop 2. The referendum, which banned racial preferences in higher education, public employment, and government contracting, was approved by Michiganders 58%-42% in 2006, only to be struck down six years later at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals by an 8-7 vote. The Sixth Circuit, applying the political restructuring doctrine, determined that the amendment made it unacceptably difficult for minorities to access and influence Michigan’s political process. Jennifer Gratz & Co. appealed the decision, and the final review of Schuette (pronounced “Shoe-tee”) went into motion.
Because an aggressive Schuette Court ultimately could, some argue, choose to outlaw affirmative action across the board, conversations on diversity at oral arguments were certainly possible, but were far from necessary. Nothing about Schuette speaks directly to the Supreme Court’s diversity-in-higher-education jurisprudence. A conversation about the political restructuring doctrine – interrupted every now and then by an heroic tumbleweed or two – seemed written in the stars.
Forget that plan. Though the intricacies of the doctrine would receive plenty of airtime later, the eight justices (Justice Elena Kagan was absent due to her former involvement while U.S. Solicitor General) wanted to talk diversity first. And not two minutes would go by between Chief Justice Roberts announcing Schuette and the unearthing of freshly-buried ideological hatchets. Even though, according to the first oralist – Michigan Solicitor General John Bursch – the “point [of Schuette] isn’t to get into a debate about whether preferences are a good or bad thing, because that's not what this case is about,” right from the jump, Bursch and Justice Sonia Sotomayor picked up where the Court had left off in last term’s Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, arguing diversity and – most attention-grabbing – the viability of race-neutral alternatives to traditional, “check the box” affirmative action policies in higher education. Suddenly the courtroom was alive with old, familiarly controversial spirits that roamed the courtroom in search of warm-bodied jurists.
Fisher, which I consider the Court’s most misunderstood decision of its 2012-2013 term, dealt directly with the novel legal conundrum of race-neutral admissions plans, namely Texas’s Top Ten Percent Plan. The decision, released this past June, has since rekindled – in that slow-burning, “Purple Rain”-type of way- the smoldering controversy of affirmative action in colleges and universities.
Because Schuette offers the conservative bloc of the Court another swing at the use of race in admissions – albeit with a much smaller strike zone than in Fisher – all three oralists managed to inconvenience their primary points of law in order to speak to the larger ideological picture: “[T]here are other things that the University of Michigan could be doing to achieve diversity in race-neutral ways,” Bursch – the eager beaver of the three oralists – offered after only slight provocation.
“I thought that in Grutter,” Justice Sotomayor shot back, “all of the social scientists had pointed out [that] all of those efforts had failed.” In response, Bursch highlighted how the University of Michigan could in fact increase its diversity levels if it eliminated its preferences for the children of alumni, and if it attached greater value to applicants’ socioeconomic statuses. (The latter idea has caught fire recently because of its near-airtight legality – it does not explicitly consider race, making it impervious to 14th Amendment-based challenges – its political digestibility, and, perhaps, its capacity to produce more diversity than traditional affirmative action.)
And so the gusto over diversity, Grutter, and Fisher rowed on for a bit, eventually beat back by the jurisprudential boundaries of Schuette and the political restructuring doctrine. Just a skirmish, it turns out. But one that reminded us all of the deeper issues yet to be resolved.
Scott Greytak is an associate at Campinha Bacote LLC in Washington, D.C., where he provides legal analysis, policy recommendations, and commentary on the intersection of civil rights and education policy.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
A group of UCLA African American males, led by Sy Stokes, an African American Studies student, created a video to call attention to the dwindling diversity at UCLA. The basic facts as they see them are that only 660, or 3.3%, of the 19,838 males enrolled at UCLA are African American. And 65% of those 660 are athletes. The numbers were even worse for the entering class in Fall 2012. Only 48 were African American, or just over 1 percent of the entering class. They also point out that the graduation rate for African American males at UCLA is only 74%, so only 35 African American males from that entering class will be expected to graduate. They then point out that the school has 109 athletic national championships, more than twice the number of African American males in the entering class. Based on this, they levy the charge that the school only sees African American males as important to increasing the school's athletic winning percentage.
