The Democratic Merit Project
This project has received generous support from Public Interest Projects – Fulfilling the Dream Fund
The Democratic Merit Project challenges institutions to operationalize “merit” in a way that promotes the conditions necessary for a thriving democracy and to define and use merit as an incentive system to reward those actions that a society values. One principal objective of the project is to link diversity and equal opportunity with the democratic mission of higher education. This objective is stimulated by the proposition that, in the United States, institutions of higher education are not uniformly meeting their responsibility to promote diversity and energize democracy by admitting students who have the will to advance a democratic society. When measuring merit among applicants, colleges and universities too often focus heavily on traditional “objective measures of excellence” based on what students have done, who their parents are, and how they have performed on standardized achievement tests. This strategy assists in reinforcing the selectivity of some institutions while ignoring or deemphasizing what students might produce or contribute to the larger society after they graduate—a transformative way of contextualizing the concept of merit and connecting merit to democratic values.
Goals of the Project
The Democratic Merit Project was developed in 2007 from a proposal crafted by Lani Guinier, Bennett Boskey Professor of Law at Harvard University, john powell, then Executive Director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and Williams Chair in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Moritz College of Law, Ohio State University (currently Director, Haas Diversity Research Center and Robert D. Haas Chancellor’s Chair in Equity and Inclusion, University of California, Berkeley) and Claude Steele, then Lucie Stern Professor in the Social Sciences and Director of Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (currently Provost and Professor of Psychology at Columbia University). New grant support from Public Interest Projects – Fulfilling the Dream Fund will enable the Kirwan Institute to make progress on this project in the following areas:
Engage more deeply in the national conversation about the value of diversity—particularly racial and ethnic diversity—and democratic merit in higher education including enhancing the project’s web presence.
Deepen our understanding of how traditional measures of academic merit may have constrained progress toward the public mission of colleges and universities.
Gather public opinion about the value of diversity in higher education, the public mission of colleges and universities and the college admissions process.
Employ systems science methodologies to produce a comprehensive structural analysis of factors that influence access to and diversity in higher education and the causal interactions of these factors.
Project Staff and Advisory Committee
Tom Rudd, Senior Researcher and Project Director
Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity
The Ohio State University
423 Mendenhall laboratory
125 South Oval Mall
Columbus, OH 43210
Georgina Dodge, Ph.D.
Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Vice President
University of Iowa
Susan Sturm, J.D.
George M. Jaffin Professor of Law and Social Responsibility
Co‐Director, Center for Institutional and Social Change
Columbia University School of Law
James L. Moore, III, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, College of Education and Human Ecology
Director, Todd A. Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male
The Ohio State University
William Tobin, Ph.D.
Scholar In Residence, Social Science Research Institute
- Quality Matters: Achieving Benefits Associated With Racial Diversity by Mitchell J. Chang, Professor, UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Services
- Higher Education and Diversity: Ethical and Practical Responsibility in the Academy by William B. Harvey, Dean of the School of Education at North Carolina A&T State University
- Attaining the American Dream: Racial Differences in the Effects of Pell Grants on Students’ Persistence and Educational Outcomes by Lamont A. Flowers, Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership in the Department of Leadership, Counselor Education, Human and Organizational Development and Executive Director of the Charles H. Houston Center for the Study of the Black Experience in Education in the Eugene T. Moore School of Education at Clemson University
- Selective Undergraduate Admissions and the Opportunity Gap: Two Modest Efforts to Reinvigorate our Liberal Arts Communities by Challenging Racial and Economic Isolation at the High School Level by William A. Tobin, Scholar in Residence, Social Science Research Institute, Duke University
Short Concept Papers
William A. Tobin, PhD, JD – Click here to read paper.
Social Science Research Institute, Duke University
Member, Advisory Committee, Democratic Merit Project
Online Opinion Survey
Click here to access a summary of responses to the democratic merit project online opinion survey. This survey is intended to broaden our understanding of current attitudes about the mission of higher education, the college admissions process and the value of diversity in higher education in the U.S.
Educational Disparities Causal Map
With a commission from the Democratic Merit Project and in consultation with the Kirwan Institute staff, Dr. Peter Hovmand, founding director of the Social System Design Lab at Washington University, has developed a comprehensive systems dynamic model of structural barriers to higher education. The primary objective of this model is to help conceptualize the feedback mechanisms that create barriers to higher education when following traditional merit based admissions criteria. The model represents accumulated disparities that influence college enrollment from early childhood through young adulthood to adulthood and includes key feedback mechanisms underlying barriers to higher education and selected outcomes of educational achievement at the population level. Click here.
