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Lani Guinier

  • Lani Guinier, law professor and embattled Justice Department nominee, dies at 71

    January 10, 2022

    Lani Guinier, a lawyer whose innovative and provocative writings on racial justice and voting rights were used to undermine her nomination to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division early in the presidency of Bill Clinton, died Jan. 7 at an assisted-living facility in Cambridge, Mass. She was 71.

  • Woman sitting in a chair at the doorway of an office making a wide hand gesture.

    In Memoriam: Lani Guinier 1950 – 2022

    January 7, 2022

    Lani Guinier, the first African-American woman to be tenured at Harvard Law School and an influential scholar who devoted her life to justice, equality, empowerment, and democracy, died Jan. 7.

  • Man in a black sweater standing in front of a tree.

    ‘When you look back on your own career decades from now, make sure you can say that you’ve done the work of justice’

    May 26, 2021

    Nikolas Bowie ’14, the winner of the Sacks-Freund teaching award, imparts lessons he learned from another great teacher — his mother.

  • A zoom image of a man speaking with a smile near a book shelf a colorful painting to his right

    ‘Our time is full of injustices … You must not be a product of your time,’ says Nikolas Bowie

    May 5, 2021

    “Attaining power does not make you a moral person,” said Nikolas Bowie ’14, assistant professor of law at Harvard Law School, in his April 22 Last Lecture to graduating students.

  • Some essential reading for ethically compromised parents

    March 17, 2019

    .... While teaching, I saw repeatedly the extent to which my students’ ethics — or ethical lapses — were shaped by their helicopter parents. Now, I’d love to be the one to put a learning on those adults. ...“The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education,” by Lani Guinier. Harvard law professor Guinier delivers an uplifting vision for higher education. She demands we abandon America’s “Testocracy,” which obsesses over standardized test scores that measure little more than access to privilege, in favor of a truly collaborative approach to admissions and education that emphasizes people’s holistic competence. This wake-up call asks America to shatter its current higher education paradigm, because it is neither equitable nor effective.

  • Lani Guiner with event organizers

    Celebrating Lani

    June 26, 2018

    At an event at Harvard Law School honoring Lani Guinier earlier this year, Susan Sturm invoked a phrase that was familiar to most of the attendees, a mix of Guinier’s family, colleagues, collaborators, friends and students. It was a line that Guinier often used when prodding her students into pushing harder and thinking deeper: “My problem is, if you stop there … ”

  • Lani Guinier with three others at a 2018 tribute event.

    ‘If you stop there…’

    February 23, 2018

    An event at HLS in February honored the work of Harvard Law School Professor Emeritus and Civil Rights Theorist Lani Guinier. Renowned for her books, including “The Tyranny of the Meritocracy,” Guinier joined the HLS faculty as Bennett Boskey Professor of Law in 1998.

  • Mentors, Friends and Sometime Adversaries 4

    Mentors, Friends and Sometime Adversaries

    November 29, 2017

    Mentorships between Harvard Law School professors and the students who followed them into academia have taken many forms over the course of two centuries.

  • Woodruff and Ifill Receive Radcliffe Medal

    May 30, 2017

    Amid applause and light drizzle, journalists Judy Woodruff and the late Gwen Ifill received the Radcliffe Medal at the annual Radcliffe Day Ceremony Friday...Woodruff was joined onstage by Walter S. Isaacson ’74, CEO and President of the Aspen Institute and bestselling author of “Steve Jobs” and “Benjamin Franklin: an American Life.” Their discussion covered a broad range of topics, including Woodruff’s friendship with Ifill, career challenges for women and minorities in journalism, and changing conditions for young journalists...Many attendees praised the discussion for how it dealt with issues of gender, race, age, and truth. Lani Guinier ’71, a professor at the Law School, called the discussion, “Amazing, powerful, and emotionally difficult.”

