The Legacy of Underfunding Colleges That Serve Black Students


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Aired Oct. 7, 2021

Adam Harris, author of The State Must Provide and staff writer for The Atlantic, talks to hosts Jon Fansmith and Mushtaq Gunja about the state and federal funding mechanisms that continue to support a separate and unequal system of higher education in the United States. First, Jon and Sarah Spreitzer open the show with a look at the gridlock in Congress over the budget reconciliation bill--which contains a number of provisions for college students and institutions--the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and raising the debt ceiling.​

Here are some of the links and references from this week’s show:

The State Must Provide: Why America's Colleges and Universities Have Always Been Unequal--and How to Set Them Right

HBCU Presidents Supports Improving the Current Reconciliation Bill
Diverse: Issues In Higher Education | Oct. 4, 2021

Biden’s Promise to HBCUs Unfulfilled by Congress
Inside Higher Ed | Sept. 22, 2021

This Is the End of Affirmative Action
The Atlantic | September 2021

Colleges Pushed Anew for Reparations for Slavery, Racism
The Associated Press | May 13, 2021

From the Introduction

What Colleges and Universities Need to Know About the Biden Vaccine Mandate for Federal Contractors

Higher Ed Associations Release Resource Kit on Aiding Afghan Students and Scholars​


 Read this episode's transcript

Jon Fansmith: Hello, and welcome to dotEDU, the higher education policy podcast from the American Council on Education. Later in the episode, Mushtaq Gunja and I will be joined by Adam Harris, a reporter for The Atlantic and the author of the recently published The State Must Provide, a deeply insightful and fascinating look into inequities in higher education. But before we get to that conversation, I am joined by my always delightful colleague, Sarah Spreitzer, to talk about the less than delightful scene here in Washington. And Sarah, how are you doing and what is happening?

Sarah Spreitzer: I mean, it is delightful, John. We're keeping busy, right? There's a lot...

Jon Fansmith: We have different definitions of delightful, Sarah.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. I mean, we talk every week how busy we are, but I think definitely when you leave everything until the end of the year, when you keep kicking the can down the road, it makes for a very exciting fall.

Jon Fansmith: A very exciting and high risk fall, yes.

Sarah Spreitzer: Very, very high risk! And so I know you've been following the news on reconciliation really closely, and there's a lot in there, or at least was in the House bill being proposed for higher education, but that seems to have stalled a bit.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. Stalled is maybe a overly positive and interpretation of what's happened. As we record this last week, the reconciliation bill, which has always been tied to the infrastructure bill, basically the agreement between progressives who are in favor of the big reconciliation bill, social spending, moderates who are in favor of the infrastructure bill within the Democratic party. The agreement was always they would do these together. There was an agreement. They would do a vote on infrastructure by Thursday of last week. Thursday came, they were going to do a vote. It became clear that without an agreement on what they're going to do in reconciliation, progressives wouldn't support it. So the whole thing fell apart. It actually goes back to where it's been for long time, which is moderates like Senator Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Sinema of Arizona don't want to spend the three and a half trillion that was previously agreed to on this bill. They think it's excessive. They are concerned about where some of the money's being spent and how it's being spent. And so right now, after this deadline came and went, there's a whole lot less urgency, but the issue remains the same, how big will the bill be? And once you know how big it is, where do things start getting cut out of it. And frankly, can you make it small enough that moderates will join, but still big enough that progressives will support it. It's not really clear where any of those things stand. I think the belief in Washington right now is if it's going to get done, and I think fewer and fewer people are confident it will get done at this point, it's going to be a smaller bill, which means things will be cut out of it. And there's a lot of jockeying already between the different constituencies. There's a huge range of constituencies who have interest in that bill, including higher education, which as you said, the House version had $111 billion through a number of programs, but most prominently free community college program. Already, there's talks about how do programs get shifted? Where does the money come from? Senator Manchin mentioned himself, he said he wants to means test free community college and limit it really to people below a certain financial threshold. All of those things are in discussion. It's a great sort of case study of lobbying and issue advocacy. Unfortunately, however, it's all somewhat irrelevant until they settle on a top line number and that seems further away than ever.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, it seems eerily quiet, right, because the House I think was at 3.5 trillion, and then in the Senate, they've been talking about what their top line number is, but they can't even come to an agreement. Right. I heard 1.5 trillion over the weekend. And then today I saw news that the White House was talking about a $2 trillion top line number. So you can't even start having those conversations until you actually decide on a number. And then on the infrastructure bill, it's interesting, because it was called the bipartisan infrastructure package, right. Because it was bipartisan, but it seems that Republicans are kind of being very hands off right now because it's tied to the reconciliation bill.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. It's an interesting sort of process. A lot of it, reconciliation is really an internal democratic party debate. This is a bill that would move without Republican votes whatsoever. The bipartisan infrastructure's the bipartisan infrastructure bill. It passed with Republican votes in both the House and or in the Senate and it would in the House. But the progressives, their only leverage to keep reconciliation, to have moderate support or reconciliation bill is to say, we're going to hold the infrastructure bill hostage. So these are paired together. They have to go one way or the other. Even if it wasn't the strategy, it's simply the only way they would pass because that's the leverage each side has over the other. It's a mess really. It's a mess, but it's a pretty good example of modern congressional politics in action.

