President Bollinger and Other Columbians Join White House Summit on Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education

November 23, 2016
Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger at The White House

Panelists from left: Theodore Shaw, director of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Center for Civil Rights; Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger; Lori Alveno McGill who served as defense counsel for the University of Texas in the recent Fisher cases; and Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor.

Columbia’s Lee C. Bollinger was among the university presidents, deans, professors and policy makers who spoke at a Nov. 18 White House Summit on diversity and inclusion in postsecondary education.

The all-day meeting included conversations with students from around the country, including Karisma Price (CC’17) and Kiana David (BC’17), as well as a speech by the U.S. Secretary of Education, John B. King. The event was a call to continue successful efforts to create greater diversity among the student bodies and faculty at the nation’s colleges and universities.

The federal Department of Education simultaneously issued an 89-page report spelling out how campus diversity efforts have fared during President Barack Obama’s administration, and included suggestions for further progress. It included data showing where educational inequities persist and featured practices that show promise.

Kiana David, Karisma Price, Lee Bollinger

President Lee C. Bollinger meets with Columbia student Karisma Price and Barnard student Kiana Davis at the White House summit.

Related: A Final Push for Inclusivity, Inside Higher Ed, Nov 21, 2016

Among the leadership examples cited in the report were Columbia’s efforts “to expand college access to low-income, first-generation, and historically underrepresented students [and its investment of] $85 million to support the recruitment and retention of underrepresented faculty.” It also cited other endeavors, such as grants for new or ongoing research by junior faculty members who contribute to diversity goals.

At the White House summit, Bollinger spoke on the day’s first panel, “Building a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion.” It was moderated by Theodore Shaw (Law’79), now a professor at University of North Carolina Law School and director of its Center for Civil Rights. Shaw is a former president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and was a Columbia Law School professor until 2014. He had previously worked with Bollinger on the Supreme Court cases involving the University of Michigan’s affirmative action programs.

Shaw said that he sees “some tough times coming” in federal support for efforts to build diversity on campus given the change in administrations. Other panelists included Lori Alveno McGill, who served as defense counsel for the University of Texas in the recent Fisher cases; Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor, who had worked with Bollinger at Michigan; Jose Cruz, the president of Lehman College; and Payton Head, a student government leader and activist from the University of Missouri.

Related: Affirmative Action Isn’t Just a Legal Issue. It’s Also a Historical One., The New York Times, June 24, 2016

Bollinger began the discussion by emphasizing the shortcomings of the line of federal court decisionsstarting with the 1977 Bakke case, the first U.S. Supreme Court case that upheld affirmative action in educationthat separated the educational rationale for diverse student bodies from the enduring impact of the nation’s racial history on today’s unequal society.

“In order to think intelligently about educational benefits of diversity, it only really makes sense to talk about the realities of race in America—and that includes discriminatory practices and systemic discrimination,” Bollinger told the Columbia Spectator after the summit. “It’s only by linking all of this together that you can really explain why it is what we’re doing, and I think there’s a way to do that consistent with the [Supreme Court] cases.”

Bollinger’s legal and public advocacy goes back to his defense of the University of Michigan affirmative action programs when he was president there, which resulted in the 2003 Supreme Court cases that upheld the rights of schools to use holistic admissions policies that take account of race. When another challenge to affirmative action came before the court for the second time last year in the Fisher v. University of Texas case, Bollinger continued his public advocacyas well as joining an amicus brief by several peer universitiesurging the court to uphold the University of Texas’s holistic admissions policy. Earlier this year, the court did exactly that.

Later in the day, Susan Sturm, a Columbia law professor and director of the Center for Instructional and Social Change, spoke on a panel on the use of data in demonstrating what institutional strategies can help shape a culture of inclusion.

The Columbia and Barnard students, Price and Davis, are both LEDA Diversity Scholars at the University, a program run by the non-profit Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America. It supports first generation college students from low-income backgrounds with high GPAs and standardized test scores, and who demonstrate leadership and intellectual curiosity. They were among 10 LEDA scholars who were asked to participate so the summit could hear student perspectives. “It was good to hear how important it is to get students into college whose experience is similar to mine,” said Price.

Related: What Once Was Lost Must Now Be Found: Rediscovering an Affirmative Action Jurisprudence Informed by the Reality of Race in America, Harvard Law Review, Apr 12, 2016