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The Flawed Logic of Anti-affirmative Action Bake Sales

By Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

metzlerThe Affirmative Action Bake Sale is used by conservative groups on college campuses to further polarize college campuses along racial lines using affirmative action as a hammer. Writing for Fox News, Wendy McElroy said, “Through Affirmative Action Bake Sales, conservative groups on campuses across America are satirically and peacefully spotlighting the injustice of AA programs that penalize or benefit students based solely on gender and race.” Seeking to dramatize the “ills” of affirmative action, the groups charge different prices for baked goods based entirely on race. For example, White and Asian males may be charged $1 for a muffin while Black and Hispanic males might be charged 25 cents.

Recently Bucknell University students held such a bake sale that was shut down by the university. Citing the First Amendment, Bucknell students claimed that their free speech rights were violated. Of course, they conveniently forgot that as students at a private university, the First Amendment simply does not apply. But, the issue goes beyond the technical question of the First Amendment and whether it applies to a private university. Instead, the issue is that students such as those at Bucknell, who put on the bake sale, continue to propagate the myth that only White and Asian males are qualified to be admitted to university study.

First, far too many admissions committees make decisions to admit or deny students based strictly on quantitative factors such as test scores and “standardized” tests. The reality is that in our capitalist society, the more money one has, the more money one can spend on commercial test preparation services. Let us not forget that while the income disparity between Blacks and Whites has changed some, they are not even. Thus, more Whites than Blacks are able to purchase commercial test preparation services, increasing their quantitatives and admissions to colleges and universities.

Second, the Bucknell students chose to ignore completely affirmative action for White men, which is a staple of the admissions process of many colleges and universities. Of course, given that the right wing has so racialized the term affirmative action, they dare not apply it to White men. Instead, it is admission by legacy. Legacy admissions means that colleges and universities reserve places in the class for the children of alumni who have given significant sums of money. The reality is that those admits tend to be overwhelmingly White and overwhelmingly male. In these cases, the only quantitatives that matter are the dollar value of the contribution. Often these legacy admits are outside the regular admissions process and admissions committees are blissfully unaware of them. So, why don’t the Affirmative Action Bake Sales offer a discount for legacy admits?

Third, affirmative action continues to be a divisive issue on college campuses in large part because of the elitism that affects too many universities. Students on far too many college campuses have accepted the notion that Black and Brown students who have been admitted to colleges and universities are academically inferior and could not have been admitted to the exclusive halls of academe but for naked racial preferences. Students sponsoring the Affirmative Action Bake Sale are operating from a superiority complex. The logic of that complex is that they (the predominantly White students) have been admitted strictly on merit and that the Black and Brown students were not. The Affirmative Action Bake Sale is the method by which they seek to further marginalize the Black and Brown students on their campuses. The Black and Brown students are then forced to prove that they belong by denying that affirmative action had anything to do with their admission. Of course, by virtue of the way the conversation is framed, legacy admits have nothing to prove as they are the silent elite.

Fourth, the students who have these bake sales engage in racial profiling. By choosing to offer the discount to Blacks and Hispanics, they are further advancing the stereotypes of Asians as the “model minority,” whose intellectual capabilities are on par with Whites. The assumption being that students are intelligent and thus worthy of admissions based on how close they are to a “white norm” of intelligence.

Fifth, I disagree with the Affirmative Action Bake Sale because I think that such events are ahistorical, race-baiting and political pandering of the most vitriolic kind. Moreover, students who will be our future leaders should be able to engage in serious debate without relying on divisive and trite tactics that are designed to belittle rather than engage those with whom they disagree. This is a valuable skill that they need when entering the real world. Name-calling and identity politics is in large part responsible for the racial divide that still permeates America. The students in this case are choosing to repeat these tactics. However, I do not agree that the students should be silenced in the free market place of ideas.

Finally, I am also deeply disturbed by the way the Bucknell administration chose to shut down the bake sale. Here, the school had the opportunity to mount a spirited defense of affirmative action if it assumes that affirmative action has merit. It squandered that opportunity. Wayne Bromfield, Bucknell’s general counsel wrote that students did not have the required prior permission to hand out the handbills at the cafeteria entrance.  According to Bromfield, permission is required to prevent cross-scheduling and allow management to prepare for “possible reactions” to the events, “including for the safety of those involved.”

