Chancellor's Speeches

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 document.

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 importantly-longer term.

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 cultural orbit.

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 diversity goals.

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 the country.

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 unacceptable!

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.

Thank you.