Public policy professor pursues social justice at Supreme Court


In 1991, a young graduate student named Ann Chih Lin had a rare opportunity with the Supreme Court.

 Lin became involved in the landmark Supreme Court desegregation case Freeman vs. Pitts, as a consultant for the American Civil Liberties Union.

At the time, Lin was a “very lucky” Ph.D. student in political science at the University of Chicago. Under the direction of her adviser, Professor Gary Orfield, Lin pulled together an impressive group of social scientists from across the nation. Their statement on the long-term benefits of desegregation was quoted in the Supreme Court’s final decision.

That graduate student now is associate professor of public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and associate professor of political science at LSA.

“Although the decision didn’t go our way, it was an extraordinary experience for me. I think it’s important to know that if you make the right argument you’re not necessarily going to be able to change the course of history, but you’re also not going to be useless,” Lin says.

Ann Chih Lin, associate professor of public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, says she wanted to get involved in things that were happening, rather than study the past. (Photo by Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography)

Lin discovered her interest in public policy as an undergraduate studying history at Princeton University, where she became involved in the Catholic social justice movement.

“I decided I really wanted to get involved in things that were happening, instead of studying things that had happened in the past,” she says.

After two years as a University of Chicago graduate student in political science with a focus on poverty, Lin “felt kind of tired of graduate school, and kind of angry. Nothing I was reading in books seemed like it was actually about people who were in poverty.”

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Lin took a temporary break from graduate school and spent 16 months as a social worker with homeless youth in New York City.

“I realized that people who were working on the front lines had important things to say about public policy that policymakers didn’t really see. I wanted to build a bridge between the decision-making level and the front lines.”

At U-M, Lin has been able to do just that, investigating the social justice issues involved in poverty, immigration and citizenship.

“It actually comes back to being Catholic to me. I really believe that we have an obligation to make things better, especially when we have so much. And if you’re put in a place where you can make things better for other people, then you ought to do it.”


Q & A

What moment in the classroom stands out as the most memorable?

We have a skit show at the Ford School, where the students make fun of faculty. I have a habit of drinking water when I teach, and a student came on stage with a large inflatable bottle, swigging from it.

What can’t you live without?

Unfortunately, I have recurrent migraines. So, I can’t live without my sunglasses. I tell all my students I’m not going Hollywood on them.

What is your favorite spot on campus?

 The stacks in Rackham Library. I love wandering around in there, until I stagger out with a massive pile of books.

What inspires you?

Interviewing. After I finish an in-depth interview I am always so excited, because then I really want to write it up and think about where it goes next.

What are you currently reading?

I’m actually not reading anything currently. I’m just sorting through all my books.

Who had the greatest influence on your career path?

As a professor, it’s Mark Hansen, one of my advisers at Chicago who pushed me into applying to U-M. I should probably send him a thank-you note.



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