Every now and then, academics drop their guard and reveal that one or another of the shibboleths that the modern academic world holds dear is—a sham. “The loud debate over affirmative action is a distraction that obscures the real problem, because right now affirmative action simply mirrors the values of the current view of meritocracy,” Harvard law professor Lani Guinier wrote in The Chronicle Review on January 9, 2015. “Students at elite colleges who are the beneficiaries of affirmative action tend to be either the children of immigrants or the children of upper-middle-class parents of color, children who have been sent to fine prep schools just like the upper-middle-class white students.”
“The result? Our nation’s colleges, universities, and graduate schools use affirmative-action-based practices to admit students who test well, and then pride themselves on their cosmetic diversity.” Her essay in The Chronicle Review is excerpted from her new book, The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America.
Guinier was, early in her career, an assistant counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. In many ways, she is one of the ultimate insiders in politics and academe.
She almost became even more of one. “While President Clinton and virtually every member of his senior staff spent last week intent on getting the Administration’s budget bill passed, storm clouds were gathering over Lani Guinier’s nomination to head the Justice Department’s civil rights division,” Gwen Ifill reported in The New York Times on June 4, 1993. “They were ignored.”
“But by the time the President met with Ms. Guinier for more than an hour on Thursday evening, several officials had told him that she could not be confirmed by the Senate.”
“At that meeting, which he later called heartbreaking, Mr. Clinton did not tell Ms. Guinier of his decision to withdraw her nomination. Instead, he placed calls to her and to Attorney General Janet Reno after first meeting with senior aides to tell them of the decision.”
“Fifteen minutes later Mr. Clinton made the withdrawal public, appearing in the White House briefing room to read from a statement that had been prepared before the meeting with Ms. Guinier began, and that he had edited.”
“There had been warnings for weeks that Ms. Guinier’s nomination might run into trouble. Before her name was even formally submitted on April 29, both the President and the Attorney General had been alerted to the unusual nature of her legal writings, officials said today.”