The Chronicle of Higher Education points to an audit of the University of Missouri at Kansas City that found “a miserable climate of race relations on the campus, particularly in the faculty ranks,” according to an article in the Kansas City Star.
The audit, commissioned by the university, revealed the most racist place on campus was in the classroom. Black and Hispanic students told auditors they often felt offended by faculty who seemed to have a low expectation of them.
Classrooms as “the most racist place on campus”? It seems to me that here, as is frequently the case, there is an unavoidable — and perhaps unanswerable — chicken and egg question: if it is in fact true that the faculty has low expectations of minority students, it that because in fact the students don’t perform well, or do they not perform well because of the low expectations?
Whatever the answer to that question, it is certainly true that there is a performance problem, as measured by graduation rates. But notice the extreme gender variation in minority graduation rates:
… the audit showed Hispanic students, like black students, felt no sense of community on campus. As a result, those students, especially black and Hispanic males, struggle to graduate or leave UMKC for another college.
When [Shaun] Harper [the researcher from Penn State who conducted the audit] looked at six-year graduation rates for UMKC, he found a 39.2 percentage point gap between black female graduates and black male graduates, with only 17.2 percent of black males graduating within six years compared with 56.4 percent for their female counterparts. Among Hispanic students, a similar disparity exists, with 33.3 percent of Hispanic women graduating in six years and only 12.5 percent of Hispanic men.
I wonder if the report really shows, as the KC Star article maintains, that the low minority graduation rate is “the result” of a lack of “community.” If so, why is the missing sense of “community” so much more fatal for black and Hispanic males than females?
Another bit of potentially relevant information missing from the article (I don’t know about the report) is whether or not UMKC practices preferential admissions. Are minorities, especially minority men, admitted with lower qualifications than non-minority students? If so, that fact alone would go a long way toward explaining why they perform less well than other students, and hence why “expectations” of them may also be lower.
Not surprisingly, many of the reforms and changes that are called for would, in my view, accentuate rather than alleviate these problems.
The audit suggested hiring more black and Hispanic faculty, hire a chief diversity officer, improve academic advising and mentoring efforts for minority students, and invest in a Hispanic culture center.
Harper said changing the racial climate at UMKC would take much more than just recruiting more minority faculty. He suggested the university weave more multiculturalism into the curriculum, invest in sensitivity and cultural training for faculty, maintain its African-American History and Culture House, and create a cultural center for Hispanic students.
Policies like these predictably result, whether that is their intent or not, in emphasizing difference and separation, not inclusion. It is also difficult to see how mandatory “sensittivity and cultural training” for the faculty would increase warm fuzzy feelings of welcome rather than their opposite, especially since it would no doubt be accompanied by the required phalanx of “cultural and sensitivity” trainers on campus whose job would be to re-educate the faculty.
Equally predictable, and depressing, was the response to the study by UMKC Provost Bruce Bubacz.
What is right, Bubacz said, is “creating an environment on campus in which minority students and faculty can feel welcome and be successful.” That it had not happened before now, he said, has more to do with “ineptness” in how to best recruit and retain minority — particularly black — faculty and students, than anything else….
“This is something that does have to be addressed,” Bubacz said. He said the university would begin this summer training recruiters in how to find faculty candidates from those underrepresented groups.
Bubacz said a more diverse faculty was crucial to improving the university climate.
In order to be responsive to the reported numbers, wouldn’t UMKC’s recruiting efforts have to targeted not at “minorities” or even “blacks” but black males? If black men are graduating at so much lower rates than black women, how would hiring a few more black women professors help them?
Racial recruiting, moreover, rarely improves the racial “climate.” Aside from its questionable legality (announcing that you’re setting out to hire black faculty will no doubt raise some understandable concerns), if you admit students or hire faculty because they’re black, there will inevitably be people who have “low expectations” of these new recruits who will claim (I wonder why?) that the qualifications bar was lowered for these new “affirmative action” recruits, thus fueling rather than extinguishing the already raging fire of what President Bush has famously called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”