April 6, 1999

Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom, whose bestseller examines U.S. policies on racial preferences, will speak at Cornell Law School

On Monday, April 12, noted Harvard historian Stephan Thernstrom and Manhattan Institute fellow Abigail Thernstrom will visit Cornell Law School. The two scholars, who are husband and wife, wrote America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible (Simon and Schuster). The controversial book about race in the United States was described in the New York Times Book Review as one of the most notable books of 1997. It presents comprehensive statistics on black progress since the 1960s, then argues against the continuing use of affirmative action policies and other preferential treatment for minority groups.

Commenting on America in Black and White, the Times reviewer wrote: "The baseline for the book is Gunnar Myrdal's An American Dilemma, É published in 1944." The political parallel, noted the reviewer, is that both books were written by exemplary scholars with a mission and underwritten by foundations with agendas, in Myrdal's case a liberal one and in the Thernstroms' case a conservative one.

At Cornell Stephan Thernstrom will present a paper to Law School faculty that focuses on the scope and consequences of racial preferences in American law school admissions practices and in higher education in general.

Abigail Thernstrom will discuss the racial gap in U.S. education from kindergarten through 12th grade and respond to questions and comments. Law School Professor Theodore Eisenberg will be a commentator at the discussion, which is sponsored by the Federalist Society, a student group, and is slated for April 12 at 4 p.m. in MacDonald Moot Court Room, Myron Taylor Hall.

Thernstrom describes racial preferences in education as a "hot-button issue" and says that her opposition to them has caused some people to label her -- inaccurately -- as a conservative. In her remarks she plans to comment on what conservatives as well as liberals get wrong and right on racial matters in education.

"The landscape is more complicated than just putting people in ideological boxes on the race issue," she asserts. "I have a commitment to racial equality, but it's important to focus on facts, not feelings."

The Thernstroms are considered by peers to be stars in their respective fields. Stephan Thernstrom is the Winthrop Professor of History at Harvard, where he teaches American social history. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1962 and is the editor of The Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups (Belknap Press, 1980) and the author of Poverty and Progress: Social Mobility in a Nineteenth Century City (Harvard University Press, 1964; paperback 1981). He was the recipient of the Bancroft Prize in American History, the Waldo G. Leland Prize of the American Historical Association and other prestigious awards.

Abigail Thernstrom is a social scientist who earned her Ph.D. at Harvard in 1975 and advises on public policy as a member of the Massachusetts State Board of Education since 1995. She was chosen by President Clinton to participate in his first town meeting on race, in Akron, Ohio, in December 1997 and also took part in a White House discussion on racial issues that month. Her book Whose Votes Count: Affirmative Action and Minority Voting Rights (Harvard University Press, 1987) received the American Bar Association's Certificate of Merit as well as other significant awards. Her media appearances include guest stints on The Jim Lehrer News Hour and Good Morning America.

The Thernstroms are the editors of Beyond Victimization: The Report of the Citizens' Initiative on Race and Ethnicity. The book's publication date of spring 1999 is expected to coincide with the President's report on race.