By Dr. Marybeth Gasman
Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) are recognized in many circles for their ability to nurture and empower students of color. Because of their faculty’s strong dedication to teaching and mentoring, they are particularly good at sending students to graduate school. However, at times, our nation’s MSIs do not have the fiscal resources to offer comparable research or programmatic opportunities to their students and faculty. One way to augment this lack of resources at MSIs is to partner with majority institutions.
One of the oldest MSI/majority partnerships is that between Tougaloo College and Brown University. This partnership began in 1964 during the heart of the civil rights movement and consists of faculty and student exchanges and collaborative research initiatives. One of the reasons that this program has been so successful is that there is administrative level engagement on the part of both institutions. There are advisory boards and joint committees on the campuses that oversee the activities of the partnership. In addition, the advisory boards revisit the goals of the partnership each year to make sure that each institution is benefiting equally. Since the partnership began, over 500 people have participated in it, leading to increased research, new ideas and a respect for diverse perspectives.
An innovative and timely partnership exists between University of Texas at El Paso and the University of Texas at Austin. The partnership manifests in the Center for Inter-American and Border Studies. The center is a major player in research pertaining to the U.S.-Mexican border. The partnership ensures student research opportunities, seminar series held on both campuses, and the creation and distribution of joint publication on border issues. Interestingly, the partnership also includes universities in Mexico, offering faculty and students the opportunity to benefit from engagement and exposure to many university types and providing increased credibility to the research being conducted by the center.
The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Dine College established a partnership in 2007 that focuses on using indigenous knowledge for policy development within the Navajo Nation and provides opportunities for faculty and student exchanges. The program specifically uses Navajo thinking, values and principles to solve policy related issues facing the Navajo people. The solutions are then implemented into law in the Navajo Nation government.
So, why do these MSI/majority institution partnerships work? First, benefits accrue to both sides of the partnership. This is critically important. Second, there is administrative ownership of the partnership on the part of both or all institutions involved. This ownership ensures that the partnership is valued. Third, there is frequent evaluation and review of the partnerships. As a result, the institutions benefit from new ideas and the partnerships remain vibrant. Fourth, each partner has a respect for the cultural differences between or among the institutions involved in the partnership. Likewise, the partnerships play on the strengths of the institutional types. And lastly, the partnerships have a practical application that allows participants to continuously see results.
An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions (SUNY Press, 2008).