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Undermining Racial Justice

How One University Embraced Inclusion and Inequality

Over the last sixty years, administrators on US college campuses have responded to black campus activists by making racial inclusion and inequality compatible.

This bold argument is at the center of Matthew Johnson's powerful and controversial book. Focusing on the University of Michigan, often a key talking point in national debates over racial justice thanks to the controversial Gratz v. Bollinger decided by the Supreme Court in 2003, Johnson argues that UM leaders incorporated black student dissent selectively into the institution's policies, practices, and values. This strategy was used in order to prevent activism from disrupting the institutional priorities that campus leaders deemed more important than racial justice. Despite knowing that racial disparities would likely continue, Johnson demonstrates that these administrators improbably saw themselves as champions of racial equity.

What Johnson contends in Undermining Racial Justice, isn't that good intentions resulted in unforeseen negative consequences, but that the people who created and maintained racial disparities at premier institutions of higher education across the United States firmly believed they had good intentions in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. The case of the University of Michigan fits into a broader pattern at elite institutions of higher education and is a cautionary tale for all in higher education. Inclusion has always been a secondary priority and, as a result, the policies of the late 1970s and 1980s ushered in a new and enduring era of racial retrenchment on campuses across the United States.

Author Information

Matthew Johnson is Associate Professor of History at Texas Tech University. Follow him on Twitter @matthist83


Lisa M. Stulberg, New York University, author of Race, Schools, and Hope:

"Undermining Racial Justice is a very well-researched contribution, drawing on a wealth of archival sources, published work, and material that is in the public domain. This is an important book."

John Skrentny, University of California, author of After Civil Rights:

"This book effectively and powerfully shows a major public university struggling to fully embrace a major responsibility—and the continual efforts of student activists and supportive elites to bring about real change and the full promise of public education."

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