Sunday, February 22, 2004
College Board Regional Forum
Diversity Session Panel
Thank you, Jim [Montoya]. It is a pleasure to be here this
today and participate in this conversation on strategies to make
our campuses more inclusive. It is also a pleasure to sit on
this panel with Superintendent Gene Harris, Ted Spencer, and
Tally Hart, three leaders with extraordinary records in the
area of diversity and equity.
It is difficult to imagine more important issues facing
higher education and our nation than diversity on our campuses
and the elimination of the achievement gap that continues to
impact African-American and other minority students. I want
to commend The College Board for hosting this Forum. This
organization has shown tremendous leadership on the issues
we will be discussing today. Your "Diversity Manual",
which we all had the opportunity to review prior to this
gathering, does perhaps the best job I have seen of defining
the issues we face (legal and otherwise), examining the
challenges before us, and articulating strategies to meet
and master those challenges. I congratulate everyone
involved in the production of this vitally important
We are here for a laudable purpose . . . to discuss
strategies for increasing the participation and success
of African-Americans and other minorities in higher
education, in both the immediate and-perhaps more
I am not an attorney, but I do understand that
in their ruling, the Supreme Court was very narrow
in its support for fostering diversity as an
educational benefit. I certainly do not dispute
that view. A diverse campus environment enriches the
learning experience for all students-majority and
minority. A diverse learning environment allows
for a variety of perspectives. It enables young
people from different cultures and backgrounds to
share experiences; challenge ideas; learn from one
another; and grow as individuals in ways that could
not happen if they remained within a more restricted
Personally, however, my belief is much broader in
scope than that. I see a very important moral
imperative for Affirmative Action.
We hear a lot today about "color-blind
policies and practices," but the advocates
for such practices conveniently ignore the reality
of life in America today. Yes, we would all like
to live in an America where race, ethnicity and
gender really do not matter in decisions about
opportunity, compensation, and professional
advancement. The sad truth is, however, that
they still do matter and in ways that are
disproportionately harmful to minorities and women.
Yes, we have seen progress toward becoming a
more inclusive society. Looking at test scores
or income levels or employment rates, the historic
gaps between whites and minorities have been closing.
But the gaps still exist and until they and other
indicators of discrimination in our society are
eradicated, we have-in my view-a moral obligation
to support Affirmative Action.
Indeed, it has been this practice-especially
Affirmative Action efforts directed at minority
participation in higher education-that are a major
factor in the progress we have achieved in moving
towards a more inclusive society.
Beyond the moral underpinnings of affirmative
action, I also recognize a significant element of
enlightened self interest.
Our nation is becoming more racially and ethnically
diverse. Our economic self interest-survival, if you
will-requires us to embrace policies to reach and
educate a larger number of minority students. If
we fail to do so, there will simply not be enough
college educated, technologically skilled, culturally
adaptable people to support our knowledge-based, global
economy. Within a few decades, we will become a nation
of minorities. It is difficult to imagine a more
compelling national interest than to insure that
our colleges and universities reflect the diversity
of our country. Imagine living in an America where
the opportunities to participate in the knowledge
economy are divided along racial lines. Imagine
living in an America where high paying jobs must
be exported offshore because of the inadequacies
of our workforce.
That is why so many of the world's largest
corporations-including General Motors, Microsoft,
Bank One and Pfizer-supported the University of
Michigan's admission policies. These corporations
noted that "the future of American business, and,
in some measure, the American economy, depends upon"
the ability of universities to select student bodies
that are racially and ethnically diverse.
From my perspective, higher education represents
perhaps our best hope for developing future generations
of well-educated, highly-skilled citizens that value
tolerance, support inclusion, and practice mutual
respect. But we can only realize this potential
if we have tools-like Affirmative Action-to insure
a diverse campus of qualified students.
So while the Supreme Court decision in the Michigan
case did not go as far as I believe is warranted, it
has, nevertheless, given us a reprieve of sorts . . .
one that 18 months ago many though we would not have.
This conference is very appropriately asking the
question..."what will we do with this reprieve?"
We need to look beyond the issue of what we are-and
are not-allowed to do on our campuses now given the
confines of this ruling. Rather we must look a
generation down the road and ask how we can make
progress towards a society in which Affirmative
Action is not the only avenue open to enable us
to enjoy the value and benefits of diversity.
I would submit that what we need is a renewed
burst of energy and commitment to insuring diversity
at our colleges and universities.
I'd like to mention four things that strike me as
especially important if we are to achieve our
First, we must systematically reverse the troubling
decisions made in states and on campuses across the
country over the past decade. As the attacks on
Affirmative Action increased-as legal and legislative
actions mounted-many campuses "voluntarily"
backed away from race conscious programs, fearing legal
challenges. It was distressing to see how timid many
in higher education became.
These programs need to be reinstated, perhaps in
enriched and strengthened forms. Recently the
Governor of Washington, Gary Locke, sought to
reverse that state's decision to ban race sensitive
admissions programs. And while his efforts were
rebuffed by the state legislature, they nevertheless
exemplify the kind of leadership we need.
An especially important area for us to explore is
race-conscious financial aid. This is an area I know
something about because of a case called Podberesky v.
Kirwan. At the University of Maryland, we had a
scholarship program -- the Benjamin Banneker
Scholarship -- that was a very successful in
increasing participation rates of African-American
students. The program was ruled unconstitutional
by the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.