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
DOJ Supports Texas Affirmative Action Plan on Remand and Argues Texas Still Entitled to Deference Regarding the Existence of Critical Mass
The Department of Justice filed its amicus brief in the remand in Fisher v. Texas last week. The key question on remand is whether the University of Texas's consideration of race in admissions is necessary. Bound up in that question the first time around was the level of deference that a court should afford a University in reviewing its admissions policies. The Department of Justice argues in its brief that, while the Supreme Court indicated that the lower court must independently review whether the admissions policy is narrowly tailored, the University is still entitled to "due regard" of its educational goals and how the consideration of race furthers them. In particular, the University is still entitled to a level of deference in terms of what constitutes a "critical mass" of minority students necessary to achieve the benefits of diversity. The pertinent part of DOJ's brief states:
In this supplemental brief, the United States will address the Court’s question whether “the University [is] due any deference in its decision that ‘critical mass’ has not been achieved.” Grutter used the term “critical mass” as shorthand for the point at which a university has attained sufficient diversity to achieve the educational benefits of diversity. 539 U.S. at 330. The question for this Court is therefore how it should review the University’s conclusion that it lacked sufficient diversity in 2004 and 2008 to provide the educational benefits of diversity to its students. That question entails a qualitative assessment of the educational experience the University is providing, rather than, as appellant suggests (Appellant Supp. Br. 23-24), a rote calculation of the number of minority students enrolled in the University, a number that might seem “substantial” in the abstract.
This Court should independently review the University’s determination that it lacks sufficient diversity to fully provide the educational benefits of diversity, while giving due regard to the University’s exercise of its educational judgment and expertise in reaching its conclusion. The determination that the University lacks sufficient diversity is a necessary predicate for its ultimate conclusion that it is “‘necessary’ * * * to use race to achieve the educational benefits of diversity.” Fisher, 133 S. Ct. at 2420. Because the University bears the “ultimate burden” on that question, ibid., the Court must be able to meaningfully review the University’s conclusion that it currently lacks sufficient diversity to fully provide the educational benefits of diversity. The Court should therefore verify that the University has amply supported its conclusion with concrete evidence and a reasoned explanation of why that evidence indicates that the University is not providing the educational benefits of diversity. At the same time, because the University’s assessment of such evidence rests on the application of educational expertise and judgments about the University’s institutional mission, this Court should evaluate the University’s conclusions with due regard for the multi-faceted educational assessments underlying those conclusions.
DOJ's full brief is here.
Monday, November 4, 2013
The Virginia Supreme has overturned a jury's damages award for Virginia Tech arising out of the campus shooting that occurred on April 16, 2007 and took the lives of 30 people. Last, year a jury had found that the University was negligent and awarded $4-million to each of the victims’ families. That amount was then reduced to $100,000, as required by a state cap on damages against the state. The primary thrust of the plaintiffs’ argument was that after learning of the first shooting, if Virginia Tech officials had issued a warning sooner, the subsequent victims would have taken precautions, such as altering their schedules, staying in place, etc. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court disagreed reasoning that the school officials could not reasonably have foreseen that a second set of shootings would occur and, thus, they had no duty to warn the campus. The court wrote: "Based on the information available at that time, the defendants believed that the shooter had fled the area and posed no danger to others. . . . Thus, as a matter of law, the commonwealth did not have a duty to protect students." The full opinion is available here.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Maimon Schwarzschild's article, A Class Act? Social Class Affirmative Action and Higher Education, 50 San Diego L. Rev. 441 (May-June 2013), is up on westlaw now. She argues that, while class based affirmative action in higher education may have some alure due to the legal challenges that race based affirmative action draws, class based affirmative action is problematic from a policy and justice standpoint. She writes:
But there are good reasons to think twice about class-based affirmative action. Some of the problems with class preference are common to any educational preference based on group membership rather than educational qualifications. But some of the most important reasons for caution are specific to preferences based on social class.
