Fall 2015| Posse National Newsletter

  

Presidents Conference Examines Merit in Higher Ed

The Spencer Foundation President Michael McPherson.

Williams College President Adam Falk.

Harvard Law School Professor Lani Guinier, author of Tyranny of the Meritocracy.

Rutgers University – Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor.

In October, The Posse Foundation’s biennial Presidents Conference on Higher Education assembled an audience of presidents and chancellors from some of the nation’s top colleges and universities. The conference, titled “Thinking about Merit and Who Deserves To Be on Our Campuses,” explored conceptions of merit and their impact on diversity, inclusion and equity at the most selective institutes of higher education.

Hosted by The New York Public Library and Deloitte, the conference opened with remarks from Dr. Anthony W. Marx, the NYPL president, and David Williams, the managing principal in public policy, government affairs and corporate citizenship at Deloitte.

The Spencer Foundation President Michael McPherson, co-author of Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities, spoke about the challenges of addressing unequal opportunity in higher education, especially at selective institutions.

“We really can only justify operating these selective [colleges] if in the end they wind up benefiting those who don’t get to go to those places,” said Michael. “If they contribute to making the whole society better, and if the people who are the most disadvantaged actually have better lives because of the way these selective places do their work.”

In a conversation moderated by University of Richmond President Ronald Crutcher, Williams College President Adam Falk and Harvard Law School Professor Lani Guinier, author of Tyranny of the Meritocracy, discussed the role colleges play in assessing merit, creating inclusive campus communities, and developing diverse leaders.

“This is an opportunity to move away from competitive individualism to a kind of cooperative commitment to challenge problems,” said Lani. “To really work through problems … with a group of people who are each bringing something different but nevertheless something useful to the conversation.”

“Our campuses can only be relevant to our students if they are diverse,” said Adam. “We have to do work that’s even more important to create an environment, both an educational and a social environment, where everyone can thrive. We’re successful when we create small communities in which students can work with each other and support each other.”

In addition, Posse President and Founder Deborah Bial moderated a panel discussion among four high school administrators: Rosanna Almanzar of City College Academy of the Arts High School, Lillian de Jesus-Martinez of University Heights High School, Posse alumna Veronica Rivera Savage of City-As-School High School, and Brett Roer of Queens Metropolitan High School. Each shared their perspectives on the characteristics and accomplishments, beyond test scores, that best demonstrate student potential.

Nancy Cantor, the chancellor of Rutgers University – Newark, delivered a powerful closing keynote address stressing the responsibility of colleges and universities to be institutions that equitably serve individuals, communities, society and the world.

“All of us, whether leading public or private, highly selective, or more broadly inclusive institutions have a responsibility to play a better role in reopening the doors and bolstering the legitimacy of our institutions,” said Nancy. “Cross-sector, cross-institutional, educational pathway partnerships not only work to increase high school graduation and post-secondary attainment rates, they also, as importantly, build faith from otherwise marginalized and forgotten communities and the legitimacy of our institutions. [We need] to retake the mantel, the progressive mantel of higher education, to right the course of educational opportunity, societal property and democratic inclusion.”

View other stories in the Posse National Quarterly