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Reviewing the Goals of The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education

Providing racial statistics, on an institution-by-institution basis, appears to have considerable competitive force in persuading American colleges and universities to more fully integrate their campuses.

In employment matters, our country was founded on the theory that the pressures of competition rather than public law were best suited to provide for the fair treatment and evenhanded judgments about the abilities and qualifications of our citizens. In higher education, too, it was believed that fair and unbiased treatment in the admission of students and engaging scholars would be protected, in considerable part, by the rewards and penalties inherent in a system of open competition.

In the most specific terms, the theory was as follows: If, because of some unfavorable class prejudgment or racial stereotype, a college or university consistently rejected qualified students or scholars, the forces of full-blooded competition would soon rush in and put the matter right. This was so because the rejected student or professor would be free to seek and win a position in a second institution where a more rational view of the applicant’s competence and qualifications would prevail. Having made a wiser choice, the second institution would gain in educational prestige and strength by sturdily ignoring group stigmas or stereotypes and engaging the talents of the qualified person even though he or she belonged to an outcast group. The first institution, in turn — if it persisted in its prejudicial ways that called for the rejection of able but outcast people — would gradually lose academic prestige and eventually suffer deterioration in the intellectual standing of both its faculty and student body.

In a classic example of the corrective power of competition in higher education, the anti-Semitism in faculty appointments that once prevailed at Harvard delivered a number of extraordinarily distinguished Jewish scholars into the welcoming arms of MIT.

The philosophers of free markets had a name for this invisible form of regulation. It was called “claw back.” And, so long as “claw back” was properly functioning, it was believed that academic decisions based on class stereotypes or race would provide their own punishment. A system of educational selection of students and faculty on the sole basis of merit and qualifications would be triumphant. Hence, in a nation that cherished individual freedom and competition there would be no need for government intervention to punish institutions that displayed unwarranted prejudgments or bigotry.

But it was clear from the beginning that the forces of free markets as a guardian of the educational and professional aspirations of outcast people would be successful only so long as the market was “unfettered.” By this it was meant that the competing institutions could not be permitted — either through the forces of law, group boycott, or other collusive behavior — to suspend competition’s “claw back” by agreeing not to compete either explicitly or informally, for the qualifications of particular categories of unwanted or outcast groups.

Blacks Never Protected by Competition

But as to African Americans in the United States, the rules calling for racially neutral treatment protected by competition never came to pass. Driven by strong prevailing shared values about the biological and cultural inferiority of the Negro, virtually all institutions of higher learning in the United States adopted a universal rule of racial exclusion. As to opportunities for professors and students alike, the rule essentially was: “No blacks need apply.”

As was their academic duty, the college administrators who controlled admissions to higher education celebrated scholarly ability, they honored academic talent and ambition, and they cherished intelligence and learning in their student applicants — but not in black people. It followed that a highly qualified black student or professor could not punish rejection by a racist institution by going elsewhere because there was no “elsewhere.” As Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois discovered on many occasions, it was most impertinent to even raise the question.

Almost all white institutions of higher education joined what was essentially an unwritten campus boycott against Negroes. With only minor exceptions, even such liberal and prestigious places as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Duke, and the University of Chicago subscribed to the rule of exclusion. After the Civil War, for a period of almost a hundred years, distinguished Negro academics such as Carter G. Woodson, Alain Locke, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ernest E. Just, E. Franklin Frazier, John Hope Franklin, Sterling A. Brown, Charles R. Drew, and Rayford Logan were not acceptable as scholars at most of America’s great institutions of higher learning. There was no black faculty member of Harvard College until the appointment of Ralph Bunche in 1950, 314 years after the founding of the university.

For students, too, race or skin color was a qualification for membership in the intellectual community. Between 1826 and 1910 only 693 blacks were graduated from predominantly white colleges in the United States. Even City College of New York, which had almost no admission requirements and an institutional mission to serve the dispossessed, had educated only two black graduates by 1910. By 1954, African Americans made up only 1 percent of freshmen at predominantly white institutions. This percentage did not increase above 2 percent until the late 1960s. It is true that a few, usually religiously based colleges such as Oberlin, Berea, Bowdoin, Amherst, and Middlebury admitted a few blacks as early as the 1820s, but this occurred only on a token and highly selective basis.

Throughout most of our history all state and federal governments shared the same racial views as society as a whole. This meant that there was no legislative or judicial body — or indeed any rebellious educational institution — that was prepared to break the grip of the barriers that excluded Negro students or faculty. By almost universal understanding, the “claw back” or corrective powers of Adam Smith’s vaunted competitive marketplace were totally suspended. To be sure, there was no Orval Faubus or George Wallace standing at the schoolhouse door, but, because of common agreement, the end result was precisely the same.