Sarah Spreitzer: Well, we did get a continuing resolution last week that takes us to mid-December. So we won't have a government shutdown, but I bet many of our...

Jon Fansmith: Not quite mid-December, December 3rd-

Sarah Spreitzer: Okay, sorry, I'm very sorry.

Jon Fansmith:, beginning of December.

Sarah Spreitzer: December, sorry. But I bet many of our listeners are starting to hear about the debt ceiling and where that plays into everything. So you have reconciliation, you have infrastructure hanging out there and now we have a debt ceiling that we believe will be reached on October 18th. Is that correct?

Jon Fansmith: So Janet Yellen has said that they believe October 18th is X day, the day we hit our debt ceiling limit. That's, as we record this little less than two weeks away, it's an interesting thing. I saw the statistic. I think this would be the 100th time, or perhaps we've already had the hundredth time where Congress has voted to raise the debt ceiling since 1950, I believe. We do this a lot, obviously. We've been doing it more and more in recent years because government has been spending more and more in recent years. It used to be pretty proforma, it's clearly not anymore. We've never defaulted, so we don't know exactly what would happen, but I will say most of the analysts who seem to have credibility and authority in this area, don't have positive things to say about what might happen. I think the mid ground opinion appears to be an economic collapse equivalent to 2008, which is not a great scenario. And one, you would think that would, Congress would be eager to figure out a way to avoid, but that's not what's happening, right Sarah. I mean, this is a very partisan issue in Senate Republicans in particular led by Mitch McConnell have dug in, they do want to have a vote that can be used against them in an election that's just about a year away, in which a 50-50 split in the Senate means that the majority is really up for grabs and he doesn't want his members to take a vote saying they increase the debt. They are focusing back on being fiscally conservative and restraining spending and corralling government spending after a lot of spending under the Trump administration, who knows. But so far, both sides are very much dug in. And as we stand 13 days out, we could be on the brink of a very devastating economic impact.

Sarah Spreitzer: Which actually brings us back John to reconciliation, right? Because Republicans had originally said that they wanted the Dems to attach the debt ceiling to the reconciliation. And I remember when the outline came out on reconciliation, both you and I were like, why isn't the debt ceiling in here? Then the idea was we'll tie the debt ceiling to the CR, that didn't work. So now we're back to how do you pass the debt ceiling, when it is so divided on partisan lines without trying to do it with the 50 votes that you would have in reconciliation. So do you think we're back to that discussion? Is that how they're likely going to move it?

