The Rev. Al Breaks Ranks

Unlike many of his peers among black leaders, Sharpton expresses support for tougher Education Dept. oversight of for-profit colleges.
December 1, 2010

WASHINGTON -- As for-profit colleges have lobbied aggressively against the Obama administration's efforts to ramp up regulation of their industry, they have found significant (and, to some critics, dismaying) support among African-American and Hispanic lawmakers and minority groups that typically do not wade into higher education issues. And a key cog in the for-profit sector's lobbying effort, Lanny Davis, has made it one of his standard talking points to note that the colleges disproportionately serve low-income and minority students and that cracking down on them will hurt those groups, rather than protect them.

"No wonder so many members of the Democratic Congressional Black Caucus have written letters of concern to DOE Secretary Arne Duncan, as well as many other leaders of minority communities who have expressed the same concerns, such as Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Rev. Al Sharpton, regarding these regulations as currently drafted and support serious changes before final issuance," Davis, a former Clinton White House official, wrote last month in the Huffington Post.

But if Sharpton had, at some point, given Davis the impression that he opposed the administration's regulatory approach, he sent a very different message last week as he rebuffed Davis's request -- via an e-mail exchange obtained by Inside Higher Ed -- to use a quotation and Sharpton's name in an advertisement that Davis's Coalition for Educational Success planned to run featuring Jackson and other black political leaders.

"We want to run this ad in next Monday’s Washington Post – the day of a meeting with Secretary Duncan and a dozen or more members of Congress, organized by Rep. [Alcee] Hastings," Davis wrote.

"I CANNOT approve this quote or my name/likeness in this ad," Sharpton replied via his Blackberry. "Though I agree that there is a need for the services the schools provide, especially in communities of color, we should weed out the abusers of this service.

"To attack the Department rather than engage them is a bad strategy in my opinion. I think the President and Sec Duncan are not the enemies here. In fact I think they have done more for closing the education achievement gap than they have been given credit. I would like to seek a common ground to protect the services minority students need but not defend those who have manipulated those needs for ONLY personal gain," Sharpton added. "Let's talk."

A spokeswoman for Sharpton said he could not be reached to confirm the legitimacy of the exchange. (Note: This article has been updated from an earlier version to correct an error.)


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