Comparing class preferences with racial preferences helps to point up some of the reasons for the allure of class preferences but also points up some of the problems. A crucial consideration is the question of who is to receive class preference. For example, what about immigrants and their children? In general, social class is difficult to define, and this very difficulty would confer great discretion and power on faculties and academic administrators who undertake to bestow class preferences: discretion that would be open to abuse for political, ideological, and other ends. Finally, there is the question of whether preferential treatment is necessary to increase educational opportunities for the less privileged or whether the call for class preferences reflects a mindset inimical to impartial standards and prone to preferences as a first rather than a last resort.
I am afraid, however, that she misses one of the major premises behind both racial and socioeconomic affirmative action. These policies are not simply to "preference" the underrepresented group, nor to discount "educational qualifications." Rather, when used properly, considerations of race and poverty are an attempt to better identify educational qualifications. Because socioeconomic and racial bias are "cooked into" the typical measures of educational qualifications, such as the SAT, considering race and poverty and necessary to compare apples to apples. More bluntly, a 770 score by a high income student on the reading portion of the SAT is not equivalent to a 770 by a low income score. Social science would indicate that the low-income student with the same score most likely has more aptitude than the wealth student. It is hard to be precise with generalized comparisons, but low income student with a 710 might likewise have more capacity.
As Richard Kahlenberg, similarly, notes: "Anthony Carnevale and Jeff Strohl of Georgetown University found that the most socioeconomically disadvantaged student scores 399 points lower on average on the combined math and verbal SAT than the most socioeconomically advantaged student. A socioeconomically disadvantaged student who beats the odds and scores fairly well despite the obstacles she faces is likely to have more potential in the long run than a student who has been given all sorts of advantages in life. To be genuinely meritocratic, we need to consider socioeconomic status."
Monday, October 21, 2013
Thursday, October 17, 2013
The State of California has brought its second lawsuit in six years against Corinthian Colleges, Inc., saying that the company has failed to live up to the terms of a previous settlement with the state. Corinthian Colleges, Inc. (CCI), is one of the largest for-profit post-secondary “career education” companies in North America and reported having 96,631 students in a 2012 10-Q statement. Back in 2007 when Jerry Brown was the state attorney general, Corinthians agreed to settle a lawsuit with the state by paying a $6.5 million fine, including $5.8 million in consumer restitution to students who had been deceived by false advertising. Current California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a complaint last week against the company for not following the terms of the 2007 settlement, alleging that the schools’ ads continue to mislead students, investors, and regulators about job placement and student default rates. California believes that CCI continues to lure students to take on massive student debt to train for jobs at CCI's schools, and when the students cannot find jobs, the students default on their loans.
California’s complaint alleges that CCI targets students who head single parent families and have annual incomes that are near the federal poverty line ($19,530 for a three-person household). The complaint alleges that “CCI targets this demographic, which it describes in internal company documents as composed of "isolated," "impatient," individuals with ''low self-esteem," who have "few people in their lives who care about them" and who are "stuck" and "unable to see and plan well for future." CCI attracts students through “aggressive and persistent internet and telemarketing campaigns and through television ads on daytime shows like Jerry Springer and Maury Povich,” the state alleges. One of CCI’s deceptive practices, the complaint says, is arranging for a temp agency to employ students for a few days right before reporting post-gradation employment data. The company simply did not report employment data for several of its schools that closed in 2011.
The recession prompts underemployed adults to return to school and with that comes an uptick in aggressive advertising by for-profit technical schools. The problem is that students at for-profit higher education institutions have loan default rates at much higher rates than the national average. California wants to curb CCI’s falsely reporting post-graduation employment data to lure students into taking out student loans that they cannot repay (or discharge in bankruptcy) after they cannot find a job in their chosen fields. Watching for-profit schools is difficult enough but monitoring Corinthians has been particularly hard because the company opens and closes its schools at a brisk pace. During the 2011-12 school year, for example, Corinthians announced closures of its affiliated schools in Washington, Chicago, Illinois, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Decatur, Georgia and Arlington, Texas. Of course, we in legal education have to clean up our own employment data reporting too, as shown in the well-publicized cases of Villanova Law School and University of Illinois College of Law’s publishing misleading data about students' debt burden and employment statistics after graduation.
