Thursday, April 06, 2006

Jamienne Studley

In 35 years of working for social justice, civil rights, and effective government across settings, states, and issues, education excellence and opportunity have been continuous and powerful strands.

As President of Skidmore College my priorities included higher education pipeline programs, advocacy for need based financial aid, and national work to narrow the fault lines in access, quality, and funding.

Earlier as deputy (for regulations and legislation) and then acting general counsel at the US Department of Education (1993-99), I worked on the full range of education issues; relevant topics included opportunity and access policies and programs, affirmative action, eliminating the vestiges of de jure segregation, and budget and tax policy to fund education at all levels.
I was Associate Dean at Yale Law School in the 80s, where I added issues of race and gender to the required first semester ethics program and served on the university Title IX officers task force.

I am a Board member of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), which works to enrich the quality of higher education and reduce the divide that further privileges students who already have the greatest opportunities, and to deepen the extent and educational value of diversity in high education.

This builds on an early, strong foundation in public schools in a small rural community where my grandfather, school board president for 46 years, lived the propositions that quality schools were the vital center of the community and that they needed to provide a good education to everyone.

I was attracted to Public Advocates, Inc. for its mission – to eradicate the systemic causes of poverty and discrimination -- and vision of energizing people who have been foreclosed from political, educational and economic justice to gain the building blocks of thriving communities, with education at the top of that list. For that same 35 years PA has been working on fairness and opportunity in education, pursuing equity in education financing and effective implementation of education programs to increase provision of quality services to all children – in other words, from Serrano to Williams, and now beyond.

My initial reaction is that at the level of core values and collective ethics Americans already understand that education IS a fundamental right. They believe that it’s just plain not fair to ask people to succeed, make their own way, take care of their families, be capable citizens, without having a chance to get an education. I don’t believe we are trying to convince people that there should be a right to education – our task is to convince them that it’s not being delivered to everyone, show them what it would take to deliver it, and demonstrate that government and schools can make the right real on a pragmatic, consistent level. Obstacles? People who cannot or refuse to universalize the right to all children, regardless of background; the perception of schools and public actors as insufficiently competent to be trusted with precious dollars, lives, and decisions; and the degree to which schools are the battleground for wider social debates that complicate or distract from the shared commitment to education (such as status and service eligibility of immigrants; religious and moral debates; views on unions, taxation, and levels of government decision making).

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