Report: College Ended Affirmative Action and Didn't Tell Anyone

College of Charleston stopped considering race in admissions in 2016, and word just leaked Sunday.

July 30, 2018
 
College of Charleston

The College of Charleston stopped considering race in admissions in 2016 but didn't tell anyone about the shift, The Post and Courier reported Sunday.

While affirmative action policies are debated intensely at many colleges and in some states, it is unclear how the shift at Charleston remained under the radar. But it comes at a time of renewed national debate about whether colleges should consider race in admissions, as most colleges with competitive admissions do.

According to The Post and Courier, the college shifted from a policy to consider race to one in which it would consider whether students are the first in their families to go to college.

“The Admissions Committee recognized that our student-of-color enrollments were increasing substantially while we were infrequently using race as a factor in the admissions process. So we decided at that point that that holistic review process and all the other many diversity initiatives that we were using were already having a strong impact,” Jimmie Foster, vice president of enrollment planning, said in an interview with the newspaper. The college also started offering automatic admission to students in several nearby counties.

While nonwhite enrollment has gone up, that is not true of black enrollment. Black enrollment hit a high of 8 percent in 2002, the newspaper said. The most recent data from the U.S. Education Department say that 7 percent of undergraduates at the college are black, and 80 percent are white. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that the state's population is 27.3 percent black and 68.5 percent white.

The shift in admissions policy took place during the presidency of Glenn McConnell, a politician selected by the board in 2014, over the objections of faculty members and civil rights leaders. Many critics noted his support for flying the Confederate flag, his ownership of a store that sold Confederate memorabilia and his posing in Confederate military uniforms. McConnell, who recently stepped down, citing health reasons, said at the time he was appointed that his association with the Confederacy was based on his devotion to history and states' rights.

The Post and Courier asked Foster if the shift had been due to an order from McConnell, and he said, "Absolutely not." Foster and a college spokesman did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday.

Black Leaders Surprised by Shift

Reverend Joseph A. Darby, first vice president of the Charleston NAACP, said in an interview with Inside Higher Ed on Sunday that his organization had not been consulted on the college's decision to stop considering race.

"That concerns me greatly," he said. "I find it quite curious that they would make a change like this without consulting."

Darby said that there are some professors at Charleston who are deeply supportive of inclusiveness. But he said that the selection of McConnell sent a different message. Many black people, and their children who might enroll, also paid attention as well to an incident last year in which a student posed for photos with racial slurs written on a costume in which he was pretending to be Freddie Gray, the black man who died in Baltimore while in police custody in 2015. "There is still a culture there," Darby said. "It has a track record of being a very white public university."

While some black applicants are first-generation students, Darby said that he disagreed with the idea that the college should drop consideration of race in admissions. Doing so, he said, diminishes the impact of race on everyone in the area.

"In Charleston, pretending that race isn't an issue is like saying that water isn't wet," he said.

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