Monday, October 7, 2013
Nearly a decade ago, a few graduates and current students from Maryland's historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), along with a local attorney or two, began questioning the funding and expansion practices of the state's entire university and college system. They filed suit, but soon found they were in for an enormous fight and needed more legal resources. With the help of John Brittain, the Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic agreed to take on the case. Professor Aderson Francois and his law students largely carried the law suit in the early days. They were later joined by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and pro bono attorneys from Kirkland and Ellis.
Yesterday, the plaintiffs' long road resulted in a victory. The United States District Court for Maryland found in Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education v. Maryland Higher Education Commission that, in fact, the state had engaged in unconstitutional action in regard to Maryland's HBCUs. The court rejected plaintiffs' claims that the state's funding practices were unconstitutional, but, on the all important issue of the overall structure of the Maryland system, the court wrote:
I find the plaintiffs have prevailed in establishing current policies and practices of unnecessary program duplication that continue to have a segregative effect as to which the State has not established sound educational justification. Remedies will be required.
In other words, the State formerly operated a de jure segregated higher education system. The constitution imposes a duty on the state to dismantle that system. The state's current practice of creating and expanding new programs at historically white institutions, which duplicate already existing programs at HBCUs that are right down the road, has the effect of keeping Maryland's colleges and universities segregated. By doing so, it is violating its constitutional duty to disestablish segregation.
The court did not issue a specific remedy, but directed the parties to enter into mediation and come up with a plan to current the system's deficiencies.
Monday, September 30, 2013
Over the summer, scholars and advocates poured over the question of whether and how much the Court's opinion Fisher v. Texas changed the legality of affirmative action. According to the Departments of Education and Justice, not much has changed. In a "Dear Colleague" letter released Friday, they wrote:
On June 24, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. The Court preserved the well-established legal principle that colleges and universities have a compelling interest in achieving the educational benefits that flow from a racially and ethnically diverse student body and can lawfully pursue that interest in their admissions programs. The educational benefits of diversity, long recognized by the Court and affirmed in research and practice, include cross-racial understanding and dialogue, the reduction of racial isolation, and the breaking down of racial stereotypes.
The Departments of Education and Justice strongly support diversity in higher education. Racially diverse educational environments help to prepare students to succeed in our increasingly diverse nation. The future workforce of America must be able to transcend the boundaries of race, language, and culture as our economy becomes more globally interconnected.
This statement to be more than just rhetoric supporting theoretical diversity. The letter goes on to say that its pre-Fisher guidance on voluntary desegregation in K-12 and diversity in higher education remain in effect. Most important, many read Fisher to increase the burden on universities and colleges to justify their affirmative action programs under the narrowly tailored prong of strict scrutiny, but in a "Question and Answer" document that accompanied the letter, the Departments said Fisher did not even change the narrowly tailored prong. Rather, Fisher just emphasized what the law already was.
Kudos to the Departments for taking a stand on these key issues. This is something they had been reluctant and slow to do during Obama's first term. They waited for over three years before retracting the Bush administration's misleading and inaccurate guidance on Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle's holding regarding voluntary integration. Now, they have positively acted in a matter of just months on Fisher. This should go a long way toward avoiding the uncertainty and fear among districts and universities that persisted following Parents Involved.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
Protecting and preventing sexual violence has been one of the ED’s priorities this year, notably with the agency’s “Dear Colleagues” letter sent in the spring. However, activists continue to have serious concerns about colleges’ treatment of rape victims. Last week, the LA Times reported that Occidental College quietly settled with at least 10 of 37 sexual assault victims who signed a federal complaint about rape on campus. The disturbing part of the settlement is that in addition to payments, Occidental allegedly barred the complainants from any further participation in the Occidental Sexual Assault Coalition, the campus group that organized the campaign that resulted in the federal investigation. The attorney representing the ten complainants, Gloria Allred, said that she could not speak about the settlement, but the Occidental professor who organized the federal complaint is speaking out against its terms. Danielle Dirks, a criminology professor, told the Times that requiring “the women to remain silent and not to participate in campus activism could have a chilling effect at Occidental.” The settlement, Dirks said, “effectively erases all of the sexual assaults and the college’s wrongdoing.” Investigators from the federal Office for Civil Rights are expected to visit Occidental soon to investigate the complaint. The Tennessean is also running a series about the rape case involving members of Vanderbilt University's football team and steps that the school is taking to stop sexual violence on campus.
