Bay State Bravado: Should He Be Successful in His Bid for Governor, Former Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Deval Patrick Has Plans to Improve Public Higher Education in a State Known for Its Elite Private Institutions

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As a bright and ambitious youngster growing up poor in Southside Chicago, Deval L. Patrick won a scholarship to Milton Academy, a private Massachusetts boarding school, courtesy of the acclaimed "A Better Chance" initiative. Considered a pioneering educational outreach program, A Better Chance has assisted thousands of talented yet disadvantaged minority students. Attending the prestigious and rigorous prep school altered the course of Patrick's life. He flourished at Milton before going on to earn two degrees from Harvard University, lead civil rights enforcement at the U.S. Department of Justice during the Clinton administration and oversee diversity efforts at a Fortune 500 corporation then under legal scrutiny for racial discrimination.

Patrick's educational background, although far from traditional, is a resounding success story. So, it should not come as a surprise that he has strong views about education reform, which he would like to see tested, especially in his adopted state of Massachusetts. Currently seeking the Democratic party nomination in the 2006 Massachusetts governor's race, the 49-year-old African-American attorney recently spoke to Diverse: Issues In Higher Education about his candidacy, education, the lessons of diversity and the prospects for economic revitalization in Massachusetts.

A civil rights lawyer, Patrick first came to national prominence upon his nomination for assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Justice Department, the nation's top civil rights post, in 1994. Harvard University professor Lani Guinier was initially nominated to the position, but the Clinton White House failed to defend her from attacks by conservative critics. Patrick's nomination went more smoothly, and after his confirmation by the U.S. Senate, he established himself as a capable civil rights watchdog. As the most prominent civil rights lawyer in the government, Patrick investigated church burnings throughout the South in the mid-1990s, prosecuted hate crimes and abortion clinic violence and enforced the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Patrick returned to private law practice in 1997, and was federally appointed to chair Texaco oil company's Equality and Fairness Task Force after the company settled a major race discrimination lawsuit. As chair of the task force, Patrick led efforts that evaluated and rebuilt the oil company's employment system to establish an equitable workplace environment. He has since served as Texaco's vice-president and general counsel, and as executive vice-president and general counsel for the Coca-Cola Co.

Patrick launched his gubernatorial campaign in April 2005.

DI: How can your experience in civil rights protection and corporate diversity serve you as a potential governor of Massachusetts?

DP: I think that the lessons of diversity and working toward diversity in those settings--educational and employment--have taught me that the best organizations make use of the talent we know exists in every community. That's a philosophy I bring to government as well. I want the best talent. I don't want just the hacks; I don't want just the folks whose talents may be in helping on campaigns. I want the best talent because government is there, as [U.S. Rep.] Barney Frank says, [for] those things we choose to do together.

And that means we choose to deliver some services, not everything. Most services need to be delivered in the most effective and efficient way possible. I think a concentration on diversity means you are looking for that talent everywhere; and not just in the customary places and not just the customary people.

DI: With Massachusetts being home to prestigious universities' such as Harvard and MIT, how would you assess the linkage between the state's K-12 system and higher education? Is' there high quality overall in K-12 and the public colleges?

DP: We have quality, but what we don't have is consistent quality. …