Jon Fansmith: It's a really good point and I think the problem we have is that Democrats remained convinced for a long time that Republicans would essentially break, that 10 Republicans would move to avoid hitting the debt ceiling limit and they would be able to get a vote. In fact, they've scheduled another vote in the Senate for tomorrow to do just that on the debt ceiling, hopeful trying to make Republicans vote either in favor of raising debt selling or a vote for what they would say is economic collapse. It does not seem like Republicans will budge at this point. Why didn't the Democrats just do it in reconciliation, then they have this reconciliation package going forward. Well, for one, like we talked about, reconciliation isn't going anywhere either. So, it's not likely had they attached it to their bigger bill, it would've been done in time. They made the calculation correctly there, but they probably didn't make the correct calculation is they could do it through reconciliation independently of the bigger Build Back Better Act. The problem with that is it takes time to do that. If they were going to do that, they should have started that about a week and a half ago. But the most conservative estimates, it'll take two to three weeks to create a reconciliation procedure just for the debt ceiling limit. Like I said, we're 13 days out from what we think will be the debt ceiling limit. It's frankly, in a lot of ways too late and the Republicans in this way have a lot of leverage to draw that out, to actually make that process not work or at least not work within the timeframe. Up in the air, like you said Sarah, is we'll get our go bags ready and start collecting bottled water and whatnot, canned goods and prepare for the economic collapse, it'll be great.

Sarah Spreitzer: But I think for our higher ed colleagues that are listening to this, the big takeaway is that there's a lot of uncertainty, it's impacting reconciliation and the infrastructure debate. We don't have to worry about a government shutdown, but probably as a nation, we have bigger things to worry about at least for the next two weeks. And it's taking all of the oxygen out of the air when we try and talk about other issues with Congress. I don't know about you, but I've been sending kind of emails to staff saying like, well, you might have time now to talk about these issues and not a lot of responses. Because I think all the time is being taken up to try and solve these bigger issues.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, no, I think that's the same experience I've had. There's a lot of, understandably, a lot of focus on these big issues and reasonably, enough too. It's very hard to say, we need to do this when we don't know what's going to happen with reconciliation. What are you going to do when higher education policy changes significantly, if there's a free community college plan in place or not. Certainly, a large scale economic event would change a lot of different factors. Plus, we haven't even really mentioned this, but we are still dealing with COVID. And in fact, some of the things in terms of what campuses are experiencing, ACE has been working on recently, right Sarah?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, I guess. Well, it's also when Congress is stalled, we seem to get really busy on the regulatory side. And so there's a lot that the Biden administration has been doing around trying to get more Americans vaccinated, including an executive order around vaccine mandates, which is impacting higher ed. And Jon neither you or I are an expert and any-

Jon Fansmith: Far from it, actually, yeah.

Sarah Spreitzer: ...other colleagues are working on this issue a lot. And so they've put together an issue brief that we will post along with this podcast that kind of talks about colleges and university's obligations under the vaccine mandate, or at least what we know so far.

Jon Fansmith: And you can find those on ACE's website and we'll also link to it on the show notes for this episode. So basically Sarah, what we have to share with people is that everything's chaos, nothing's certain, and we may be perched on the brink of a global collapse. So generally good news, right?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. And I think in other good news categories, our institutions are still working to help Afghan, displaced Afghan students and scholars, even with all the chaos going on. I mean, talking about chaotic Afghanistan, so we've also put together a resource for institutions that are looking to help displaced students and scholars coming from Afghanistan. And I know that we'll be posting that also. We put that together with some of the other higher education associations, including our friends at IIE, AAU and APLU. And we really see it as a living document because we're learning new things every day about the issues facing these students and scholars. And I think the administration is trying to figure out what flexibilities are needed or what resources are needed. And so, that document's going to be updated as we learn new things and as we continue to help those students.

Jon Fansmith: And with that, we will be back right after the break with Mushtaq and I talking with Adam Harris.

Mushtaq Gunja: And we are back. We are joined today by a very special guest Adam Harris, who is the author of the recently published book, The State Must Provide, a narrative history of racial inequality in higher education. Adam Harris is a staff writer at The Atlantic covering national politics and a national fellow at New America. I first met Adam when he was previously a reporter at the Chronicle of Higher Education where he covered federal education policy. Among his many accolades, Adam was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. That's quite a feather in your cap, Adam.

Adam Harris: Hi.