  • The Voter Fraud Case Jeff Sessions Lost and Can’t Escape

    January 9, 2017

    When Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Donald J. Trump’s choice for attorney general, answers questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, he can expect to revisit a long-ago case that has followed him. In 1985, when Sessions was the United States attorney in West Alabama, he prosecuted three African-American civil rights activists, accusing them of voter fraud...Asked by a grand juror whether she’d voted absentee for the first time in the September primary, a Perry County resident named Fannie Mae Williams answered: “Uh-huh. First and last.” Two other women told the grand jury they were done with voting, according to the book “Lift Every Voice,” by Lani Guinier, a professor at Harvard Law School...Hank Sanders organized a team that included defense lawyers from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Southern Poverty Law Center, including Guinier.

  • Law School Professors Sign Letter Opposing Sessions Nomination

    January 6, 2017

    Sixteen Harvard Law School faculty members have joined thousands of other law professors across the country in signing a letter opposing Republican U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions’s nomination as United States Attorney General... Law School professor Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., who signed the letter, said Sessions’s record on voting rights, especially for minorities, is deeply troubling to him. “The aim of the letter is to raise the significant issues about voting, which is fundamental to our democratic experiment and, once these issues are raised, we hope that the committee and the citizenry in general would not support this nominee,” Sullivan said. “We certainly think that, party affiliation aside, no Attorney General should have taken such a radical view about voting rights laws.”

  • CBA 2016: Turning Vision into Action

    September 30, 2016

    Over 800 alumni returned to Harvard Law School for the fourth Celebration of Black Alumni (CBA), Turning Vision into Action. The event brought together generations of black alumni to reconnect with old friends, network with new ones and take part in compelling discussions about the challenges and opportunities in local, national and global communities.

  • Facing Down Discrimination

    May 10, 2016

    Raheemah Abdulaleem ’01 was standing on a Washington, D.C., street corner in 2009 on her way to work at the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division when a man yelled at her from his car to “go back to your country.” An African-American who grew up in Philadelphia in a family whose roots in the United States are nearly as old as the country, Abdulaleem was wearing a hijab, the traditional headscarf worn by some Muslim women.

  • The Real Issues Behind Getting Into College

    April 12, 2016

    If you’ve crammed for the SATs, agonized over creative essay topics, or pestered teachers for recommendations, then you know something about our college admissions process. Namely, that it is very stressful and very complicated. But there are critics who say it’s more than just stressful. It’s totally wrong, and it’s hurting America. Lani Guinier is one of those critics - and she wants a complete redesign: “It has its benefits, but it also has stakes that eliminate the option, or the opportunity, for many working class whites, low-income blacks, to even consider going to these higher education schools.” Guinier is the author of The Tyranny of the Meritocracy and a professor at Harvard Law School.

  • The Commodification of Higher Education

    March 30, 2016

    ...Few would argue that the rankings have helped shape a world in which students are seen as consumers, and colleges and universities as commodities. The rankings are a key reason the higher-education landscape today operates like a marketplace in which institutions compete to convince the best students to buy their product...And as for the movement away from admissions tests? Fewer and fewer colleges may be requiring applicants to submit scores, but that doesn’t mean their presence is waning. According to a recent Education Week analysis, high-school testing is tilting heavily toward those very exams: Twenty-one states now require students to take the SAT or ACT, and a dozen use one of the exams as part of their official, federally mandated accountability reports on high-school students. As the Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier, a staunch critic of elite-college admissions, wrote in her book, The Tyranny of Meritocracy: “This is testocracy in action.”

  • What Ails the Academy?

