Each year, college presidents, provosts, deans and other senior administrators hire researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education, where I serve as executive director, to spend three to four days on their campuses conducting what feels like nonstop focus groups with students of color and their white peers about the realities of race on campuses. Sometimes campus leaders ask us to focus our climate studies on faculty and staff. We also collect statistical reports from offices of institutional research that typically show racial disparities in enrollment, academic performance, graduation rates, promotions and salaries, and a range of other metrics.
Over the past decade, center researchers and I have done this work at dozens of predominantly white institutions across the United States, including community colleges, small liberal arts colleges, large public research universities and Ivy League universities. When their top administrators call us, we presume it is because they seriously want to know more about how people from different racial and ethnic groups experience their institutions -- and that they are going to use our findings and recommendations to finally deal with longstanding racial problems on their campuses. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that this assumption is at times erroneous.
For example, senior administrators at one university paid the center $25,000 to conduct a climate study two years ago. They didn’t like our findings. The person who commissioned the research wrote me an email in which she commented, “My colleagues and I think your findings are too harsh.”
My response was, “The findings are what they are.”
She replied by asking if I could somehow tone down what we found. I refused, as doing so would have been academically dishonest.
What she and her colleagues failed to realize is that several students cried uncontrollably in their interviews with us. As was the case at the University of Missouri and Yale University, black students, most especially, were tired of having white administrators ignore their concerns about the campus racial climate. They were frustrated that campus officials did nothing about the blackface party a predominantly white fraternity recently hosted. They were sick of being so underrepresented in their classes, having their white professors and peers so routinely stereotype them, finding so few courses taught by faculty of color, and encountering so little of their own racial histories and selves in the curriculum.
Yet these realities were too much for the administrators to handle. They were not ready to hear the truth. Hence, the report we furnished the institution was never publicly disseminated, as originally planned. Several students of color whom we interviewed contacted us months later asking where the report was because they never saw it.
The sad reality is that the administrators at this university paid us an enormous sum of money to remain in denial about its racial problems. This had happened to us before and has occurred again since.
In fact, students of color recently launched a protest that has garnered tremendous national news media attention at an institution where we did racial climate research this past spring. Campus leaders there did nothing with the report for which they paid my center $30,000. Perhaps they could have saved themselves from the public shame they are presently experiencing. We told them the truth and gave numerous recommendations for institutional change. They hired us to ultimately ignore us, a choice for which they are now paying a significantly higher price.
Eight years ago, prior to the launch of my center at Penn, the University of Missouri-Kansas City hired me to conduct a campus racial climate assessment. On the final day of my visit, I publicly presented my preliminary findings. The event was well publicized. People who had participated in focus groups over the three days of my study knew I would talk about what I heard across the interviews. Thus, almost all of them came to my presentation. One (or possibly more) of them alerted The Kansas City Star. Unbeknownst to me, a reporter was in my audience.
The next day, this headline appeared in the city’s major newspaper: “UMKC Gets Poor Racial Report Card.” Administrators here, unlike their counterparts at many other predominantly white institutions at which I have done climate assessments over the past 10 years, acted swiftly and aggressively -- most likely in large part because their university was publicly shamed. Top administrators there had no choice but to act on my report’s recommendations.
I really want campus leaders to stop wasting their money and our time on climate studies they will never use. Nine of my center’s 11 staff members are people of color; most of our 22 faculty affiliates are professors of color from across academic schools and departments at Penn who study race and education. For us, this work is deeply personal. We don’t want to spend our time doing research for leaders who aren’t seriously committed to equity, campus climate change and institutional transformation. We never exaggerate our findings; we instead commit ourselves to truthful representations of insights that people generously offer to us about the realities of race on campuses.
Choosing to ignore these realities won’t make them less real. Eventually, colleges and universities will have to pay a much higher price for racism should their leaders choose to ignore our findings, no matter how harsh they seem.
Students of color will continually drop out in higher numbers (lost tuition dollars), faculty and staff members of color will keep leaving through a revolving door (higher turnover costs), and alumni of color will be considerably less likely to contribute financially to an institution they know to be racist (forfeited donations for institutional advancement). At the University of Missouri, unresponsiveness cost the system president and chancellor of the flagship campus their jobs. Indeed, maintaining an institution’s good reputation, authentically enacting diversity-related commitments espoused in mission statements and elsewhere, and leading with integrity is priceless.
Shaun R. Harper is founder and executive director of the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Harper is author of the forthcoming book Race Matters in College (Johns Hopkins University Press) and president-elect of the Association for the Study of Higher Education.