Mushtaq Gunja: Adam, congratulations on the book. One of the blurbs on the back is from our president, Ted Mitchell, who called it a tour to force and I really have to agree. I mean, there's incredible research in here. I love learning about John Fee and some of the other pioneers who I frankly, and sadly, didn't know much about. It's not easy to make history this interesting. You did a fabulous job. I cannot recommend this book enough to anybody who cares about higher education and segregation and what we need to with the society going forward. So enormous congratulations, Adam.

Adam Harris: Thank you. I really appreciate it.

Mushtaq Gunja: Can we start big picture and sort of basic. Adam, what made you wanna write this book?

Adam Harris: Yeah, so, I think, at the beginning of the book, I talk about my own experience at Alabama A&M and, right. I got to campus and it's a beautiful campus, right? I'd been there before. My mom went to Alabama A&M and my uncle had been a drum major there. My sister was there on campus. We dropped her off a year prior. And so, I got to campus and it actually snowed. It was rare that it snowed Alabama and so it just made the campus even that more, much more beautiful. But the semester wore on, I started getting... You have your classes, you actually start getting real homework and you're actually get busy. And so I needed to sort of get away. And so, I wanted to kinda wanted to study. I wanted to do a little bit more work in our library, would be closing within the hour. So I figured there was a university across town, another public institution that I could go to that had a library that was open three hours longer than ours. So, I get over there, it's the University of Alabama, Huntsville and I noticed that they have newer buildings than Alabama A&M. If there had been potholes, I didn't see any of them. All of this, the sort of manicuring and and regular maintenance that some institutions have, it was interesting to me why my own campus hadn't had that same routine maintenance appeared that UH did. And of course, as I started covering higher education, I started poking in and noticed that my experience between that HBCU and that predominantly white institution wasn't necessarily an anomaly, but was actually in fact more often the norm.

But there's actually a second piece, that I actually don't write about in the book, that kind of it was a bit of a spark for me. My dad actually went to... He had a track scholarship. He went to the University of Louisville when he first started college. Ultimately, ended up stopping out and didn't necessarily have the sort of care and attention around him at the institution at the time. And when he went back to school, he went to Alabama State. And he often talked about if he was hungry, he was able to go to one of his professor's houses and they would provide dinner. And just all these different things that were like the wraparound services and extra care that the institutions and the folks who worked at them were providing. And so, it didn't necessarily make sense to me why there was such difference in the experience that I was having. Right, I had great professors. My dad had great professors clearly, and the funding mechanisms that the institutions were receiving, and I was trying to find the roots of that. So that was kind of the roots of the book. And as I got into covering higher education, I really just kind of learned more about how much of it is based and rooted in state and federal policy.

Mushtaq Gunja: In your research, are there specific data points that sort of surprised you about the inequalities and sort of the funding mechanisms and the ways in which the states have set up their support for higher education?

Adam Harris: Yeah, I think one of the initial ones was I'd always known that several HBCUs, how they were founded, how the sort of separate but equal system was fundamentally created separate, but unequal system was fundamentally created. But I think digging into some of the kind of granular details of how states studied, the ways that they were underfunding their institutions for a long time, right. You have Kentucky in the early 1900s, bringing in a professor to actually study Kentucky State Normal and Industrial Institute for Negros. And they say, "Hey," The guy comes in and he's like, Well, your girl's dorm is fire prone and it lacks fire escapes. Your boy's dorm's in a mud puddle. Your electrical plant doesn't have any power. Your teachers are underpaid, your buildings are old. And the state's like, well, we have $40,000. You guys can fix it with that. And he is like, well, it's actually going to be much more expensive in the state. Even as saying in the halls of the state house, like, "Oh, well, we will spare no expense to bring our institution up." They were actively sparing those expenses. And so, to acknowledge and to see the ways that states continually studied the problem and still continue to underfund the institutions and not address them. I don't know, it was necessarily shocking, but it was revelatory in a lot of ways. It sort of explained a lot, right. That there's always been this acknowledgement that the institutions were being underfunded, but it's just what happens with that knowledge.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. And when we were talking before, we started actually recording. We talked a little bit about how your book has really come out at this kind of incredible moment, in fact on a lot of these themes and these issues. And one of the things actually I just came here from talking to a group about the reconciliation legislation that's being proposed in the Congress, and there's $111 billion for higher education in that bill. And normally what we've seen in the past is like we saw with the relief bills or in previous things, this money goes directly to the institutions on a formula. It goes to the students. This is different, right. There are some proposals in here that get at this equity of funding across institutions, money that goes directly to HBCUs and tribal colleges, universities and other MSIs. The free community college plan. I'm curious, you did such extensive research in these patterns of funding and where the inequalities arose. Looking at this, is this finally a step in the right direction? Is this the right approach? Is this too little too late? I'm curious what you think about all this.

