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Winter 2025 Course

Race, Meritocracy, and Justice on Campus: The Crisis of Elite Higher Education

Prerequisite: None

Exam Type: No Exam

For elite universities in American society, it is both the best of times and the worst of times. The nation’s leading universities are wealthier and more selective than ever. With endowments in the billions, they draw applicants from around the world.

Yet universities have become the objects of intense criticism from the Left and Right alike, with the issues ranging from affirmative action and social mobility to institutional orthodoxy and free speech. As surveys reveal, the public is losing faith in even our leading universities.

This course will consider the fraught state of our most prominent universities through the lens of two ideals that have been central to the evolution of higher education during the last half century. One is the ideal of diversity, an animating principle of higher education since the Supreme Court’s decision a half century ago in Bakke v. University of California Regents. The other ideal is that of meritocracy, which has contributed to America’s universities being more stratified than those of any of our European peers. Through synthesis a varied materials–judicial decisions, and legal scholarship to educational analyses and social science research–this course will join these two defining features of American higher education and consider their underappreciated relationship, and the implications for American democracy and well-being.