    October 21, 2015

    ...The distressing features of this much larger part of the higher-education industry have spawned a critical, even dire, literature that merits attention for its own sake—and because the issues echo in the elite stratum, too. And for those seeking entry to the top-tier institutions, the ever more frenzied admissions lottery has begun to provoke overdue skepticism. Herewith, an overview of some recent books with heft....Lani Guinier looks beyond Bruni’s personal narratives and advice to the societal consequences of college admissions as the ultimate funneling device. In The Tyranny of the Meritocracy (Beacon, $24.95), the Boskey professor of law advances a broad argument about the definition of merit as social benefit rather than as individual accomplishment, and the role of inclusiveness in strengthening the civic fabric and better addressing human problems.

  • Jasleen Kohli Teaches the Law — and Fights It Too

    May 6, 2015

    Jasleen Kohli estimates that she’s attended more than 100 protests, but until 2013 she couldn’t get arrested in this town. As a lawyer, she often was called on to witness demonstrations and spring her fellow activists from jail...These days, as director of UCLA law school’s Critical Race Studies program, Kohli trains students to scrutinize the role of race in the justice system...Mentored by Lani Guinier, Bill Clinton’s short-lived nominee for assistant attorney general for civil rights, Kohli gravitated toward economic justice issues. “Think about jobs, housing, education — a lot of it comes down to different access to resources. The way those resources are allocated comes from a history of racism and institutional privilege.”

  • At 161 years old, Beacon Press looks toward its future

    May 5, 2015

    For many of the startups among Beacon Press’s neighbors in Fort Point Channel’s Innovation District, the hire of a couple additional telecommuters would be a development hardly worth noting. But for a 161-year-old, mission-driven, nonprofit book publisher to add two remote acquisitions editors — that, in light of an anxious decade in publishing that has included both a recession and massive technological disruption, is striking news. ...For some authors, including ones who otherwise might be published by commercial or academic presses, Beacon’s values are part of its appeal. Harvard Law School professor Lani Guinier’s most recent book, “The Tyranny of the Meritocracy,” was published by Beacon in January. “The commitment is to social justice and to sharing information that helps people rather than harms them,” Guinier said. She believes the publisher promotes “a reading conversation — meaning not just people in a bully pulpit.”

  • Lani Guinier says U.S. needs reform and should learn from other democracies

    May 5, 2015

    Lani Guinier, the first black woman to become a tenured professor at Harvard Law School, is perhaps most famous to the general public for a job she didn’t get. In 1993, Bill Clinton nominated her to be assistant attorney general for civil rights, but some of her views became sufficiently controversial to convince Clinton to withdraw the nomination before it came to a vote. She has professed (or does one mean professored?) on at Harvard, written several books and continued to opine in the areas of both voting rights and civil rights. On Friday, she was in town to speak at a luncheon of the Minnesota Black Women Lawyers Network. I had a short interview with her and between that conversation and her talk to the MBWLN, Guinier said...The U.S. system of democracy needs updating and it could benefit by looking around the world at other democracies that do things differently.

  • The Price of Admission

    May 4, 2015

    For Lani Guinier, the mission of higher education is—or should be—democracy.

  • Fareed Zakaria’s ‘In Defense of a Liberal Education,’ and More

    April 19, 2015

    [Lani] Guinier, a professor at Harvard Law School, became famous when her nomination to be assistant attorney general for civil rights was derailed by the raging culture wars of the early 1990s. Her book does not advocate the kind of mechanically redistributive race-based policies she was then accused (not always fairly) of promoting. Instead, she denounces the “testocracy,” in which students are sorted into elite colleges based on the narrow, individualistic measures assessed by the SAT. This, she argues, has the effect of both reinforcing inherited privilege and convincing the “testocratic” victors that their spoils are well deserved.

  • Ditch the SATs and ACTs

    March 10, 2015

    An op-ed by Lani Guinier. I was raised from an early age to be skeptical of how admission to elite schools works. My father, a black man who had been accepted to Harvard College in 1929, was told on arrival that he was not eligible for scholarship aid because he had not submitted a photograph with his application. He was also not allowed to live in the dormitories. This, he later discovered, was a ruse to discourage his matriculation. Harvard’s official policy was one in which “men of white and colored races shall not be compelled to live and eat together nor shall any man be excluded by reason of his color.” But Harvard’s unofficial policy was to admit one black student per class — a policy it had inadvertently exceeded by accepting my father’s photograph-less application. Harvard University no longer excludes people because of their color; nor does it reject students who come from poor or working class families. But, like other elite universities, Harvard’s official policy still remains far removed from how it unofficially admits students.

