What people say about Color and Money-

"Anyone interested in the inequities of the selective college admissions process will find Color and Money clear-eyed, hard-hitting, enlightening, and informative."--Rachel Toor, author of Admissions Confidential: An Insider's Account of the Elite College Selection Process.
"For those concerned about why the march toward social justice in America has faltered badly for nearly forty years, Peter Schmidt's Color and Money is a highly instructive--and greatly disturbing--guidepost." --Richard Kluger, author of Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality.
"An indispensible guide to the debate over affirmative action in the United States."--Michael Lind, author of The Next American Nation.
"This book is a must read for anyone concerned with access to higher education, especially to the nation’s elite universities, as well as with larger questions of social policy and social justice."--Terry MacTaggart, Former Chancellor, University of Maine System
"Books on the highly-charged issue of affirmative action are usually one-sided and inflammatory. Peter Schmidt's Color and Money is a wonderful exception. It provides an honest and fair examination that is also passionate and illuminating."--Richard D. Kahlenberg, Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation, and author of The Remedy: Class, Race, and Affirmative Action

Peter Schmidt is available as a speaker

Peter Schmidt is available to speak at colleges, bookstores, schools, churches, and at gatherings of education associations. His past speaking engagements are listed at the bottom of this Web site. If interested in having him appear, e-mail him at schmidt_peter@msn.com. He also is available as an expert source for journalists covering affirmative action. Those on a tight deadline should email him at peter.schmidt@chronicle.com.

Hear interviews with Peter Schmidt

Jack Lessenberry of Michigan Public Radio talked to Peter Schmidt about Color and Money in August. You can hear the interview here. Reading the book inspired Jack to write an essay on it, which you can read here. You also can hear Peter Schmidt talk about his book on the NPR program Justice Talking and in a Chronicle of Higher Education podcast.

Color and Money Is a College Course!

Many college professors are now using Color and Money in their classes, but Jack Dougherty, the director of the educational studies program at Trinity College in Connecticut, has gone a big step beyond. He has decided to name a freshman seminar "Color and Money" and to structure the class around the book. He has graciously agreed to share his syllabus, available here, for faculty members at other colleges who may have the same idea.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Economics Coverage Dropped from a Silver Spoon

Few newspapers have as much influence on American opinion as The New York Times, and few reporters have risen to positions at the Times as quickly as Catherine Rampell, the economics editor at nytimes.com and a frequent contributor to economics coverage in the paper's A section. She landed the gig less than two years out of college, after brief stints at The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Washington Post. While in college, she interned for NPR and was a researcher for NBC. Even before she started college at Princeton, her work had been published in newspapers such as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Palm Beach Jewish Times.

What put her on such a fast track? And what kind of background does she bring to covering a national economic crisis brought about largely by corporate executives who make more in a day than many Americans do in a year?

Her profile on the New York Times Web site jokingly says she "grew up in South Florida (the New York part)." A closer look at her background shows that, to be specific, she came from the "Upper East Side" part of South Florida, Palm Beach. She attended one of the most elite East Coast boarding schools, Phillips (Andover) Academy, before going on to Princeton.*

There is nothing in her background to suggest she is not hard-working and bright--as are many journalists who are not afforded nearly the same opportunities. But it is an column she wrote for Princeton's student paper, later reprinted in The Chicago Tribune, that may offer the best clues as to her edge in life and her current mindset. In it, Rampell, a Princton legacy, gives a full-throated defense of legacy preferences and the use of family connections and wealth to gain advantage.

Admitting to being a "possible beneficiary"** of a legacy preference, Rampell suggests--contrary to social-science research readily available in Princeton's library--that such preferences serve only as tie-breakers, "never to the exclusion of more qualified non-legacy candidates." She then offers the following argument:

"Suppose your cousin and a total stranger get into a no-fault traffic accident. Both need one pint of blood, which you, a strapping young thing of over 110 lb and high iron levels, can supply to only one person. You would not hesitate to give the blood to your cousin — even if she needs it no more and no less than the otherwise indistinguishable stranger — because she is family.

"Princeton faces a parallel moral choice in its admissions. Princeton is more than a temporary aging vat; it is also a family, and its alumni are its kin. By definition, the quality of the student body does not suffer in taking a legacy over an equally qualified non-legacy, but there is a moral opportunity cost, a disloyalty, in not doing so. Loyalty to family, especially when there is no greater principle at risk, is important.

"Even if the school felt it bore no loyalty to its alumni, it still has the duty to minimize harm; the school knows that a rejection letter will likely cause greater trauma to a family that has been emotionally investing in the next generation's admission to Princeton for decades than to a family of an equally qualified but less invested candidate."

Her piece goes on to call legacy preferences "a benign gesture that can help grease Annual Giving's wheels" and to characterize those who object to them as "anti-capitalist snobs." It ends by calling legacy preferences "a moral means to a moral end."

*A 2003 New York Times article offers insight into how much she has been helped by her family's wealth. It describes how her parents interrupted a Mediterranean cruise and dropped $100,000 battling to get her promptly reinstated at Phillips after she was suspended following a meltdown over a boyfriend. Phillips ended up bending its rules to reinstate her much faster than it otherwise would have, but the family nonetheless took its beef with the school to a Times writer. A spokeswoman for Phillips characterized the family's approach to the dispute as "shock and awe" and told the Times writer "you're part of it."

**Her father was a 1974 graduate of Princeton, currently serves as chairman of annual giving to Princeton for his graduating class, and has been president of the Princeton alumni association.

(Full disclosure: The author of this blog post, Peter Schmidt, is a senior writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education. He did not work directly with Ms. Rampell during her stint there and recalls any interactions they had as professional and cordial.)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Public College Presidents Put on Notice They Might Be Held Personally Liable for Illegal Speech Codes

A prominent free-speech advocacy group has stepped up its campaign to limit the speech codes that many colleges rely on partly to ensure their minority students feel comfortable on campus.

As discussed in detail in a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is turning the heat up on public colleges' presidents and chancellors by warning them that they can be held personally liable by the courts if their institution's speech code violates the First Amendment.

FIRE has sent registered letters to officials at 266 public colleges telling them it regards their speech codes as problematic. The letters cite 1982 Supreme Court ruling, in the case Harlow v. Fitzgerald, which held that government officials have immunity from personal liability for their actions only "insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Having, through standard certified mail procedures, formally acknowledged receipt of the letters in their hands, the college officials can no longer claim ignorance if sued over their speech policies, the letters say.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Obama Announces Surprise Pick to Enforce Civil-Rights Laws in Education

When the Education Department last week announced President Obama's nominee to head up its enforcement of civil-rights laws, the reaction from some lawyers for colleges or civil-rights groups was a puzzled "Who?"

His pick as the department's assistant secretary for civil rights, Russlynn Ali, is known mainly for her work with organizations focused on trying to reform K-12 education. As discussed in detail in an article on the Chronicle of Higher Education news blog, she is vice president of the Education Trust and executive director of its West Coast-based partner organization, Education Trust-West. Although both groups are focused on helping Hispanic, black, Native American, and low-income students, they do so by promoting high academic achievement, not by advocating civil rights.

Ms. Ali previously served as liaison to the president of the Children's Defense Fund and as chief of staff to the president of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education. Her last major stint focusing on civil-rights laws was a position as deputy co-director of the Advancement Project, a Washington-based advocacy group that describes itself as dedicated to promoting racial justice.

Despite her having much less of a reputation as a civil-rights advocate than as an education activist, William L. Taylor, chairman of the Citizens Commission on Civil Rights, told the Chronicle he welcomed the selection of Ms. Ali, saying "I think she is a strong advocate for children."