In an academic environment, we should never send the message that academic freedom is only free when we agree with the content of the message.

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is the author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a ‘post-racial’ America and an associate dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.

Diversity at Historically Black Colleges and Universities

MBPortraitClose2By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

Why is it that people assume that Historically White Institutions are diverse, yet in the same breath assume that Historically Black Institutions are not?  And, when I say people — I mean all kinds of people — of various racial and ethnic backgrounds.  If you take a look at the nation’s Historically White Institutions (HWIs), you’ll find that most are not that diverse unless they are located in urban areas.  These institutions, although legally no longer segregated, are far from integrated — especially the more elite, selective institutions.  If you look at the faculty of HWIs, it is not heavily integrated.  Most tenured faculty members are still White and male. 

However, if you look closely at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), you’ll find student bodies that boast considerable diversity — especially if you examine the public HBCUs.  According to statistics gathered by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, for example, 8 percent of public HBCU student enrollment is White, 2 percent is Latino and 1 percent is Asian.  Of note, over the past 30 years, Latinos have increased their presence at HBCUs by 124 percent.  Moreover, the faculty at HBCUs, both public and private institutions, has always been diverse.  HBCUs have opened their doors to the best faculty regardless of racial or ethnic background and continue to do so.  Among HBCUs, Blacks (including Africans and Caribbeans as well as African Americans) make up roughly 60 percent of the faculty, with Whites accounting for 30 percent and Latinos and Asians the remaining 10 percent.  It would be very hard to find this kind of diversity at most HWIs.

Yet, time and time again, HBCUs are looked upon as “segregated” environments that don’t represent the “real world”.  If you have been studying the projected Census data, you know that HBCUs now represent the very real world of the future.  By 2020, the percentage of people of color in our country will be 40 percent and by 2040 the percentage will increase to 50 percent.  HBCUs are preparing students for a very realistic world.

In order to counter misconceptions, HBCU leaders must promote the diversity on their campuses.  This is ever more important given falling enrollments at some HBCUs.  Many students of various racial and ethnic backgrounds could benefit from the nurturing, yet challenging environments at HBCUs as well as the lower tuition. 

Some worry that becoming more diverse will dilute the “HBCUness” of HBCUs — true,  but I doubt that diluting will take place to any great extent.  Culture runs deep and traditions can be maintained with effort.  Just look at the nation’s Historically White Institutions — many have “integrated” but continue to, unfortunately, hold fast to only the culture on which they were founded.  I have a feeling that HBCUs can maintain diversity — thrive from it — and still be the centers of African American culture that they have been for decades.

A Litmus Test for Commencement Speakers?

By Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

metzlerEvery President since President Eisenhower has been invited to speak at Notre Dame’s commencements. So, why has President Obama’s invitation created such a row? It depends on who you ask.

First, many of those who oppose his invitation do so ostensibly based on Catholic social teaching and a doctrinal dedication to Catholicism.  That is, they claim that one who supports abortion rights and stem cell research and thus oppose Catholic teaching should not be honored with an invitation to speak at commencement or with an honorary degree. As a practicing Catholic I say fair enough. I would assume then that any President who opposed any tenant of Catholic teaching would not be granted this honor. My assumption is incorrect and thus the argument is flawed.

To be sure, the Obama commencement controversy is not the first. One wonders though why the amount of vitriol did not reach a fermented brouhaha when Bush41 was given the honor to deliver the Notre Dame commencement address. After all, Catholic teaching extols  the sanctity of human life without exception and makes no distinction whatsoever.  Yet Bush41 supported the death penalty and thus made the decision that “the sanctity of human life has exceptions.”  Ignoring the life question, he said in his address, “Today’s crisis will have to be addressed by millions of Americans at the personal, individual level for governmental programs to be effective. And the federal government, of course, must do everything it can do, but the point is, government alone is simply not enough.” So perhaps the vitriol depends on the political content of the speech as well as the political leanings of the protesters.

Bush 43 faced protest because of his stances on, among other things, labor and the death penalty. He said in his speech, “This University is more than a community of scholars, it is a community of conscience.” Neither Randall Terry nor Alan Keyes was present with gallows in tow.