Monday, September 23, 2013
Michael Argenyi, a deaf medical student, won a federal trial this month when the jury found that Creighton University failed to provide special equipment and interpreters for his education. Although the jury found that Creighton discriminated against him and violated federal disability laws by failing to make accommodations for his hearing impairment, it awarded no damages. Argenyi sued Creighton under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) after the medical school failed to provide equipment and accommodations such as “cued speech” interpreters to help him lip-read when speakers use sounds that look the same. While Argenyi attended Seattle University as an undergraduate student, the university provided Communication Access Real-time Transcription (CART), a system which transcribes spoken words into text on a computer screen and and a cued speech interpreter. Argenyi graduated from Seattle University with a 3.87 GPA. Upon entering Creighton’s School of Medicine in August 2009, he asked for similar accommodations. Creighton provided some assistance, but not the specific accommodations that Argenyi requested.
Friday, September 20, 2013
Please join the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice for a panel discussion, “Creating and Supporting Diversity in Higher Education,” on September 27, 2013 from 9:30-11:00am ET at the U.S. Department of Justice. Higher education leaders will join Catherine E. Lhamon, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Education, and Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Justice, to discuss the importance of creating and supporting diversity on college campuses and the parameters for using in race in admissions as stated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. Martha Kanter, Under Secretary of Education, will deliver opening remarks, and Ada Meloy, General Counsel for the American Council on Education, will moderate the discussion. The event will coincide with the release of a document, “Questions and Answers About Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin,” developed jointly by the Departments.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
Alabama State University was awarded $1.54 million grant from the National Institutes of Health on Monday, which makes ASU’s other recent newsworthy event—in the form of a scalding opinion from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals—all the more embarrassing. In Weatherly, et al. v. Alabama State University, released last week, the circuit court upheld a hostile work environment and retaliation verdict for over $1 million against the university. You know that a case will be bad when it opens with a statement that it “should greatly concern every taxpaying citizen of the State of Alabama, especially because it involves a public institution largely funded with tax dollars.” Three ASU female employees alleged that they were racially abused and sexually harassed while working for two ASU administrators: Dr. John Knight, Jr., Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, and LaVonette Bartley, an associate executive director. The plaintiffs—two of whom are black and one is biracial—were repeatedly called racial slurs by Bartley. Bartley once called one of the women’s sons, a 7-year-old, a racial epithet in his presence. Bartley also routinely commented on the women’s bodies, touching them and pressing against them at their desks. When one of the women complained to Knight about Bartley’s conduct, Knight said that he “was not going to walk on eggshells around [his] office" and that no one was going to tell him “ how to run his office.” (Knight also allegedly made sexual and inappropriate comments to one of the plaintiffs.) Knight warned employees that if they contacted the EEOC, they would be terminated. He made good on that promise by terminating two of the plaintiffs shortly after they filed EEOC complaints. ASU appealed the trial verdict, raising three issues: that the district court abused its discretion by denying ASU’s motion to sever, that the district court erred in finding that the women were entitled to front pay; and that the district court should have granted ASU’s (untimely) motion for judgment as a matter of law timely, or in the alternative, its 60(b) motion. The Eleventh Circuit disposed of these appellate claims on procedural grounds. (Quite frankly, given that ASU did not timely raise its claims below, it probably should not have bothered to appeal at all. Experts estimate that after attorneys’ fees, court costs and interest are added to the plaintiffs’ recovery, ASU’s bill could be more than $3 million.) The circuit court closed its opinion with a blistering indictment:
We are left to speculate who is in charge at ASU. Regardless, however, we are unnerved by the apparent acquiescence to, if not outright condoning of, the abusive work environment created by its high-level employees. Such conduct simply has no place in a work environment, especially at a publicly funded university.Read the opinion in Weatherly, et al. v. Alabama State University here.