Adam Harris: Yeah. I think that this is the step in the right direction, right. We actually have not seen legitimate, like substantive injections of funding into the institutions in this sort of way, right. Where we're talking about billions of dollars at this point, rather than the federal government's owing $50 million to the institutions to where... A place like Ole Miss can make a hundred million in private donations in a year or Harvard or Yale is like our investment return was a billion dollars this past year, right. So, to make those sort of sizeable investments is new, and it is, it is a step in the right direction. I think that the point we need to get to is to sort of make those investments kind of recurring. So that it's not like, oh, this is a one-time thing, because if you think about the like... So if they were given that money that they were owed at the time, so it's kind of like when you have a toothbrush and you got $3 and 50 cents, you get to brush your teeth and you get to do your routine maintenance and it's great, you got your toothbrush. But if you don't have a toothbrush, then it turns into a cavity and it's going to be more expensive to fix that cavity.

And if you don't have the money to fix that cavity, then it turns into, okay, I need a root canal and now it's a thousand dollars to fix this issue, because I got to put a crown in it rather than $3 and 50 cents for that routine maintenance. And so you have to think about the way that sort of lack of funding and the underfunding is compounded over the years. And that's where that sort of recurring bit of funding comes in because the institutions, yes, they're receiving the money now, and they're going to be able to do things with it, but they aren't able to plan out that sort of sustainable future with a one-time injection, right. So to say that, okay, we have, we will have this money for five years, but then after five years, what are we going to do? So there have been proposals, Denise Smith from the Century Foundation just released a report. Those proposing a $40 billion endowment fund for HBCUs that was...Now this money was going to go directly to the endowments in order so that they were able to plan for the future. And that's something that a lot of the institutions have not had the privilege to do.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. And first of all, I'm impressed you pulled that toothbrush metaphor off. That was really well done. I wasn't sure where you're going when you started and it's like a toothbrush, but it's a great metaphor. And I think it's an interesting thing too. The federal government is really stepping in to provide these funds. When we've seen, you talked about the states have a pretty poor tracker with number of lawsuits recently where states have had to make large payments to their HBCUs for underfunding them for decades. I do think it's a little curious some of the discussion has also been about, you mentioned Harvard or Yale with a huge endowment, the idea of providing an endowment for these institutions. One, another thing that's been talked about is this idea, are there institutions that HBCUs and other institutions something, and how can they leverage those resources they have and have accumulated historically and frankly inequitably to help those institutions get back to the where they should be.

Adam Harris: Yeah. I think there are a couple of ways that that can be done, right? If it's a state level institution, right? Ones I often point back to is Mississippi because like the one to one there is so glaring, right? And the late 1860s, early 1870s when white parents were afraid that the University of Mississippi was going to be open to black students. The faculty at the university wrote a letter to the local paper and said, "Hey, we want everyone to know that we would rather all resign, and the university closed than enroll a black student." Meanwhile, in 1871, after Alcorn State is founded, they're given a guaranteed appropriation by the state of $50,000 for a decade. Four years later, 1875, that appropriation is reduced to $15,000. A year later that appropriation is reduced again to $5,500. Meanwhile, Ole Miss is having their appropriation increased. So you start to see that wealth stratification of the institutions develop and for an institution like that, there is a sort of responsibility as you were all in that same university system, the IHL, to sort of help out the institutions that were shut out of funding when you were being showered with it. But on top of that, for the institutions that have been studying slavery, studying their relationships to slavery, like the University of Virginia just recently released the report.