Second, the analysis and discussion concerning the President’s invitation proves the power of the chattering class to define Obama’s Presidency in “post-racial” discourse. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, unlike all of his predecessors, the President is Black. Thus, if Notre Dame did not extend the invitation; the punditry would have certainly accused Notre Dame of being racist for refusing to extend the invitation.   “Post-racial” discourse is powerful because of its ability to ignore race and elevate “value-based” twaddle.

Third, let’s not forget that the very nature of a university is that it provides a platform for discourse even when all in the university community do not agree with the views of the speaker. Are those in opposition to the invitation suggesting that there should be a litmus test for commencement speakers? Should that litmus test be that no speaker should be invited to speak at commencement unless the speaker is in complete agreement with each and every tenet of espoused values of the University? Commencement then would be relegated to an intellectual merry-andrew buttressed by politically correct indoctrination.

 Moreover, universities would have to engage in a purging of “intellectual and community miscreants” where each and every member of the University community who does not agree with those espoused values are asked to unceremoniously  exit the University. The University then would create a list of those in opposition and then “burn them at the proverbial stake.” To be sure, Notre Dame is both Catholic and a university. Thus, the fundamental question is whether Notre Dame and others like it are Catholic universities or universities that happen to be Catholic. This is not merely an academic question nor is the difference a distinction without a difference.  Perhaps, some doctrinal and dogmatic soul searching may be in order.

The fact is that there is no university community in which all members live the espoused values of the university without deviation. To suggest otherwise is intellectually bankrupt at worst and unrealistic at best.  I am not suggesting that religious universities should not have the freedom to invite those who share our religious values to celebrate commencement. In fact the opposite is true. I am suggesting that religious universities in modern day America live, work and teach in an America that is increasingly secular, political and diverse. I am also suggesting that if we’re honest, we would admit that economics dictate that we cannot survive and thrive in an increasingly secular America if we do not find a way to interrogate secularity.  So, perhaps, the question is at what cost.

Fourth, the reality is that the Republican Party is in ataxia and they have used this invitation as a way to rally social conservatives. Both Randall Terry and Alan Keyes were arrested as part of the protest against the President’s invitation. My research did not indicate that Terry and Keyes are members of the Notre Dame University community.  Their pushing dolls in carriages despite it comic relief prove this fact. Let’s not forget that Keyes is the proverbial political bridesmaid and self-promoter.

Finally, abortion is a social and political issue that continues to divide modern day America much like slavery did. Thus, while I do not question the religious devotion of anyone involved in this debate, I do question the motives of those who have sought to politicize this invitation while pretending not to do so. The reality is that this invitation is shrouded in religion, politics and policy; I just wish that all sides would admit it rather than adopting the supercilious “holier than thou, post-racial” moniker buttressed by pretentious posturing that prevents serious debate in modern day America.

 

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is Associate Dean at Georgetown University and the author of The Construction and Reticulation of Race in a “post-racial” America.

The Case Against Cultural Standardization in Tenure Decisions

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

metzlerThere has been a cacophony of voices calling for the elimination of tenure in higher education. Many of those voices are ultra conservative ideologues who are using the tenure debate to excoriate what they see as a liberal-leaning academy. There is a more vexing question that is conveniently absent from the tenure reform debate. That question is the role that race plays in the decision of tenure committees in denying tenure to Black scholars. I am not suggesting that all decisions to deny tenure to Blacks is racist. I am suggesting that the committees making the decision to deny, the departments that support the decisions, the deans, provosts and presidents who uphold denial must ask themselves whether they have homogenized the tenure process, already structured around amorphous standards of scholarship and service, such that it is more likely than not that Black scholars and our scholarship will forever be relegated to the intellectual margins.