Project Reports and Discussion Papers
- “Quick Guide for Understanding Democratic Merit”
- “A Quick Look at Stereotype Threat and Standardized Testing”
- “Indicators of Diversity at Selective Colleges and Universities”
- “Exploring the Mission of Selective Colleges and Universities”
- “Umbrella Organizations that Influence the Law School Admissions Process”
- “Short Inventory of Pipeline Programs”
- “Democratic Merit Convening, Center for Social Inclusion, May 2007”
- “Analysis of the Texas Ten Percent Plan”
- Jack Greenberg, “Affirmative Action in Higher Education: Confronting the Condition and Theory.” Boston College Law Review, 43, 3, 2002
- Admission Rules Differ for Transfer Students, Ohio State University Lantern, May 3, 2012
- Colleges Viewed Positively, But Conservatives Express Doubts – Pew Research Center, March 1, 2012
- The Chronicle of Higher Education college completion database.
- OSU Diversity Gains Not at Main Campus—Columbus Dispatch, February 28, 2012
- College Students, Blackface and How to Talk About Race—The Nation—Jamelle Bouie, November 18, 2011
- AP Test Takers and Scores Increase, but Minority Participation Still Lags—Chronicle of Higher Education, February 9, 2012
- Black Male Student Success in Higher Education, Shaun R. Harper, Ph.D, 2012
- Inflated SAT Scores Reveal ‘Elasticity of Admissions Data’ – The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 1, 2012
- Common Core: Preparing Globally Competent Citizens—Education Week, January 27, 2012
- New Hampshire Ends Affirmative Action Preferences at Colleges – The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jan. 5, 2012
- Guidance from U.S. Department of Education for the use of race to achieve diversity in postsecondary education.
- Mitchell J. Chang, June C. Chang, and María C. Ledesma. “Beyond Magical Thinking: Doing the Real Work of Diversifying Our Institutions.” About Campus. May–June 2005.
- College Diversity Nears Its Last Stand. New York Times, October 15, 2011
- Linda DeAngelo, Ray Franke, Sylvia Hurtado, John H. Pryor and Serge Tran. “Completing College: Assessing Graduation Rates at Four-Year Institutions.” Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. 2011.
- Lani Guinier. “From Racial Liberalism to Racial Literacy: Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Divergence Dilemma.” The Journal of American History. 2006.
- Kellogg Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good: Annotated Bibliography Project
- Draft Summary of Convening on “Diversity Captial,” New York, 2007
- “Best Practices in Admissions Decisions – A Report of the Third College Board Conference on Admissions Models”
- “Future Diversity 2008 Conference Report.” Center for Institutional and Social Change, Columbia University.
- John Charles Boger, Julius Chambers & William Tobin. “How Colleges and Universities Can Promote K-12 Diversity: A Modest Proposal.” Poverty Race and Research Action Council Newsletter. Jan/Feb 2008.
- Lani Guinier. Admissions Rituals as Political Acts: Guardians at the Gates of Our Democratic Ideals, 117 Harv. L. Rev. 113 (Nov. 2003)
- Lani Guinier. “Colleges Should Take ‘Confirmative Action’ in Admissions.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. December 2001.
- Dollars and Sense: The Magazine of Economic Justice, January/February 2006. “The Meritocracy Myth,” a Dollars & Sense interview with Lani Guinier.
- Cora M. Dzubak. “The Cognition Gap: Sufficient Skills for High School but not Sufficient for College.” Penn State University – York.
- john a. powell. “Equity and Access in a Post-Affirmative Action Environment.” Presentation at National Center for Institutional Diversity, University of Michigan, January 30, 2007
- Stereotype Threat – Reading List
- Diverse Education. Interview with Lani Guinier: “Reconnecting Merit and the Mission of Higher Education”The Pimple on Adonis’s Nose: A Dialogue on the Concept of Merit in the Affirmative Action Debate
- Website—Center for Institutional and Social Change, Columbia University
- Pell Grants—Recommendations for Cost Savings—College Board Task Force
Innovative Admissions Practices/Policies
In an effort to illuminate democratic merit in the academy, the Kirwan Institute is interested in learning about innovative college admissions practices and policies that are intended to have a positive impact on racial, ethnic and socio-economic diversity on the campus. These might be policies and practices that supplement, compliment or shift traditional admissions criteria. We understand that even small scale innovations can have significant outcomes. So, regardless of magnitude, we are interested in learning about innovations that have had positive outcomes on your campus or that have the potential to do this. All information will be posted on this website. Please send summary information to:
Tom Rudd, Senior Researcher at firstname.lastname@example.org