Monthly Archives: April 2008

College Investigations of Their Connections to Slavery

By Dr. Alfred Brophy

Thanks to the folks at Diverse Education for their kind invitation to sit for a spell at The Academy Speaks. My “home” blog is thefacultylounge, so there’s a real theme of talking! I’m looking forward to talking about a lot of topics in race and law and history.

I’d like to lead off with a topic we’ve been hearing a lot about around the academy these days: schools’ investigations of their connections to the institution of slavery. Brown University set the standard for us all a couple of years back when their slavery and justice committee put out a terrific report on Brown University’s connections to slavery (and to anti-slavery as well) and Brown’s connections to the wider world of slavery in Rhode Island and the world that Rhode Island traded with (the West Indies, Africa, and Europe). Some other schools have followed Brown’s lead.

Since Brown’s report in 2006, the University of Virginia has apologized for its connections to slavery and William and Mary and the University of Maryland have faculty and students who are talking about self-investigations.

Right now, though Harvard’s not going to be following them right now. As I said about William and Mary’s deliberations, the decision of what–if anything–to do is best left to a school’s current students, faculty, and administration. If Harvard students and faculty think this is something that should be pursued, they should pursue it, through their research and advocacy. The rest of us who don’t have to live with these difficult discussions shouldn’t put the onus on Harvard’s administration. And certainly the current students and faculty (and even alums to the extent that they care) shouldn’t expect the administration to carry the burden, either. Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, is one of our country’s leading historians; however, that is different from her role as president.

One thing that I think a self-investigation would remind us is the school’s connections to anti-slavery as well as proslavery thought. Harvard, like Brown, was a major training ground for anti-slavery thinkers. (A point made well in this article from the Crimson last Thursday.) Brown’s president during much of the antebellum period, Francis Wayland, was a leading antislavery advocate. Emerson, Thoreau, William Ellery Channing, Theodore Parker … all Harvard alums. (Of course, Joseph Story, Lemuel Shaw, Timothy Walker … all Harvard alums, too.)

I’ll be talking more about the virtues and problems of these investigations shortly.

Dr. Alfred Brophy is a professor of law. 

Banning Affinity Groups Shows Lack of Understanding


By Dr. Christopher Metzler



An Arizona Legislative Committee has amended a state homeland security bill to state, in relevant part, “A public school in this state, a university under the JURISDICTION of the Arizona board of regents and a community college under the JURISDICTION of a community college DISTRICT in this state shall not allow organizations to operate on the CAMPUS of the school, UNIVERSITY or community college if the organization is based in whole or in part on race-based criteria.“


The amendment, introduced by State Representative Russell K. Pearce, R-Mesa, is clearly aimed at denying public universities funds, unless they prohibit the existence of student affinity groups, such as those frequently organized by Blacks and Latinos on campuses across the country.


In the Ward Connerly tradition, it is an attempt to move to further advance the ideological argument that American college campuses should be color-blind and that the presence of organizations formed by students of color on campuses threaten the myth of color blindness. Rather than attempting to enact draconian laws that prohibit freedom of association, lawmakers should ask why there is still a need for these groups to exist in a “post racial” America.


Let me tell you why.  First, students on university campuses continue to align along racial lines because too many universities, including those in the Ivy League, flagship state universities, as well as other state colleges and universities, promote a specious approach to “diversity,” focusing obsessively on showing that they are “diverse” by touting the number of students of color who have been recruited into their ranks. This over emphasis on numbers, without an equal and incorruptible emphasis on examining how verily welcoming and inclusive these campuses are, exposes the sham of bantam diversity efforts.


 Students of color organize along racial lines in an effort to deal with the fact that while college campuses say that they value racial and ethnic diversity, their policies, practices and behaviors often demonstrate just the opposite.  Many people unleash vitriolic attacks on students of color who form groups based on their racial identity, yet these same people refuse to even acknowledge the continued existence of Whites who form or maintain clubs that are predominantly or exclusively White. (Read dining clubs, secret societies, and lacrosse clubs).


 On most college campuses, the term “self-segregation” only applies when students of color choose to establish associations. The term “normal” is applied to clubs whose membership is predominantly, if not exclusively, White. This dichotomous approach to “self-segregation” is exactly the problem. Self-segregation is itself a political, ideological and racialized term. Thus, this attempt to legislate integration shows a stupendous lack of understanding of the fraud that often masquerades as campus diversity efforts, as well as the reality of the experience of many racial minority students on predominantly White campuses.


Further, for all the attempts to tout demographic gains, in terms of students, faculty and administration, most major college and university campuses are still predominantly White. Thus, students of color often form groups in an attempt to decrease the stark reality of isolation in the halls of academe, which appears to increase fear on the part of the State of Arizona. This attempt to mandate integration by Rep. Pearce is not designed to address issues of isolation, but rather to make Whites on college campuses feel less threatened by outlawing the formation of these groups. His argument seems to be that the state should use its power to compel color blind behavior, as this would serve its interest to create, define and defend White comfort by characterizing the presence of groups organized by students of color as a crisis of declining “American values.” 