My concern is that those denying tenure are more concerned about whether their decisions are legally defensible than whether the decisions are just. That is, how many of the people who make the decisions to deny, acknowledge and act upon the structural and racial biases built into the promotion and tenure systems of most universities? Some would argue that there is no need to do so as the issue of denial is about quality and not about race. But, if this is the case are these committees suggesting that Blacks on tenure track were hired as quality scholars and then after years of teaching, researching and providing service magically become mediocre? Perhaps if they were being honest, they would say that in far too many cases, faculties hire Blacks on tenure track because of pressures — real or perceived — stemming from the underrepresentation of Blacks on the faculties of predominantly White universities, including some of the most liberal ones. In some cases, so-called diversity programs, which grant additional funding to departments to hire (not promote) more Blacks, result in an erosion of the faculty sourcing strategy therefore resulting in denial of tenure and thus termination. Do universities that employ this parochial and patronizing approach to diversifying faculties really believe that this is just? To be sure, the deliberately vague terms of “scholarship” and “quality” affects Whites who are denied tenure as well, it simply affects Blacks differently and worse.

The nature of teaching and learning in colleges and universities continues to change as the student body, and indeed the society, becomes more multicultural and multiracial. The promotion and tenure process at most colleges and universities is a bastion of pettiness, cultural antagonism and ethnocentric backslapping. The ideology and the discourse of tenure approval must become one that praises public intellectuals in all media (including new media), not one that promotes cultural disrespect for the scholarship of Black scholars thus justifying and rewarding the continuation of a community of scholars so stepped in intellectual snobbery and caste warfare that even the mention of new media and scholarship invites public disdain and mocking. To be sure the denial of tenure to any faculty member is as much a failure of the faculty as it is of the individual faculty member. But it is the faculty member denied tenure that must exit the university unceremoniously, while the members of the search committee who selected them selects another group of new faculty often with the same results. Search committees must take a more active and honest role in hiring faculty members who will ultimately succeed, not fail. This requires that the people on these committees understand and can articulate what scholarship is in a way that is specific, measurable, inclusive and achievable.

Black scholars also bear responsibility for our failure. Some of us see racism where there is none, and others fail to see it until we are denied tenure. Black scholars like all scholars have an obligation to provide quality scholarship. However, given that so much of Black America simply do not participate in the system of education, governance and the academy, we have to use public engagement scholarship to critically analyze and respond to the “Negro problem of 2009 and beyond.” This is not to suggest that all Black scholars become critical race theorists or produce Black scholarship. It is to suggest that whatever our discipline, we apply the framework of that discipline to the engagement of our communities — on campus and off. Further, those of us who accept the diversity scholarships to hire (but not promote) us must ask ourselves whether we are willing participants in our demise and thus intellectual sharecroppers.

Have we become so content with being window dressing in the halls of academe that we will never own our intellectual mindshare but simply rent it out to the academic overseers? Why do we continue to play the game when we know that the deck is stacked against us? Is it because we see no alternative? Why is it that some of us who are on tenure committees judge the scholarship of our Black colleagues in a much harsher light? Why is it that despite having tenure some of us on these committees refuse to challenge the decisions in the context of cultural standardization? It is doubtful that there is critical mass on tenure and promotion committees at colleges and universities who will adopt my thesis because the tenure process is mostly about cultural standardization, and that standardization does not benefit Black scholars. Mark Bauerlein has it correct when he writes, “The very system that academics invoke to fend off critics has become part of the problem. Ideological bias has seeped into the standards of professionalism. Peer review isn’t just the application of scholarly and scientific norms. It’s a system of incentives and rewards, and success depends entirely on what peers say about you. They examine your teaching and scholarship and deliver an inside opinion, and the process is easily corrupted.”

Black scholars and all scholars who are truly committed to justice need to insist that the rules for tenure and promotion resists cultural standardization, become specific, particular and transparent or that tenure be abolished in favor of a system that rewards quality, inclusive scholarship and service. Many institutions including so-called liberal institutions are simply not taking the opportunity to expand the definition of scholarship and quality in a way that is substantively equal. Making the case for tenure in 1940, the American Association of University Professors opined, “College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations.” In 2009, the peer review system at so many of our educational institutions has become infected with rank censorship and a fiefdom controlled by ostensibly liberal “royalty” who use a warped allegiance to the ever-illusive quality as a proxy for race-based decisions.

The oppressed have become the oppressors.

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is Associate Dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies and the author of the book, The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a “post-racial” America.

