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Published online by Cambridge University Press: 14 July 2020
As scholars of higher education regularly point out, American universities face a fundamental tension between access and exclusion. On the one hand, as publicly supported institutions operating in a democracy, they are charged with promoting social mobility and sharing knowledge that can improve society. On the other, they are tasked with identifying and supporting elites—those talented, ambitious, and hardworking individuals who deserve the most money and accolades. In his 1993 History of Education Society presidential address, “Race, Meritocracy, and the American Academy during the Immediate Post-World War II Era,” historian James Anderson describes one way in which northern white colleges and universities coped with this tension after World War II. During this time, Fred Wale, director of education for the Julius Rosenwald Fund, compiled a list of 150 outstanding black scholars with degrees from schools like the University of Chicago, Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Michigan; extensive teaching experience at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs); and highly regarded publication records. Wale sent his list to hundreds of university presidents, encouraging them to consider these qualified candidates for faculty appointments. His efforts made minimal impact: between 1945 and 1947, only twenty-three of the scholars on Wale's list were offered permanent faculty positions at northern white universities.
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