Finally, Arizona State Rep. John Kavanagh, a member of the Appropriations, Committee, said he hopes the measure helps return cultural studies in the state’s schools to a “melting pot” model. He summarizes the amendment thus:  “This bill basically says, ‘You’re here. Adopt American values.’” Of which American value does he speak? I’ll tell you.  It is the one that built a counter-subversive coalition mobilized around the State’s self-appointed authority to decree what and who is American.


Dr. Christopher Metzler is Associate Dean in the Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies.


From Today’s Edition

PBIs Make Gains in Washington
by Charles Dervarics
Apr 28, 2008, 20:31

After years of lobbying for more federal aid and visibility, predominantly Black colleges and universities   many of them located in northern cities are gaining a greater foothold in Washington.


These colleges, which enroll large numbers of Black students but are not historically Black institutions, will divide $15 million over two years through a new grant competition expected to be formally open for applications soon. Approved under the College Cost Reduction Act, the competitive grants can provide predominantly Black institutions, or PBIs, with a minimum grant of at least $250,000.


“We’ve got a foot in the door. That’s significant,” says Dr. Edison Jackson, president of Medgar Evers College in New York, who long has argued for aid to PBIs. With a Black enrollment of about 94 percent, Jackson’s college would qualify for the new funds.


Precise eligibility rules for the competition are still pending.


However, according to the Department of Education, eligible applicants would include those colleges and universities with an undergraduate enrollment that is “at least 40 percent Black American students.” As a comparison, institutions with a 25 percent Hispanic student population are designated Hispanic-serving institutions.


Under the program, colleges and universities are to use funds for one of the following:


   Science, technology, engineering or

   mathematics (STEM) activities;

   Health education;

   Internationalization or globalization;

   Teacher preparation; or

   Improving educational outcomes of

    Black males.


On its Web site, the education department says it expects to make about 25 grants of $600,000 each, the maximum amount of funding available under the program. Funding must supplement, not replace, other federal or state dollars.


The grants are expected to last for two years, though Jackson says PBIs are seeking congressional support to extend the program beyond two years.


“We’re still waiting to hear from the department” on the grant competition, says Jill Hunter-Thompson, legislative director for Rep.


Danny Davis, D-Ill., who has sponsored House legislation to assist PBIs.


A senior Department of Education official held a briefing on the grant program at the recent National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) conference in Washington in March. Application deadline dates should be available soon.


“It’s a tight schedule because the money is available this fiscal year,” says Jackson. The current fiscal year ends Sept. 30, so the government is likely to make grant awards before that date.


Jackson, a board member of NAFEO, says most HBCUs support these initiatives for PBIs.


  “Now that [aid to PBIs] is in a separate category, it’s not seen as competing with the HBCU program,” he tells Diverse. “Most HBCUs are comfortable” with the new PBI funding, Jackson adds.


Aside from Medgar Evers, other institutions likely to qualify for the new funds include Chicago State University and Sojourner Douglas College in Baltimore. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who has introduced his own Senate legislation to increase PBI funding, has said that about 75 colleges in 17 states could likely apply for funds as eligible PBIs.


In Illinois alone, other likely eligible institutions include Robert Morris College, several campuses of the City Colleges of Chicago, South Suburban College and East-West University.


In his own legislation, Obama has used eligibility requirements for colleges such as 40 percent Black undergraduate enrollment, a minimum of at least 1,000 undergraduate students, an undergraduate population with at least 50 percent low-income or first-generation college students, and a student population in which at least half of all undergraduates are in a program leading to an associate or bachelor’s degree.


PBIs could also gain through reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which is now the focus of House/Senate negotiators after both chambers approved different bills. Both chambers have provisions to aid PBIs.


The recently approved House bill defines PBIs in ways largely similar to the Obama approach, defining eligibility based on minimum percentages of Black, low-income and first-generation college students.


But the House bill would authorize $75 million for the program in 2009.


Among other provisions, it would allow PBIs to use federal funds to serve low- and middle-income Black students, promote college preparation and persistence for students in high school and college and improve teacher education.

Colleges could use up to 20 percent of grants to create or increase their endowments.


Under the House bill, PBIs would receive funds through an allotment based partly on enrollment of Pell Grant-eligible students and graduation rates for the college.


While some issues remain unresolved, Jackson says the tide is moving in the right direction. “We’re very pleased that we are in the ballpark,” he says.

From Today’s Edition

Asian Americans Largely Ignored by Presidential Candidates, Political Scientists Say 

by Lydia Lum
Apr 23, 2008, 23:23

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Despite feverish efforts by presidential candidates to grab voters’ attention, they, along with public opinion polls and mainstream news coverage, have largely ignored Asian Americans so far, several political scientists say.


