Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy

Exciting event/webcast at the Berkman Klein Center tomorrow, connected to the Justice Lab paper on the American Student Debt Crisis, with a focus on for-profit colleges:


More than two million students are enrolled in for-profit colleges, from the small family-run operations to the behemoths brandished on billboards, subway ads, and late-night commercials. In Lower Ed Tressie McMillan Cottom parses the fraught dynamics of this big-money industry to show how it is part and parcel of the growing inequality plaguing the country today. McMillan Cottom discloses the shrewd recruitment and marketing strategies that these schools deploy and explains how, despite the well-documented predatory practices of some and the campus closings of others, ending for-profit colleges won’t end the vulnerabilities that made them the fastest growing sector of higher education at the turn of the twenty-first century. 

Drawing on more than one hundred interviews with students, employees, executives, and activists, Lower Ed tells the story of the benefits, pitfalls, and real costs of a for-profit education. It is a story about broken social contracts; about education transforming from a public interest to a private gain; and about all Americans and the challenges we face in our divided, unequal society.

Friday, June 23, 2016 at 12:00 pm
Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
Harvard Law School campus
Wasserstein Hall, Room 1010
RSVP required to attend in person
Event will be live webcast at 12:00 pm


The Justice Lab – Spring 2017


Announcement to HLS Students

In the past week we have heard from many students, lawyers, alums, and others looking for ways to respond to the longstanding and immediate crises in our country and our world.

The Systemic Justice Project was created to give students the opportunity to work on pressing policy problems in collaboration with lawyers, academics, legislators, organizers, and activists engaging those issues. The goal has been to understand the complex causes and interconnections of our problems and to develop innovative, systemic solutions.

This work has rarely been more urgent. We therefore invite all students who wish to devote curricular time to the injustices that have always been with us and the renewed injustices on the horizon to contact us and enroll in the spring Justice Lab from which prerequisites have been removed (Wednesdays 5:15 – 7:15pm).

We have some ideas for the road ahead, and we know you do too. We want to hear your suggestions and may be able to provide some structure, support, curricular credit, and an audience for any efforts you may already be planning.

We hope to host problem-identification and priority-setting events with our network of lawyers, legislators, and organizers in January to help inform our work in the spring, keeping in mind the need to fight fires and develop fireproof systems simultaneously. We will use the spring semester’s Justice Lab (and to a lesser extent, the Systemic Justice course) to put law students at the center of a network of concerned lawyers (and nonlawyers) to develop and propose legal and policy solutions to systemic injustices.

To join us in the Justice Lab — that is, to be made eligible for enrollment — or for more information, email and and include the words Justice Lab in the subject line. For those of you who want to start work before the spring semester contact us as soon as possible. Plans are underway and we would welcome your involvement.

Open Letter to HLS Community


An Open Letter to the Harvard Law School Community from the staff of the Student Practice Organizations (SPOs):

We, the below named staff of the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project, Harvard Defenders, and the Tenant Advocacy Project, wish to state our support for the demands put out by Reclaim Harvard Law. The list of demands can be found here.

SPOs are unique at Harvard Law School in that we meet students early – many in the first weeks of 1L year – and we often get to spend the next three years with them and get to know them well. Many of our programs also welcome LLM students, and students who discover a passion for public interest work later in their law school careers. Since we don’t grade our students and they participate in our programs voluntarily, our relationships with them are different than they might be in a class or a graded clinic.

Like many other clinical programs at Harvard Law School, the SPOs focus on assisting disadvantaged clients. Our clients are often caught in the crosshairs of multiple oppressions. Systemic and individual racism is a concern for us for our students, our clients, and ourselves.

Our students, clients, and colleagues inspire us every day. We look forward to engaging with the rest of the Harvard Law School community in dialogue, and particularly in action to make this institution truly a place in pursuit of justice for all.

