The University Record, March 18, 1998

Atlantic Monthly's Lemann to speak on meritocracy

Nicholas Lemann will present the first Dialogues on Diversity program March 30. Photo courtesy Martin Cornel


By Pat McCune
Graduate School

Nicholas Lemann, national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, will speak on "Meritocracy: The Late Debate" at 7:30 p.m. March 30 in Rackham Auditorium as part of the Evenings at the Rackham Series.

Lemann will draw on his forthcoming book to describe the origin of the American meritocratic system and the politics of meritocracy today. Following his address, four members of the University community will talk about meritocracy from their perspectives at the invitation of Dialogues on Diversity. Dialogues on Diversity, designed to create venues for open exchange about issues related to diversity, is co-sponsoring Lemann's visit with the Michigan Journalism Fellows Program and the Graduate School.

Lemann will argue that what we observe now is a delayed struggle over enormously consequential issues that were initially resolved without any public discussion. Lemann believes that it was inevitable that one day the debate over meritocracy would occur, and that now is that day. He will speculate on how we might expect to see the debate unfold over the next few years.

Lemann is recognized nationally as an expert on issues of race and class in America. His 1992 book, The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America (Vintage Books), covers the greatest mass migration in U.S. history--the movement of some five million African Americans from the rural South to the "promised land" of the urban North between 1940 and 1970. It was a national best-seller, winning several prizes including the Los Angeles Times Book Award for History, and was made into a 1995 Discovery Channel documentary. The book established him as a sought-after commentator on race relations and other fundamental aspects of American society.

Lemann's articles "The Structure of Success in America" and "The Great Sorting" are concerned with the structure of opportunity--the way we sort ourselves in the struggle for success. His article "What Happened to the Case for Affirmative Action?" in the New York Times Magazine (June 11, 1995) traced the history of affirmative action and asked where its liberal supporters have gone as the policy has come under attack. He also has written about contemporary bonds of civic associations, Black nationalism on campus and the Puerto Rican underclass phenomenon.

Lemann was born and raised in New Orleans. He holds a degree in American history and literature from Harvard University. Prior to joining The Atlantic Monthly, he worked at The Washington Monthly, Texas Monthly and The Washington Post.