  • Q&A With Lani Guinier: Redefining The ‘Merit’ In Meritocracy

    February 20, 2015

    As a high school student, Lani Guinier wrote a letter to the College Board over a math question on the SAT that she found problematic. When she got to Harvard's Radcliffe College, her roommate announced that she was worried about something: With her perfect SAT score she'd have trouble finding someone to marry. "Her bragging ... and my nagging," were two sparks of a lifelong interest in what Guinier calls "the testocracy." Now a professor at Harvard Law School, she has written a book, The Tyranny of the Meritocracy, that calls for a rethinking of who gains admission to schools like Harvard. You talk in the book about the correlations between SAT scores and family incomes. But some people argue that the SAT is more meritocratic than the networks of influence that it replaced. Most of the students admitted to competitive colleges are not poor or working class. There may be a few but it's very few.Part of the reason that upper middle and upper class students are more likely to get admitted is because they're more likely to do well on the SAT.

  • Professor Lani Guinier

    NY Times: Lani Guinier redefines diversity, re-evaluates merit

    February 18, 2015

    In a recent Q&A in the New York Times, Harvard Law School Professor Lani Guinier discusses her new book, "The Tyranny of the Majority: Fundamental Fairness in Representative Democracy" in which she argues for a rethinking of merit, typically measured by standardized test scores, that would better reflect the values of a democratic society.

  • ‘The Tyranny of the Meritocracy’ by Lani Guinier

    February 9, 2015

    We all understand the importance of college in the modern economy. This signal economic importance leads to the SAT becoming the sole difference between getting into a great school and potentially being set for life, or not. Students sweat the process. Families spend thousands to prepare children, and schools pride themselves on their students’ average SAT scores. It’s time, writes Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier, that we question not just the value of that one test, but frankly, the entire system that claims this test measures merit. “[W]e need to change our understanding of merit,” she says--it is too narrow. Her new book, “The Tyranny of the Meritocracy,’’ “propose[s] a new framework, one focused on advancing democratic rather than testocratic merit.” It is a scheme that reminds colleges that their duty “is to give students an educational experience in which merit is cultivated, not merely scored.”

  • Lani Guinier Redefines Diversity, Re-evaluates Merit

    February 6, 2015

    Lani Guinier, the first tenured woman of color at Harvard Law School, went through a trial by fire in 1993, when President Bill Clinton withdrew her nomination for assistant attorney general for civil rights. Negative publicity about her political and academic views had made her a polarizing figure. Conservatives called her “the quota queen,” though her essays, published in “The Tyranny of the Majority: Fundamental Fairness in Representative Democracy,” make it clear she opposed quotas and was seeking voting systems that would promote representation not just of the majority but also of a greater range of groups. Her new book, “The Tyranny of Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America,” returns to the theme of inclusion, making the case that college admissions has become a “testocracy” in which standardized test scores are seen as the most important measure of merit, and character counts for little. She argues for a rethinking of merit that would better reflect the values of a democratic society.

  • ‘The Tyranny of the Meritocracy’

    February 3, 2015

    Elite colleges admit students in a way that will fail to diversify higher education -- and the current use of affirmative action has little impact, according to a new book by Lani Guinier. Her new book, The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America, has just been published by Beacon Press. In it she argues that current admissions systems are based on tests, rankings and prestige -- in ways that undermine American democracy. And she argues for replacing what she calls "testocratic merit" with a new "democratic merit." This shift would place more emphasis on the good to society of educating a diverse group of people than on identifying the people with the best credentials (as currently defined by society) for admission. Guinier, a professor of law at Harvard University, responded via e-mail to questions about her new book.