Elizabeth Blake, Tenant Advocacy Project
John Fitzpatrick, Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project
Maria Leister, Harvard Defenders
Sarah Morton, Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project
Marcia Peters, Tenant Advocacy Project
John Salsberg, Harvard Defenders
Joel Thompson, Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project
Lynn Weissberg, Tenant Advocacy Project

Related letters of support:

-Open Letter to HLS Community

-Letter of Support

Race, Place and Policing Session 4: Andrés Alonso

The fourth session of the Criminal Justice Program of Study, Research and Advocacy’s series on Race, Place and Policing: What we can Learn from Baltimore is tomorrow! Andrés Alonso, Professor of Practice at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and former CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, will be speaking at noon in Pound 100.

CJPSRA Poster-Baltimore Speaker Series-Alonso[1] copy 2

Open Letter to HLS Community


Below is a letter signed by members of the teaching community at Harvard Law School.

December 9, 2015
An Open Letter to the Harvard Law School Community
We, as faculty members, lecturers, instructors and senior staff at Harvard Law School, have been profoundly affected by the recent, salient examples of racial injustice in this country, and the wave of protests that have followed.  There is a growing awareness that such racial injustices require our urgent attention and that institutions of higher learning are among those in need of  reform. We join the call for, and offer ourselves to participate in, change now.
Hundreds of students and staff have called on this community more fully to recognize the long history of discrimination and the sometimes subtle forms of inequality and exclusion that still exist within Harvard Law School. Those students and staff made a series of demands last Friday that they “believe are necessary first steps to making HLS the inclusive, diverse community that we all want it to be” and to promoting the HLS mission “to educate leaders who contribute to the advancement of justice and the well-being of society.”
We have been inspired by their efforts, and we are grateful for the courage, intelligence, dignity, and resiliency that they have exhibited in calling for reform in our School and in our nation. We believe those students and staff should not be raising their voices alone. Moreover, we think that the time has come for our institutional conversation to shift to the task at hand: real, concrete and timely action. In signing this letter, we are taking one small step to make clear our strong support for making those investments.
These issues are not new. As a group of faculty and staff put it in an open letter a year ago:  “To all those involved in efforts to push for change, we will engage, individually and collectively, to challenge and dismantle the institutional and structural sources of injustice, particularly racial injustice.”  We reaffirm that commitment now.  Complacency is not an option. We are ready to work with students and staff in an immediate, concrete and informed process or assessment and reform.  The current activism presents us with an opportunity that lovers of justice cannot afford to squander.


Sabi Ardalan
Ona Balkus
Roger Berlting
Cheryl Bratt
Esme Caramello
Stephanie Davidson
Fernando Delgado
Chris Desan
Julia Devanthery
Susan Farbstein
Stephanie Goldenhersh
Lee Goldstein
Tyler Giannini
Michael Gregory
Lani Guinier
Janet Halley
Jon Hanson
Duncan Kennedy
Eloise Lawrence
Jacob Lipton
Ken Mack
Maureen McDonagh
Toby Merrill
Lia Monahon
Dana Montalto
Deborah Popowski
Robert Proctor
Intisar Rabb
Stephanie Robinson
Ronald Sullivan
Jeannie Suk
Phil Torrey
Dehlia Umunna

Please note: there will be more signatures added over the next several days. If you want to add your name, email

#HLSUntaped @ The Record


From Harvard Law Record, a collection of recent editorials and essays about race and racism:

Derrick Bell Protests HLS – 25 Years Ago Today

Derrick Bell at HLS

“The reality, of course, is that few institutions — and certainly not Harvard — move toward more racial inclusiveness without pressure sufficient to awaken a tardy recognition that a modicum of diversity can be a valuable addition to a school’s reputation.”

~ Derrick Bell (quotation from 1998 article)

From Wikipedia:

In 1990, Harvard Law School had 60 tenured professors. Three of these were black men, and five of them were women, but there were no black women among them, a dearth Bell decided to protest with an unpaid leave of absence.  Students supported the move which critics found “counterproductive,” while Harvard administrators cited a lack of qualified candidates . . . .