“It’s kind of annoying,” says Dr. Andrew Aoki, associate professor of political science at Augsburg College. “It gives Asian Americans a feeling of being overlooked.”


It’s possible the candidates will improve their outreach as the November’s election nears, but Aoki and other scholars aren’t sure whether it would be noticed much.


“You rarely see an acknowledgement of Asians in national campaigns,” says Dr. Natalie Masuoka, an assistant professor of political science at Tufts University.


Multiple, complex reasons have resulted in the near-invisibility of Asian Americans in the campaign, these scholars say.


Nationally, Asian Americans compose about 4 percent of the population. While they are most numerous in states such as Hawaii and California, their ranks are rapidly growing in Nevada, Oregon, Minnesota, New Jersey and elsewhere. Yet this growth across many states, rather than just one or two, leads to perceptions that they don’t form enough of a voting bloc in each state to justify a candidate’s time.


After all, a presidential election is based on winning the majority of votes in each state, not necessarily the popular vote nationally.


Furthermore, it’s tough to convince candidates that Asians will even bother to cast ballots when considering their turnout during the 2004 election, says Dr. Karthick Ramakrishnan, assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Riverside. He cites the Current Population Survey, which shows that only 55 percent of Asian Americans voted in that election, versus 72 percent of Blacks and 74 percent of Whites. Among Hispanics, only 55 percent voted in 2004, but Hispanics outnumber Asians in the general population by more than 3-to-1, so politicians have a bigger pool of potential supporters in them. Ironically, surveys indicate that Asians generally earn higher incomes and reach higher levels of educational attainment than other racial demographics, Ramakrishnan says. These characteristics would typically make them high-propensity voters.


Voter turnout among Asians is low partly because so little campaign outreach targets them, Ramakrishnan says, describing it as an example of the proverbial chicken-egg syndrome.


Language diversity remains a challenge too. Unlike U.S. Hispanics who overwhelmingly share Spanish as a commonality, Asian Americans have languages and dialects as different and distinct as Vietnamese, Korean, Tagalog, Mandarin, Gujarati and Urdu — to name only a few.

“Add it together and candidates don’t believe it’s cost-effective to target Asians,” Ramakrishnan says. “Asians don’t have extensive voting histories, so a candidate has no information to start with. And candidates don’t want to risk mobilizing voters who will vote for their opponents.”


Similarly, public opinion polls in election politics rarely include Asian Americans because organizers don’t believe it’s worth the cost of providing so many different language interpreters for so few people being polled, says Aoki. He adds that the methodology of polling also has inherent drawbacks that work against Asian inclusion.


For instance, if a national poll calls for 600 respondents, that would call for 10 to 25 Asians to reflect their share of the general population. However, a sample of less than 30 in such a poll is too little from which to draw reliable conclusions, Aoki says. So Asians would be excluded.


“I understand the methodology problem, but this just adds to the invisibility problem for Asians,” Aoki says.


Ramakrishnan adds: “While there are defensible reasons for these decisions, there’s a larger cost to American democracy. Considering the growth of Asian American communities, it’s problematic for political parties and organizations not to invest in them. Hopefully, community organizations and foundations can play a role in changing that.’


Neither he, Aoki nor Masuoka were aware Norman Mineta, a cabinet secretary under President Bill Clinton, is endorsing Barack Obama rather than Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination until a reporter recently broached the subject. A Japanese American, Mineta also was a U.S. representative for 20 years. The airport in San Jose, Calif., has been re-named for him.


The three scholars criticized the mainstream news media for their relatively scant publicity of Mineta’s endorsement, especially when compared to the widespread coverage of Bill Richardson’s endorsement of Obama over Clinton. A Mexican American, Richardson was a cabinet secretary under Bill Clinton and currently is governor of New Mexico.


The trickle of coverage involving Asian Americans this election season so far, Ramakrishnan says, has been reporters doing occasional man-on-the-street interviews in local Chinatowns about voter choices. “It reinforces false stereotypes that all Chinese, all Asians, live in Chinatown,” he says.


Masuoka has noticed more mentions of and references to Asian Americans in speeches by Obama as well as Clinton since the February “Super Tuesday” primaries in which Clinton not only defeated Obama in California, but also claimed Asian American votes in that state by a 3-to-1 margin.


“That was a positive turn that did a lot for Asian American politics,” says Masuoka, who’s currently a visiting assistant professor at Duke University’s Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Gender in Social Sciences. “Based on how both candidates reacted, they clearly saw how Asians can make a difference.”


Aoki finds impressive the microtargeting and other strategies of Asian American political activists to try boosting voter turnout this fall. “They’re sophisticated strategies that political campaigns and parties understand,” he says. “Now, the parties need to do their part to bring out Asians.”


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