“Full Measure of Happiness”

By Marybeth Gasman

“The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”

— Barack Obama, 1/20/2009

As I listened to President Barack Obama’s inaugural speech, the above mentioned quote stood out more than anything else. Perhaps, when he said, “to choose our better history,” my historian ears perked up and decided to listen more closely. However, Obama had me at “all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.” I have been so happy to hear our new president talk about our obligation to take care of one another — to be our brother’s keeper. For too long, we as a society have been obsessed with taking care of “me” instead of caring about each “we.” The only way that all of us will have a “chance to pursue” our “full measure of happiness” is with the help of others.

How does all of this optimism apply to higher education, you might be asking? Here’s how: So often I see individuals, policies and systems preventing the success of students. In order to follow procedures, we ignore the individual. President Obama’s message reminds me of all the roadblocks that we put up for students, especially students of color, when we could just as easily create pathways to success. How many students have been slowed down, stopped in their tracks or derailed because they don’t fit our narrow definitions of success? Who defines success? How many future Barack Obamas are we failing to encourage and support? Obama admits to not being a strong student during his early years in college; it took him some time to get serious. Where would we be as a country right now if someone hadn’t seen his potential?

I don’t know about you, but I am on the look out for potential and hoping to find it every day! Please take the time and spend the energy taking care of those around you so that they can achieve their “full measure of happiness.”

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).

Go to college or get paid? Mr. Jennings I Ain’t Mad At You!

By Dr. Emmett Gill

Last Tuesday, Arizona University basketball recruit Brandon Jennings decided to make an unprecedented move to forgo playing in college and instead pursue a professional career in Europe next season before likely entering the 2009 NBA draft.

 While David Stern and the National Basketball Association (NBA) are well prepared for the subsequent trend Jennings may incite, universities with big-time basketball programs will soon learn the true value of a big-time student-athlete.  Universities will no longer be privileged to the best athletic talent because an 18-year old could use $500,000 tax-free dollars until he is eligible to play in the NBA. Players must be one year removed from high school before they’re eligible to play in the NBA. Teams, athletic departments, and yes academics may experience some uncomfortable times if top-flight basketball students decide to study abroad in Europe. I have experienced firsthand how athletic success can breath life into a universities and how a lack of athletic success can suck the life out of campus spirit.  When our team gets invited to the big dance or to go bowling the entire campus, even professors, go mad! When the donations from athletic boosters start to slide, marketing deals that carry free cable begins to subside, or enrollment dips, remember Mr. Jennings. 

 As a former student-athlete I still believe an undergraduate degree is like a union card and graduate degree can be an American Express Black card.  Even so, I fully support Jennings’ decision.  Back in the day the notion was that “student-athletes need an education to fall back on just in case…” Just in case can always happen, but if it does it’s unlikely “just in case” will prevent Jennings from pursuing a degree.  Secondly, I believe student-athletes who compete in the big five sports -– football, basketball, women’s basketball, soccer, and baseball — should be paid – period.  We can chat about the logistics later, but it’s feasible, trust me.  You have to pay the workers. As much respect as I have for the NCAA and the efforts they dedicate to student-athlete development, neither the NCAA nor member institutions can ensure kids receive functional degrees.  Until they set aside a trust fund for student-athletes who graduate (an idea proposed by former UNC Tarheel and current TNT analyst Kenny “The Jet” Smith 15 years ago) the Jennings effect is a threat.  You oftentimes hear of basketball coaches who will “hug a thug,” meaning they will get marginal athletes in school or you hear “one and done” (in school for one year – see Michael Beasley and Derrick Rose). Those days may be gone, but is it for the better?

 Mr. Jennings is primed to make more money in one year than a top-flight law school graduate might make in their first three. As much as we might want to mentor student-athletes and expose them to life outside basketball… raise your hand if you would go hoop for $500,000-plus tax-free dollars.  That’s what I thought …not that I would ever trade in the social capital I reap from academia …

I never heard of this kid so I’m unsure of his academic or his athletic prowess.  Still, when Mr. Jennings travels overseas I am sure he will have some field instruction/classes in foreign language, contracts, investment banking, etiquette, social history, and of course basketball.  If you think about it Mr. Jennings’ course load might mirror a freshman at the Wharton School of Business… and Mr. Jennings is getting PAID.

Dr. Gill is an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at Rutgers University.