We tried to appeal the case to the Supreme Court, but
our petition was denied. This action by the 4
th Circuit had a chilling effect on minority
targeted scholarship programs in Maryland and across
Now, as I mentioned, I'm not a lawyer, but it seems
logical to me that if there's a compelling national
interest to create a diverse campus community, as the
Supreme Court just ruled, it should be legal to use
financial aid in targeted ways to achieve this end.
The need for financial aid is more urgent than ever.
Perhaps some of you saw the recent report released
by the National Center for Public Policy in Higher
Education. It notes that huge reductions in state
support to colleges and universities, and the resulting
increases in tuition, resulted in more than 250,000
qualified students being denied access to college
last year. A quarter of a million students-a
disproportionate number of who are minorities-shut
out from participation in what in this day and age
has become America's ladder of opportunity. That is
The second point I want to mention is the importance
of a campus wide commitment to diversity goals. These
goals must be seen as important by all and progress
toward them a badge of honor for the university.
When the University of Maryland failed in its
attempt to get the Supreme Court to hear our appeal
on the Benjamin Banneker Scholarship, we feared a
significant drop in our African-American student
population. Amazingly, quite the opposite occurred.
The strength of our effort was a very public
demonstration of the depth of the institution
wide commitment to our diversity goals. As a
result, our African-American student population
actually increased the next year. To this day,
the University of Maryland ranks at or near the
top nationally in producing African-American
graduates from majority institutions.
Another example of success borne from a strong
institutional commitment is the Meyerhoff Scholarship
Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
It is perhaps the nation's premiere initiative to
increase the number of African-American students
in science, math and engineering.
The program was created by UMBC's dynamic and
talented president, Freeman Hrabowski. He launched
the program 16 years ago with 6 students. Today it
admits over 60 students each year.
The results are stunning: The retention rate is an
incredible 95% . . . within the program. Over 500
Meyerhoff Scholars have graduated from this program
since its inception. 75% have continued into PhD or
MD/ PhD programs. They have gone on to UCLA, Stanford,
Berkley, MIT, etc. Many are doing post-doctoral work
at institutions like Johns Hopkins and Harvard.
The Meyerhoff Program draws 80% of its students from
within Maryland. Imagine if just one university in each
state was able to implement a similar program. Think of
the impact this would have on the number of
African-American faculty we would have in the
sciences and engineering.
What are the elements of this program's success? . . .
there are many, starting with Freeman Hrabowski himself.
He is the program's strongest supporter, top recruiter,
and most vocal "cheerleader."
But, the success of the program also stems from the
engagement of the entire campus. Faculty and staff
from across the campus feel they have a stake and a
part to play in the success of the program and its
students. From the day they are first recruited,
Meyerhoff Scholars are instilled with the attitude
that success is an expectation . . . not an aspiration.
The third point I will make is somewhat more
philosophical. It is the need for university
presidents to be agents of change when it comes
to the issue of diversity.
Despite the general perception of being hotbeds
of liberalism, universities are among the most
tradition-bound, conservative organizations in
society. Change is not a popular concept in academe.
In a way, it is one of our strengths. It has
enabled us to sustain rock-solid values and avoid
becoming faddish. But on those issues where we do
need change, our traditional way of doing things
becomes an enormous impediment.
Now, presidential leadership in my view is
often overstated. Presidents tend to get credit
for things they didn't really influence and blamed
for things they can't really control. But when it
comes to change, and most especially change regarding
issues of diversity, presidential leadership and
passionate commitment is crucial. It must become
a criterion upon which the decision to hire and
retain presidents is based. It certainly is within
the 13 campuses of the University System of Maryland.
The fourth and final effort I will note is more
focused on our long-term goals and that is the need
to establish stronger partnerships between higher
education and K-12. In a sense, the K-12 community
provides the "raw material" for higher
education. We have an obligation to do all we can
to make sure these students graduate high school
with the ability and expectations to handle the
rigors of higher education.
In Maryland we are engaged in efforts that
link the University System with the State Board
of Education; individual institutions partner
with local school boards; and university students
work closely with individual schools. All this is
done in an effort to ensure two principles:
access and success. Opening the doors
of higher education is of little value if those
who enter have not been properly prepared to master
the curriculum. At the same time, without the promise
of access, the drive to achieve may well be
short-circuited in some instances.
One of the most telling examples can be
seen in one of the most intimate partnerships
that exist within the USM. In 1998, Coppin
State College took over the management of
Rosemont Elementary School in Baltimore City,
becoming the first institution of higher learning
in the state and perhaps the country to take on
the management of a public elementary school. As
manager of Rosemont, Coppin hired staff, developed
the school's educational program, acquired computer
hardware and software, and provided a wide range of
basic and supplemental services. Coppin faculty
members visit Rosemont weekly to work with teachers
in grade level teams. Coppin students are placed in
the school and in the community fulfill practicum,
internship and student teaching requirements. This
past year, Rosemont was taken off the list of "
falling schools" because of the dramatic rise
in student test scores. In some instances, the
average test score for a grade level increased
500%. The 4th grade passing rate for mathematics
rose from 7% to 78%. There is little doubt that
this effort has dramatically improved the odds of
success for these children. It is just one example
of the type of real-world partnership that can make
a world of difference.
I will close with one observation. This year marks
the 50th Anniversary of the College Board's
College Scholarship Service, which has helped open the
doors to higher education for countless young people,
primarily those most in need. It also marks the 50
th anniversary of the Brown Versus Board
of Education decision, which signaled the beginning
of the end for "separate but equal". Yet
five decades later we find ourselves still struggling
with these two inter-related issues. The ability to
overcome these challenges is within our reach if we
just have the will and vision to do so. I can think
of nothing more deserving of our time and attention
or more important to the future of our nation.