Professor Lani Guinier’s commencement address.  

In bringing her message home to graduates and their families and friends, Guinier asked for more than some in her audience were prepared to give. She asked that they confront the issue of unequal access to public education right here at home in the state of Illinois. She challenged them to broaden their cherished notions of family, home, and community to make room for historically excluded others. In effect, she asked less affluent whites, those who had to sacrifice the most to see their children graduate, to identify with people of color. In solidarity, she argued, they might stake their claim to the university. (Chapter 1)

  read the commencement address (PDF, 32 kb)  
  The Reaction  

Audience resistance to Guinier’s analysis, bitterly expressed in letters and email messages to university administrators, exposed the contours and fault lines that shape discourse on diversity and race at the University of Illinois. (Chapter 1)

“I was appalled and disgusted to hear the venom spewed from her mouth. It was a disgrace that the University of Illinois not only gave her a platform from which she was able to express her views but also gave her an honorary doctorate. No doubt it is people like your speaker who are also trying to get rid of our Chief. These people have absolutely NO interest in our University, NO love for our University with its history and heritage, they simply want to USE our University as a Political Tool. I resent the fact that Ms. Guinier was given that opportunity.” (Chapter 1)

  Guinier as "Outsider"  

When Guinier’s ideas challenged parents’ and students’ views of university business as usual, particularly their sense of ownership of the university, her status as a disinterested “outsider” was invoked to discredit her. The logic was identical to that used against Chancellor Cantor in the debates about Chief Illiniwek: only those who have no interest or investment in the university, or those who fail to love it—only outsiders—could see the university as Guinier does. Imputing outsider status to Guinier was intended to undermine any authority she might have had to speak to life at the University of Illinois. By implication, those who share Guinier’s views were cast as outsiders, too, not as family members with whom, despite their differences, “home” must be shared. Construing ownership this way provides justification for treating as outsiders the very same poor and minority citizens who have systematically been denied admission—those perhaps inclined to share Guinier’s views. Construing ownership this way seeks to silence competing voices, even though the university is a public institution that, arguably, should accommodate diverse views and values. (Chapter 1)

Read the Report