Education Scholar Kimberly Robinson To Join UVA Law Faculty

Professor’s Research Focuses on Federal Intervention To Close Disparities
Kimberly Robinson

Kimberly J. Robinson’s scholarship centers on the intersection of civil rights and education. Photo by Julia Davis

April 2, 2019

Kimberly J. Robinson, who studies civil rights in education and aspires to help end educational disparities in the United States, will join the University of Virginia School of Law faculty this fall as a professor of law.

“My chief goal is to influence and develop innovative thinking in the United States about how to close educational opportunity and achievement gaps,” she said. “Our nation for generations has tolerated wide gaps in educational quality between children of different races, between children of different socioeconomic classes, between children of different neighborhoods. These disparities impose huge costs on our nation.”

Robinson joined UVA Law as a visiting professor last year from the University of Richmond School of Law, where she was the Austin E. Owen Research Professor and a professor of law.

“I was very content at the University of Richmond, so leaving a place where I was happy was not something I did lightly,” she said. “The students at UVA Law have been incredibly enthusiastic and excited about me joining the faculty and wanting to retain me, and that has meant a lot to me.”

Much of Robinson’s scholarship critiques San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, a 1973 Supreme Court decision. The court ruled that a Texas public education financing scheme, which disadvantaged poorer districts with smaller property tax bases, did not violate the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause because the Constitution doesn’t guarantee a right to an education.

She is the co-editor, with Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree Jr., of “The Enduring Legacy of Rodriguez: Creating New Pathways to Equal Educational Opportunity,” published by Harvard Education Press in 2015. The book examines the impact of Rodriguez on educational opportunity and offers novel law and policy proposals for remedying opportunity gaps.

This year, New York University Press will publish Robinson’s second edited book, “A Federal Right to Education: Fundamental Questions for Our Democracy,” which gathers leading constitutional and education law scholars to consider the challenging questions raised by recognizing a federal right to education in the United States.

“That project looks at why should we think about recognizing a federal right to education, how might we recognize a federal right to education and what should a federal right to education guarantee,” she said.

In her current research, Robinson is analyzing school funding litigation and working on a paper examining how law and policy could protect a civil right to education.

She said that until there is a right to an education, the federal government can and should partner with states and localities to address disparities. While states should still have the leeway to determine how to achieve those goals, “educational equity should not be optional.”

“Those who benefit from educational opportunity gaps are often the ones who possess political power. Too often they choose not to close them and no one’s requiring them to do so,” Robinson said. “My work focuses on how can we change that dynamic, how can we fix that.”

Robinson earned her J.D. from Harvard Law School and a bachelor’s in foreign affairs from UVA.

Prior to joining the Richmond law faculty in 2010, Robinson was an associate professor at Emory University School of Law and a visiting fellow at George Washington University Law School. She also served in the General Counsel’s Office of the U.S. Department of Education, where she helped draft federal policy on issues of race, sex and disability discrimination. In addition, Robinson represented school districts in school finance and constitutional law litigation as an associate with the firm Hogan & Hartson (now Hogan Lovells).

Robinson recently served as chair of the University of Richmond law school’s Diversity Committee and co-chair of a university-wide faculty learning community on reducing implicit bias in teaching. She previously served as co-chair of the Faculty Senate’s Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Committee, where she led the drafting of recommendations for strengthening the university’s sexual assault policy, including many recommendations that were incorporated into a revised sexual assault policy. Robinson also was chair of a university-wide faculty learning community on reducing “stereotype threat,” a problem recognized by psychologists in which anxiety related to social identity may hinder achievement.

Robinson is a senior fellow at the Learning Policy Institute, a leading think tank on education policy, where she is working with the institute’s president and CEO, Linda Darling-Hammond, on issues related to educational access and equality.

“I am very excited that Kimberly Robinson will be joining our faculty,” said Professor Deborah Hellman, chair of UVA Law’s faculty appointments committee. “Her work examines how law and policy influence equal educational opportunity, the federal role in education, gender equity and Title IX, and race and civil rights. As education is so important to opportunity, I am so glad that our students will have the chance to learn from someone who is an expert in both education law and policy.”

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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