I guess it was a year or two ago now where they say, Thomas Jefferson was saying, he literally could not imagine a University of Virginia without slavery at its root, right. And if you think about what they are getting back from their endowment returns, now maybe a percentage of those endowment returns goes to an institution like St Augustine's University, maybe it goes institution like Stoneman College. It doesn't have to be the, it's like, oh, you have to give all of your endowment returns this year. It's like, no, if you say for two decades or for a decade, we are going to give a significant portion of our endowment returns to this institution to help build their endowment. That's a significant step. And so I think that there are ways that the institutions can do this and can live up to kind of like what Prairie View A&M's President Ruth Simmons told me a couple of years ago, right? Institutions, universities have to tell the truth. They have to be truth telling institution if they work towards those higher ideals, because if they don't, they just kind of become another corrupt institution, like any others that deserve scrutiny. And so I think the more that the institution can put that might, that money behind the words, behind that research, the better off they will be.

Mushtaq Gunja: Before President Simmons was president at Prairie View, she was president at Brown. And I know that she undertook sort of a commission there to study Brown's connections to slavery. And I know other institutions to be on the same. Have you been following sort of what's been happening on the ground there and anything interesting that you've observed, anything that's potentially useful for HBCs and other MSS?

Adam Harris: Yeah, so some institutions Brown, Georgetown, they kind of recently established basically scholarship funds of kind of reparation scholarship fund for students of... In Georgetown's case, in particular it's of the descendants of the 272 people who were sold in order to fund the institution. And I think that is a good step. But you also have to think about scale in this, right? So, if you look at a place like Oklahoma, there are more black students that attend Langston University, which has a student population of something like 1900 and then there are at the University of Oklahoma which has a population above upwards of 20,000 students. And so, I think that it's good that they are creating these funds to bring more students into the institution, but that has a cap on it. And if you're thinking broadly, it's like maybe they should be helping, in a state like North Carolina where 52% of Black students who attend a public college in North Carolina do so at one of the community colleges, 25% of them do so at one of the HBCUs, and 22% do so at one of the 12 PWIs. And so, thinking about that scale, thinking about the, I think that it can't just be, oh, we are creating a scholarship fund for more students to attend our institution if there is like a cap on that. And there's like the reach of that is in some ways limited, I think it has to be more expansive then.

Mushtaq Gunja: Well, one of the things that's so troubling about sort of the trends in higher education is that at many of these institutions, many states, the number of Black students that are attending the flagship universities are predominantly, white institutions is declining over time. How does that... What do we do with that, Adam? I mean, how should we be thinking about sort of remedies of institutional segregation, discrimination slavery, as we think about what we should do with our Black students, where they should go. How do you think about those?

Adam Harris: Yeah. So in a place like, so in Alabama, for instance, right. Auburn University has fewer black students in total now than it did in 2002. And it's still rough around 5% black students in 1980s when federal judge on the same day that Bo Jackson and Heisman, a federal judge said that it was the most segregated institution in the state. They had about two or 3% Black students. And so that percentage has not grown much over that 30-plus years. And so I think that there is one of the things that that needs to be done is an honest assessment of where the institution are. I think that a lot of colleges are looking at their numbers, they're saying how do we increase enrollment? How do we increase minoritized and marginalized populations on campus. And I think one of them is creating an environment that students feel safe in. An environment where students feel that they can be nourished, right. My parents, I looked... broadly. I thought about going to Cornell. I thought about going to Stanford. I thought about going to several different places and apply to several different places. And I ultimately ended up going to Alabama A&M because my parents had always put in my mind and told me that you are going to have... You don't have to perform being anything other than yourself. You can just be your full self at this institution.

And I, for a long time, I thought that it's just something that your parents say, but then once you actually experience, it became really clear. And so I think that the more the institutions can create that environment where students feel nurtured, the better off they will be, but I don't know, it's difficult because with things particularly for highly selective institutions that use race-conscious admissions and things like that. They're limited in what they can do in order to kind of explicitly increase those enrollments, thanks to the Bakke case in 1978. So, it's a very difficult question, but it's also...I think there's a piece of it that involves rethinking where and how, at a state level, like how we're funding institutions like community colleges, public regional institutions, including HBCUs and MSIs. So the institutions that have large shares of minority and minorities and marginalized populations. There should be a funding mechanism so that those institutions are given the funding that they need in order to support those student populations.