Bluffton University, a Mennonite institution in Ohio, has become the latest Christian college to announce that it will hire gay and lesbian people. The university recently amended its antibias rules to state that they apply to discrimination based on sexual orientation. Bluffton characterizes this as a clarification, not a change in policy. In a related move, Bluffton announced that it would end its membership in the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities.
In September, two other Mennonite colleges -- Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College -- left the CCCU several months after they changed policies to permit the hiring of some gay and lesbian people. Some CCCU members had said that they would not remain in the organization if other members recognized same-sex marriages and hired gay people. The CCCU said it was forming a task force to consider how to handle future situations related to these issues, and that members moving to allow the hiring of gay faculty members would have their status reviewed by the task force. A spokesperson for Bluffton said that the university did not want to have its status reviewed or altered in this way, and so opted to leave. The decision was voluntary, the Bluffton official said.
The CCCU issued this statement: "The CCCU and Bluffton have been in collegial conversations during the fall. The CCCU is a voluntary association. Bluffton knew that clarifications in their nondiscrimination statement would result in a change of membership status while the CCCU task force on membership finished their work. Bluffton preferred not to accept a change of membership status in the interim and so withdrew. We wish Bluffton the best as they offer their excellent educational opportunities to the world."
Threat against black students at Kean turns out to have been hoax; Harvard drops use of title "master" for leaders of residential colleges; 12-day Brandeis sit-in ends; a Kentucky legend defends mural that was covered up.
Martha Minow, the law dean at Harvard University, on Monday announced that she had appointed a panel to study whether the law school should change its seal, which many black students and others say honors a man with a terrible history. The seal (at right) is the crest of arms of Isaac Royall, whose bequest endowed the first chair at the law school. Students have advocating changing the seal because of Royall's ties to slave labor. As Minow write in an announcement of the study, "Royall was the son of an Antiguan slaveholder known to have treated his slaves with extreme cruelty, including burning 77 people to death." She appointed historians on the faculty "to lead a process for soliciting the views and perspectives of all within our community -- students, alumni, faculty and staff -- on whether the Royall crest should be discarded from our shield. Through that process, we will gain a better sense of what course of action should be recommended and pursued, and we will discuss and understand important aspects of our history and what defines us today and tomorrow as a community dedicated to justice, diversity, equality and inclusion. We will also have an opportunity to do what all lawyers must do if they are to be effective, which is to truly listen to the perspectives and experiences related by others.”
Student protests at Princeton University have led the university to agree to consider removing Woodrow Wilson's name from a residential college and school of public policy at the university. At the same time, the demand by black students that the university do so -- because of Wilson's racist views, which he incorporated into public policy -- has been widely criticized by some at the university and many pundits. But in a sign that the students have indeed placed the issue on the public agenda, The New York Times has in an editorial urged Princeton to drop the Wilson name.
The Wilson administration "set about segregating the work force, driving out highly placed black employees and shunting the rest into lower-paying jobs," says an editorial in the Times.
After reviewing Wilson's record of supporting segregation at levels beyond what he found when became president, the editorial says, "None of this mattered in 1948 when Princeton honored Wilson by giving his name to what is now called the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Black Americans were still viewed as nonpersons in the eyes of the state, and even the most strident bigots were held up to public adulation. This is certainly not the case today. The overwhelming weight of the evidence argues for rescinding the honor that the university bestowed decades ago on an unrepentant racist."
Students at Brandeis University have been occupying an administration building that includes the president's office since Friday, with support from some faculty members. The Boston Globe reported that Lisa M. Lynch, the acting president, has pledged support for many of the goals of the protesting students. But in a letter to students and faculty members, Lynch said that she did not favor the specific timetable the protest movement is demanding. “We recognize that we must go further to fulfill our founding ideals,” she wrote. “However, reacting to immediate timetables and ultimata is not something that is productive or does justice to the work that needs to be done.” Setting a timetable “does not allow for engagement of all members of our community. This deep engagement is critical to ensure that the course we follow takes account of the many important interests that are involved or implicated in any initiative and has broad support,” Lynch added.
A new study has found that in a recent 10-year period while there has been an increase in the number of bachelor's degrees awarded in the physical sciences and engineering, the share of such degrees awarded to black students has fallen, as other groups are seeing larger increases. The study, by the American Institute of Physics Statistical Research Center, found that from 2003 to 2013, the number of bachelor's degrees awarded in the physical sciences to all students increased by 53 percent, while the number of degree awarded to black students increased by 39 percent. Particularly notable in this category is that while the number of physics degrees awarded increased by 58 percent, the number awarded to black students increased by only 1 percent.
In engineering, the total number of bachelor's degrees awarded increased by 29 percent, while the number awarded to black students increased by 10 percent.