  • Harvard Professor Says Focus On Admissions Testing Damages Higher Education Mission (audio)

    January 28, 2015

    It’s nearly the end of the college application season and, for many high school seniors, that means the end of a years-long process full of AP tests, extracurricular activists, volunteer hours and SAT prep — much of it a means to an end: getting into the highest ranking college. For years, SAT critics have argued the test disadvantages poor students, but now, Harvard Law School Professor Lani Guinier is saying the test has hurt the mission of higher education. She outlines that position in her new book, “The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America."

  • Ivy League’s meritocracy lie: How Harvard and Yale cook the books for the 1 percent

    January 14, 2015

    A book excerpt by Lani Guinier...Call it what you will, the SAT still promises something it can’t deliver: a way to measure merit. Yet the increasing reliance on standardized test scores as a status placement in society has created something alien to the very values of our democratic society yet seemingly with a life of its own: a testocracy. Allow me to be clear: I’m not talking about all tests. I’m a professor; I believe in methods of evaluation. But I know, too, that certain methods are fairer and more valuable than others.

  • Harvard Law’s Lani Guinier on the problem with college admissions

    January 12, 2015

    The “testocracy” is the term that I use to describe the overemphasis by many institutions of higher education on the applicant’s ability to do well on an SAT or an LSAT or some other test that is presumed to predict performance in college. What these tests really tell you about is the financial stability of your family. The focus of higher education has become extremely competitive as opposed to courageously collaborative. The testocracy doesn’t take into account the important roles that higher education plays or attempts to play in a democracy. Those roles are a form of teaching leadership, of teaching scholarship, and producing citizens who are going to contribute not just to their own family but to the larger society.

  • Standardized Tests Are Weakening Our Democracy

    January 7, 2015

    Two decades ago, Lani Guinier became a liberal icon when President Bill Clinton proposed—and then withdrew, under conservative pressure—her nomination to head of the Justice Department’s civil-rights division...Her latest book is The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America. As the subtitle suggests, Guinier turns Clinton’s unfair characterization of her writings on its head, advocating more democracy, not less, in American universities and life. And far from endorsing racial quotas, she suggests that affirmative action is a poor substitute for rethinking our admissions process from top to bottom.

  • A Voting Rights Amendment Would End Voting Suppression

    November 4, 2014

    An op-ed by Lani Guinier and Penda D. Hair (co-director of the Advancement Project). Contrary to popular belief, Americans’ right to vote is not guaranteed. Sure, the Constitution mentions voting more than any other right – forbidding it from being abridged on the basis of race, for example, or the ability to pay a poll tax. Yet it contains no language that makes this right explicit. This missing safeguard has become more glaring in recent years, as politicians have enacted laws that make it harder for certain people to vote. The Supreme Court’s gutting of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 in the Shelby County vs. Holder decision made voting rights more vulnerable than ever. In the past two years alone, the Advancement Project and other civil rights organizations legally challenged restrictive voting laws in Texas, Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina and other states.

  • Freedom Summer 50th Anniversary Highlights Tougaloo College’s Civil Rights Role

    June 30, 2014

    Hayat Mohamed, a Tougaloo College senior, and Laurel Oldershaw, a 2014 graduate of Brown University, recalled their experiences on each other’s campus…Their conversation, joined by several current and former students from both schools, was part of Freedom 50, a conference on the Tougaloo campus commemorating the 50th anniversary of the bloody 1964 Freedom Summer in Mississippi...Lani Guinier, the Bennett Boskey Professor of Law at Harvard University, presented findings from her current research on meritocracy in academia. She said standardized tests such as the LSAT are placing students who are not from upper middle-class backgrounds at a distinct disadvantage. “It’s what I call a testocracy,” she said noting that 86 percent of the time LSAT scores are “totally irrelevant” in predicting student performance in law school.