Mushtaq Gunja: Adam, you mentioned a second ago, race-conscious admissions, and I'm curious what do you think the future of race-conscious admissions is in this country? We've seen states move away from it in referendum, California, for instance and I think all of us we're watching things that the court will probably take it up. The Supreme Court will probably take up this issue in the next couple of terms. What have you thought about the future of race-conscious admissions?

Adam Harris: Okay. So my general thought, as particularly at this moment, right? If you look across the court, you have a court that has been rather skeptical of race-conscious admissions practices. And you have a case that is built to challenge it, right? Yes race-conscious admissions is stood up against the test of time in part, because it is so, affirmative action is a weak because it's so watered down. It's not a tool for general, like making up for the legacy of racial discrimination. It's a tool for broad diversity, whatever hour you define that. And so if you're reading the tea leaves, it does not look good for a race-conscious admissions coming down the pipe. But I think with that in mind, institutions and leadership should start thinking about what comes next, what do you do if race-conscious admissions does go away? Because we've already seen that there are precipitous declines in Black and Brown enrollments. You've seen it in California, you saw it in Michigan, you saw in Texas. Like we know what happen when affirmative action policies and race-conscious admissions goes away. And so you have to start thinking about in the same way that we were discussing earlier about institutions trying to make up for their legacies of slavery and segregation. Maybe part of that is the institutions that have historically served to these student populations. Maybe those institutions have some responsibility to help those institutions or rethink the ways that they are using things like SAT/ACT scores in their admissions practices. I think that institutions will have to have to get creative in order to continue serving historically minoritized marginalized populations.

Jon Fansmith: And Adam transitioning a little bit, the first question I asked you, I talked about how timely your book was. And this is sort of related to that. There has been over the last few months, this incredible public attention on critical race theory and as the author of a book who very compellingly and very clearly details, racial inequality in our systems of funding and our systems of education, I'm curious to get your perspective on this, refrain from editorializing, but this interesting uproar suddenly about what was for decades in obscure academic theory and what you think that says about the moment we're in right now.

Adam Harris: Yeah. I think that there's historically been a tendency to romanticize things about American history, to sort of do the cliff notes version of American history to say that, yeah, it was the constitution was signed and then you have the declaration of independence and the Founding Fathers are great. And then we had the, there was that Civil War thing. And then, then you have the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, and then some other stuff happens. And then Martin Luther king gives his, "I Have a Dream" speech and you have the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1965. And then we have a Martin Luther King Day for reasons that we don't want to discuss. And then we had President Barack Obama, right? We have been on an upward swing of racial progress for our entire history. And it glosses over some of the sticky details. And I think those sticky details are where you can begin to make progress because those sticky details they stick to the systems that they were created it. And kind of within that push, I think there is a discomfort among a significant share of the population to really think critically about the ways that systems have been set up and produce unequal outcomes. And that in their construction, they were constructed inequitably. They were constructed on unequal terms, right? A place like Iowa state, there's a reason why it didn't enroll its first Black student for 30 years. From when it first received its Morrill Act funding. And that was because by that 30 years later, the federal government said, "Well, you actually can't discriminate against Black students and your higher education system, you at least need to create a separate institution or you can begin enrolling, enrolling Black students. And so, they, they enrolled George Washington Carver. And so I think that there is one of the things that I've thought a lot about in this broader conversation with this book that examines the roots of systemic racism and higher education is there was a push against telling the truth because the truth is uncomfortable and the more people don't want you to tell that truth, the more important that truth becomes. And so I think that as writers, journalists, historians, et cetera, everyone just kind of really has responsibility to continue telling that truth in this moment, because if we don't, I think that you end up in that same cycle of inequality where the systems kind of that have momentum just kind continue to perpetuate themselves.