Related posts:

Professors Who Will

raised hands

By SJP Friend Annaleigh Curtis:

One of the best things about law school is that it brings together people with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Something that makes me somewhat unique among my peers is that I spent five years before beginning law school teaching college courses, first teaching and coaching debate, then while I was earning my PhD in Philosophy. I thus come to the law and legal education with a particularly acute sense of what academic freedom is, should be, and is not. Academic freedom is absolutely vital to the educational system, particularly in college and graduate and professional schools. It allows professors to speak, teach, and write on controversial ideas. This freedom encourages innovation and knowledge-production.

However, not all appeals to academic freedom serve these worthy goals. As students on this campus, and on campuses around the world, demand that their education confront and address race, class, gender, and other social justice issues, they will no doubt be met with administrators and professors who insist that such changes can be suggested or encouraged, but not mandated. To mandate them would intrude impermissibly on academic freedom. I want to suggest that this response misunderstands the point and nature of both students’ demands and the law itself.

Law school curriculum, or any other sort of curriculum, does not come to the world fully formed. Law school courses do not, in Plato’s terms, carve nature at its joints. For one thing, law is not natural. It is made by humans, and it reflects those human origins. The current way of dividing up 1L classes, for example, into contracts, torts, and property is artificial. The private rights implicated in contract are often intermingled with those implicated in tort. Beyond that, it is a choice, which is to say again that it is not natural or given, to teach those courses in the first year instead of other courses, like environmental law, civil rights law, or anything else.

The choice of how to divide up courses, and which of those courses to teach, is necessarily political. These choices reflect judgments about what is core, central, and important—and what is peripheral, add-on, or elective. This is not to say that there are not reasons to divide up legal education as it is currently divided, but that the division itself requires justification in the face of criticism. Indeed, many law schools in the U.S. embarked on curricular reform recently. At HLS, we have seen the addition of the problem solving workshop, the removal of constitutional law, and the addition of legislation and regulation and international law to the 1L curriculum. These changes were made, presumably, to reflect changing views on what is and is not central to the law and its practice. Law schools rush to add courses that add to the knowledge large corporate firms want graduates to have when they begin work, yet balk at the idea of requiring that students confront—and professors teach—the extent to which race shapes the law.

Students’ demands to make race central to legal education do not come from left field. Race is not a non sequitur in the broader context of law. Race is, instead, quite central to the development of law. The constitution was written against the backdrop of slavery and enshrined it into the structure of our most basic law. Today the laws—and applications thereof—surrounding police violence, housing, the environment, loans, and so much more continue to implicate race in very fundamental ways. The story of race in law is the Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Act, and mass incarceration. But it is also torts, contracts, corporations, legislation and regulation, and quite literally any other course currently taught in any U.S. law school.

Professors who fail to teach the racial implications or foundations of the subjects they teach, then, are failing to grasp at the core of the law. They are neither experts nor scholars if they are unwilling to grapple with, uncover, and explain these implications in their scholarship and classrooms. We would not call it academic freedom if a professor tasked with teaching administrative law instead taught molecular biology. We might provide her a chance to justify this choice, but absent a justification she would be acting in bad faith. If law professors who teach criminal law—the 1L course that is perhaps most steeped in race in this country—refuse to confront race in their classes, they are as far from their field as molecular biology is from administrative law. If professors are unwilling to address race in the classroom, we are happy to have new professors who will.

Some related Justice Blog posts:

Who’s Being Coddled Here?

Mizzou Black Lives Matter

By SJP Friend Annaleigh Curtis (reposted from Second Shift):

“What does it require for a subperson to assert himself or herself politically? To begin with, it means simply, or not so simply, claiming the moral status of personhood. So it means challenging the white-constructed ontology that has deemed one a ‘body-impolitic,’ an entity not entitled to assert personhood in the first place. . . . One has to learn the basic self-respect that can casually be assumed by Kantian persons, those privileged by the Racial Contract, but which is denied subpersons. . . . One has to learn to trust one’s own cognitive powers, to develop one’s own concepts, insights, modes of explanation, overarching theories, and to oppose the epistemic hegemony of conceptual frameworks designed in part to thwart and suppress the exploration of such matters; one has to think against the grain.” – Charles Mills, The Racial Contract 118 – 19 (1997)

