The University of California at Los Angeles -- with strong support from Chancellor Gene Block -- is again considering a requirement in its largest undergraduate college that students take at least one course about diversity, The Los Angeles Times reported. Faculty in the College of Letters and Science have rejected such a requirement three times previously. Supporters say that diversity is so crucial to today's society that all students should have at least one course in the subject. Critics question whether such courses improve race relations, and note that many UCLA students are pressed to meet existing requirements.
Students at the University of California at Davis staged a sit-in Friday in a campus coffee house whose student employees had planned an off-campus party with the name "Cinco de Drinko," playing off today's celebration of Mexican heritage, The Sacramento Bee reported. Many students said that they were offended by a Facebook page promoting the party, which has now been canceled. The page featured four male students in sombreros, attempting to get over a chain-link fence.
San Jose State University has expelled three students who are facing criminal charges for months of harassing a black freshman who lived in their suite, The San Jose Mercury News reported. A fourth student has been suspended and, if he does return, will be on probation for the rest of his time at the university. The harassment is said to include placing a bike lock around the student's neck, putting up photos of Hitler, hanging a Confederate flag, and calling the student "3/5" and "fraction," in a reference to the way the infamous Three-Fifths Compromise. When word of the harassment surfaced in November, many on the campus were outraged.
Chatham University announced Thursday that its board has voted to admit men to what has been an undergraduate women's college. The university previously created graduate and professional programs that admit men and women, but until now has preserved its original base as a women's college.
Officials said that enrollment declines in the undergraduate program made the decision necessary. Many alumnae have opposed the decision and some held a protest on campus Thursday, The Pittsburgh Business Times reported.
On April 22 the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, upholding Michigan voters’ 2006 decision to ban race-based preferences in college admissions. Two immediate consequences of this decision are worth clarifying. First, and most obviously, race-based affirmative action remains prohibited at public universities in Michigan, a state whose population is over 14 percent black but whose flagship public school – the University of Michigan – serves a student body that is only 4 percent black. Second, less obvious and less often emphasized, the Supreme Court opted not to overturn the principle that racial diversity on a college campus is a compelling interest, as it yields unique educational benefits.
In legal terms, race-based affirmative action was left untouched by the Schuette decision. In practical terms, however, the decision could have far-reaching impacts. While there is still nothing unconstitutional about affirmative action, there is now nothing unconstitutional about banning it. That means statewide prohibitions in California, Washington, Arizona, and Nebraska will remain in place and additional challenges to race-conscious admissions are likely to surface. Moreover, the Court’s decision in the Michigan case follows a pair of well-publicized campaigns in other states designed to either chip away at remaining affirmative action policies or beat back efforts to revive those that have been outlawed.
These legal and political developments leave higher education leaders in a quandary. Most of us, from Chief Justice John Roberts to John Q. Public, agree racial diversity is a good thing, and worth pursuing. But pursuing it explicitly by considering race in admissions seems to be falling out of favor at the national level and facing voter opposition in some states.
Fortunately, promising alternatives are gaining traction. While it is self-evident that the best way to achieve racial diversity is to select on race, granting college applicants additional consideration on the basis of socioeconomic hardship may represent the next chapter of affirmative action. Class-based admissions preferences have two particularly attractive features. First, they can cushion the racial blow of an affirmative action ban by capitalizing on the overlap between race and socioeconomic status. Just as important, they can boost college access for disadvantaged students of all races who have overcome obstacles few other college applicants have faced.
Research on class-based affirmative action is still in its infancy, but the results thus far seem promising. In nine states where race-conscious policies have been banned and class-based alternatives have taken hold, racial diversity at selective colleges has rebounded after an initial drop. My own research at the University of Colorado demonstrated that class-based admissions considerations – when sufficiently nuanced and faithfully implemented – can maintain racial diversity and identify applicants who will perform much better in college than their raw academic credentials suggest. Promoting this sort of experimentation seems to be what the Supreme Court has in mind, as last month’s plurality decision reiterated that “universities can and should draw on the most promising aspects of race-neutral alternatives as they develop.”
It should also be emphasized that although the Supreme Court’s ruling in Schuette homed in on admissions decisions, solutions to the economic and racial divide in higher education need not maintain such a narrow focus. For example, the University of California system has developed robust outreach programs to connect with high-achieving low-income middle school students and encourage them to apply to selective universities (nationally, more than 100,000 such students every year do not apply to selective schools). Like class-based affirmative action, outreach is not a diversity panacea. But without talented low-income applicants, colleges will face a supply problem that no admissions solution – race-based or class-based – can overcome.
I ultimately support considering class and race jointly in admissions as the most obvious, efficient, and logical way to boost socioeconomic and racial diversity. But to the extent the Schuette ruling emboldens new state-level campaigns to ban traditional affirmative action, university leaders should begin investigating workable alternatives that suit their schools’ missions. Beginning that process now will serve selective colleges well as the political landscape continues to change.
Matthew Gaertner is a senior research scientist in the Center for College & Career Success at Pearson.
Many black leaders in South Carolina are demanding that Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom apologize for comments he made Wednesday about South Carolina State University, its students and other historically black colleges, The State reported. Eckstrom is a member of the South Carolina Budget and Control Board, which voted to lend South Carolina State, which is running out of money, $6 million. Eckstrom abstained from the vote, but in discussion of the university said this of its students: "These are not kids coming from wealthy parents. These are kids that are going there because they can't get into these other schools." Critics say he thus maligned any student who opted to go to South Carolina State, but he says he was referencing only their low financial resources.
He also questioned the term "historically black college" and the idea that states have an obligation to such institutions. "I'm committed to the university because it's a university, not because it's a historically black university," he said. "I think the sooner this state gets away from the concept of talking about historically black universities is a step forward for this state. We no longer talk about historically white universities. I think we need to deal with the issues of funding needs at South Carolina State because it's an institution of higher learning."
Attorney General Mark Herring of Virginia announced on Tuesday that under state law, Virginia residents who qualify for the federal government's "deferred action" program for immigrants without legal documentation can qualify for state financial aid. The attorney general's announcement, which his office made in Hindi and Korean as well as Spanish and English, comes weeks after the state's legislature rejected a bill that would have established a state "Dream Act," won support from Gov. Terry McAuliffe but some criticism from Republicans in the state.
Nearly 20 states have established some sort of tuition equity for undocumented immigrants.
A new law school at Canada's Trinity Western University, in British Columbia, appeared to have won all necessary approvals last year to start -- despite criticism from human rights groups about the university's policy of barring students from having non-heterosexual sex. But a new round of opposition has emerged. Critics have gathered enough signatures on a petition to force a new vote by the Law Society of British Columbia, whose council had approved accreditation of the law school, The Globe and Mail reported. A vote by the larger membership could go the other way. And even if the law school holds on to its accreditation for British Columbia, its graduates will not be able to practice law in Ontario because that province's legal society voted Friday against recognition, CBC News reported. Nova Scotia's legal society has taken a similar position, although it also stated explicitly that if Trinity Western ends discrimination against gay people, its law school can be accredited so that its graduates could work in the province.