  • ‘Inspiring Change, Inspiring Us’: an HLS photo exhibit

    March 10, 2014

    In honor of International Women’s Day, Harvard Law School is hosting a photo exhibit, “Inspiring Change, Inspiring Us,” featuring portraits of influential women.

  • Illustration

    Recent Faculty Books – Winter 2014

    January 1, 2014

    “The New Black: What Has Changed—and What Has Not—with Race in America,” edited by Professor Kenneth W. Mack ’91 and Guy-Uriel Charles (New Press). The volume presents essays that consider questions that look beyond the main focus of the civil rights era: to lessen inequality between black people and white people. The contributors, including HLS Professor Lani Guinier, write on topics ranging from group identity to anti-discrimination law to implicit racial biases, revealing often overlooked issues of race and justice in a supposed post-racial society.

  • The Supreme Court

    HLS faculty weigh in on Supreme Court rulings

    June 27, 2013

    The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week on several major cases including United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry in regard to same-sex marriage, Fisher v. University of Texas on Affirmative Action, and Shelby County v. Holder, which concerned the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A number of HLS faculty shared their opinions of the rulings on the radio, television, on the web and in print.

  • HLS Professors Charles Ogletree ’78 and Lani Guinier

    Guinier and Ogletree honored by the Maynard Institute

    February 21, 2013

    In commemoration of Black History Month, Harvard Law School Professors Lani Guinier and Charles Ogletree ’78 were recognized by the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education as two of 28 noteworthy African-Americans who have contributed to the “world of words.”

  • Professor Lani Guinier

    Guinier and Brown-Nagin in the Harvard Gazette: An issue that’s bigger in Texas

    October 30, 2012

    The controversial question of what role race should play in college admissions, if any, stands again before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas. Lani Guinier, the Bennett Boskey Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, teamed up with Tomiko Brown-Nagin, a professor of law at HLS and a professor of history at the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS), to explore the legal background and possible outcomes of the Fisher case, which was argued recently.

  • Professor Lani Guinier

    Guinier participates in discussion on race and college admissions (video)

    October 10, 2012

    On Oct. 4, Harvard Law School Professor Lani Guinier participated in a panel discussion on race and college admissions. The discussion, broadcast on C-SPAN, was hosted by The Century Foundation, a nonprofit, non-partisan research foundation that focuses on issues of equity and opportunity in the United States.

  • The Green Bag honors HLS faculty and alumni for exemplary writing

    January 13, 2010

    The Green Bag, a quarterly journal devoted to readable, concise, and entertaining legal scholarship, has named a number of HLS faculty members and alumni to its “Exemplary Legal Writing 2009” list.

  • Charles Ogletree and Lani Guinier

    On NPR, Guinier and Ogletree discuss Sotomayor hearings

    July 15, 2009

    HLS Professors Lani Guinier and Charles Ogletree ’78 discussed what to expect from this week’s confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor on a National Public Radio program that aired July 13.

  • Early warning signs

    September 1, 2006

    Last spring, HLS hosted a conference to examine why a majority of women students at law schools across the nation receive lower grades, participate less in class and are less satisfied with their law school experience than male classmates.

  • Martha Field at chalkboard

    A Class Unto Themselves

    July 1, 2003

    For many years after HLS began admitting women, male faculty still predominated. That's changed, and women faculty members talk about what their presence has meant for the school and for themselves.

  • The Bill of Wrongs

    September 28, 2000

    Credit: Andre Souroujon HLS student Bryonn Bain says his arrest on the streets of New York City exemplifies society’s mistreatment of the black community. The…

  • Lani Guinier: present and visible

    February 25, 1999

    New faculty member Lani Guinier talks about her decision to come to HLS, her commitment to experimenting in the classroom, law school "gamesmanship," and the importance of creating a "learning community."