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The Trouble with Diversifying the Faculty

By Walter Benn Michaels, professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago

The widespread sense that faculties at US colleges and universities need to be more diverse is tied to the sense that the students at US colleges and universities have become more diverse, which indeed they have. In 1971, entering freshmen were overwhelmingly (90.9 percent) white, 7.5 percent were black; Asians and Latino/as, at 0.6 percent, were almost invisible. Today, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s annual survey of freshmen at four-year colleges, 73.1 percent are white, 11 percent are black, 8.9 percent are Asian, and 9.7 percent are Latino. Of course, these numbers don’t amount to complete success: Latinos and Latinas are underrepresented, and blacks are also still slightly underrepresented. Furthermore, if we take numbers from more selective colleges, even the 11 percent for blacks begins to look a little high. Northwestern, for example, is only about 5 percent black; the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is closer to 7 percent (US College Search). So here, blacks are significantly underrepresented.

But they are not underrepresented because they are black. On the contrary: this is what scholars in the field call the “net black advantage”; once baseline economic disparities are discounted, African Americans are more likely to attend four-year colleges than white students are. What this means, as the authors of the study “Racial Inequality and College Attendance” say, is that the idea that “African-American educational disadvantage is rooted in cultural deficiencies and/or resistance to the mainstream educational system” is pretty much nonsense (Charles, Roscigno, and Torres 2007). And, of course, what it also means is that the underrepresentation of African Americans in colleges and universities has nothing to do with those universities keeping out African Americans (or, for that matter, Hispanics and Native Americans). Universities don’t keep out minority students; they keep out poor students.

Continued at: http://cgi.stanford.edu/~dept-ctl/cgi-bin/tomprof/postings.php

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