Mushtaq Gunja: Can I ask you to put your crystal ball on or your-

Adam Harris: Yeah.

Mushtaq Gunja: ...that's not right. Can I ask you to look into your crystal ball, put your fortune teller hat on.

Adam Harris: Let me grab...

Mushtaq Gunja: Adam, where do we go from here? I mean, what conversation are we having 10 years from now, 20 years from now? I know you're a new parent. I mean, what conversation you can be having with your kids, when they're looking at schools in 15, 18 years.

Adam Harris: Yeah. I would hope that we are not having the same conversation. I would hope that things are changing, that institutions are enrolling the student bodies that are reflective of the states that they serve. That institutions are being funded in ways, especially if they're kind of doing outside work and educating first-generation students, educating low-income students, educating Black and brown students. I think that is important that we close the funding gaps, that sort of inequitable funding gaps. I would hope that 10, 20 years from now we would be moving to a place where we're doing that. And there are bills now, I think that President Biden's infrastructure bill and his big legislation is a step towards that. I think that Representative Alma Adams' bill, likewise is this a step towards that. But I just recently, actually yesterday, I gave a convocation address at St. Augustine's University down in North Carolina. And I think that we need to recognize that even as we characterize the institutions, as these are HBCUs, we should also recognize kind of diversity among those institutions, right? There are some HBCUs that now, like Howard has a sizable endowment now, whereas an institution like St Augustine's may not have that same sizable endowment. So also looking across the board and saying that we need to do the work to lift all of these institutions up rather than simply a select few. And I think the more that we can do that and have a more holistic picture of not only HBCUs, but the entire higher education sector, as opposed to kind of focusing on a specific set of institutions, the better off we will be. And I hope that's the place we get to and 10 to 20 years, and as you mentioned, I have kids and I'm still working on convincing my wife and to have them go down to Alabama A&M because it was like, oh yeah, now it's a legacy.

Jon Fansmith: How's that going?

Adam Harris: It's going well, she likes it. She likes Huntsville, my folks that live down there. So it's a great city. And it's also a little plug for Huntsville, one of the fastest growing cities in the US.

Jon Fansmith: Do you know our producer, Laurie is in Huntsville, and she's always singing its praises. And now I'm getting it from two sides. So maybe I'll have to rethink what I think about Huntsville.

Adam Harris: Yeah, great. They have great breweries down there, we got the Madison, the Trash Pandas are down there. So we got a baseball team.

Jon Fansmith: You'll have to give me and Mushtaq a tour and show us all the good breweries.

Adam Harris: Absolutely.

Jon Fansmith: Adam, it has been great having you on. I think it would be very, very easy to keep this conversation going for a long time, because you're just so engaging to talk with and I'll add my kudos to Mushtaq's at the beginning. The book is not just informative and exhaustively detailed. It's fun to read that, in a way I was a history major, I don't like Mushtaq's comment about history and how boring it is. I love history, but this is good history. And certainly I would recommend anyone who hasn't yet picked it up. What are you doing? Get out there, get this book and read it. It's fantastic. But thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.

Adam Harris: Absolutely. And thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Mushtaq Gunja: Thanks Adam.

Jon Fansmith: As always, you can check out earlier episodes and subscribe to dotEDU on Apple, Google podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcast. For show notes and links to resources mentioned in the episode, you can go to our website And while there, please take a short survey to let us know how we're doing. You can also email us at to give us suggestions on upcoming shows and guests, and a very special thank you to the producers who helped pull this podcast together. Laurie Arnston, Audrey Hamilton, Malcolm Moore, Anthony Trueheart, Catherine Ahmad, Carly O'Connell and Fatma NGom. They do an incredible job making this happen and making Mushtaq, Sarah and I sound as good as possible. And finally, before we leave, thank you so much for listening.

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​Each episode of dotEDU presents a deep dive into a major public policy issue impacting college campuses and students across the country. Hosts from ACE are joined by guest experts to lead you through thought-provoking conversations on topics such as campus free speech, diversity in admissions, college costs and affordability, and more. Find all episodes of the podcast at the dotEDU page.

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