It is in Mills’ tradition of political assertion that we should read unrest on campuses today. Students are demanding recognition of their claims to knowledge about their own social experiences and broader structures of oppression, but beyond that they are demanding justice (which is not to suggest the two are distinct). Across the country and world, students are agitating for change. Whether it’s Mizzou, Yale, or Capetown. And somewhere in the bowels of the White Dude Thinkpiece Establishment, Jonathan Haidt, Greg Lukianoff, Conor Friedersdorf, and others sit and wonder where it all went wrong. Kids these days can’t take the heat of intellectual challenge, asking to be coddled on campus, and it’s hurting them psychologically. This is part of Haidt and Lukianoff’s conclusion in the “Coddling of the American Mind,” approvingly cited by Friedersdorf in his latest dismissive commentary on student activism at Yale. This view seems to be getting a lot of uptake in the media and among a wide swathe of diverse sorts of (mostly) white people—young, ivy-league white people; old puffy white people; white people who would be happy to explain why you’re wrong and they’re right.

But who’s really being coddled here?

Is it students who are concerned about social justice, about making their schools safe for the expression and exploration of ideas without facing a constant stream of nonsense? These students are repeatedly, and in myriad ways, calling out serious problems on their campus, from the diversity of their faculties, to the way their endowments are destroying the earth, to the racist symbols that permeate the very history of their institutions, to the serious problem of sexual assault and harassment, and beyond. They are developing their own languages to talk about these problems. They’re banding together to make their voices heard, and they are making demands of people in positions of power. In some cases, the most successful cases, their demands are backed by the only kinds of threats that seem to work—threats of united strike and disruption. They are not doing this in a vacuum, but rather against the backdrop of one of the most successful activist movements of the last 50 years, Black Lives Matter, which has been successful largely because of, not in spite of, its willingness to be unapologetically disruptive. The media pick up single incidents here and there that represent the culmination of frustrations on campus while sustained complaints about systemic injustice are largely ignored.

Meanwhile, defenders of the status quo–who largely do not see themselves as such, but rather as well-intentioned ‘liberals’ or ‘progressives’–view these incidents acontextually and assert that kids these days are losing their edge. They demand that such tactics be denounced. They clamor for assurances that they will never be treated this way, so unreasonably, so dismissively, simply for suggesting something so normal or for failing to say just the right thing. They complain that they are unable to maintain an untarnished grip on reality in which things are, really, not so bad. They express concern over the state of the youth, about their lack of coping skills or rational faculties, instead of recognizing that the best coping strategy for injustice is resistance. They want certain speech not to exist because it makes them uncomfortable. It makes them feel like they’re losing something to which they are utterly entitled, which is the right to say or do anything that’s always been said and done and not have to pay social consequences for having done so. Most of all, they are worried that they will lose the right to be ignorant and that their own distinct, situated worldview will no longer be accepted uncritically as objective and neutral.

So who’s being coddled? Who’s asking for unreasonable concessions to their worldview? Who’s refusing to grapple with reality? Who’s unable to cope with a changing world?

“[A]s a general rule . . . white misunderstanding, misrepresentation, evasion, and self-deception on matters related to race are among the most pervasive mental phenomena of the past few hundred years . . . . And these phenomena are in no way accidental, but prescribed by the terms of Racial Contract, which requires a certain schedule of structured blindness and opacities in order to establish and maintain the white polity.” – Charles Mills, The Racial Contract 19 (1997)

Dan Coquillette on the History of HLS


The Systemic Justice Project is thrilled to be co-sponsoring Dan Coquillette’s talk tomorrow (Tuesday):

Based on his extensive research (and just-published and forthcoming books) on the history of Harvard Law School, Professor Coquillette will provide a candid discussion of the historic strengths and liabilities of Harvard Law School, focusing particularly on shifting definitions of “merit” and exclusion.

Non-non-pizza lunch provided. Tuesday, October 27, 2015, at 12pm in WCC 2004.

This event is co-sponsored by the Systemic Justice Project, the Law & Social Change Program of Study, the Velociraptorts, the Office of Public Interest Advising, the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program, Real Talk, Student For Inclusion, and the American Constitution Society.