For almost a century, the principal exception to the rule of exclusion was the private black colleges and the segregated, state-operated black colleges in the southern states. These institutions, known as HBCUs, were funded — often generously — by whites. But under prevailing racial stereotypes, whites admired blacks for their brawn rather than their brains. In consequence, the level and quality of academic instruction was severely limited. In many cases, though not always, higher education for Negroes was restricted to trade and so-called industrial instruction.

Racial Boycott Suspended

After World War II, the benefits of the G.I. Bill of Rights broadly expanded the demographic pool of college applicants. In the early 1950s black protests, the modern civil rights movement, and the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education focused national attention on racial segregation and inequalities in higher education. The exclusionary rules sustaining a system of educational segregation began to erode as fewer and fewer thoughtful Americans continued to believe the ancient myth that God or nature had ordained Negroes to be intellectually unequal. To most people it now became clear that the codes of racial exclusion violated the most fundamental American principles of equal opportunity. The broad freedoms that this country guaranteed all its citizens now required government to outlaw the traditional rules of race that excluded people with black skin.

But a society which had been racist for 250 years could not readily escape its past. After centuries of exclusion, the damage to the educational aspirations and potential of African Americans could not be magically repaired by antidiscrimination laws that suspended the educational boycott of black people. After a long prevailing system of suppression, black scholars — however gifted — usually lacked the standard background requirements and educational credentials to teach at America’s most selective institutions. Also, college-bound black students — having in most cases attended inferior, segregated, and grossly underfunded schools — rarely had sufficient educational preparation to compete on the same playing field as whites.

In an effort to deal with centuries of educational impoverishment and disadvantage, the liberal forces controlling government in the 1960s and early 1970s countenanced, encouraged, and sometimes enforced policies of so-called affirmative action or reverse discrimination. Today, however, particularly on issues of race, the political pendulum has swung to the right. Whites, and in many cases blacks, are turning away from government solutions to the advancement of African Americans in our colleges and universities. Yet black people, particularly in faculty ranks, continue to have only a modest presence in the nation’s best institutions.

Just as the pressures of government regulation began to ease and the forces of black protest began to wane, the regulatory powers of the free market began to swing into place. Almost everywhere colleges and universities began to recognize that ethnic diversity of faculties and student bodies was good for the educational process. Today, the often maligned forces of political correctness and multiculturalism continue to stigmatize institutions that show racial intolerance or disinterest in the pursuit of racial diversity. Foundation grants to higher education reward increased access for racial minorities. Above all, no college or university wants a reputation for racial intolerance.

As a result, university deans, presidents, and admissions officers today are literally ripping apart the entire nation looking for highly qualified black academics and students. A number of black scholars are entering tenure-track positions and many are climbing to the very top of the academic heap. At long last, the vaunted system of competitive pressure now casts its cool eye on employment, admissions, and other practices of public and private institutions of higher education.

Information and African-American Empowerment

But competition as a regulator of fair treatment is effective only if performance of the competing players is spread out for public view. There are very large differences among the nation’s colleges and universities in their successes in racial integration of faculties and student bodies. For the poor performers there is no competitive incentive to create an embarrassment of laggard status unless the individual statistics showing both successes and shortfalls are widely publicized. For the past 10 years our journal has reported how certain colleges and universities are much more successful than other institutions in attaining a high yield in college acceptances from college-bound students in minority communities. We have also shown that some schools fail to graduate a large percentage of black students while others achieve very high graduation rates for African-American students. Some of our most prestigious universities have a percentage of black faculty as low as 1 percent, while others of equal or better academic standing have faculties that are 7 percent African American. It is clear today that the forces of competition among institutions will not work their corrective powers unless comparative statistics are supplied and widely published.

The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education provides a variety of examples of major institutions that have leapt ahead of their peers in such matters as black scholarship awards, tenure appointments, postgraduate degree awards, administrative hirings, and in conferring other positions of academic power and authority on African Americans. But, once more, not much happens in lagging institutions unless all these gains and shortfalls are widely publicized and known throughout academic circles.

It is sometimes said that college administrators scorn outside accountability and prefer to make decisions at the faculty club. We have found that this is not true. Hundreds of America’s colleges and universities regularly provide us with the statistics we need to develop measures of relative success in the racial integration of higher education. Fortunately, too, we are helped by the fact that Americans on the whole love to keep score — even in higher education.

In culling out and publishing a wide-ranging collection of racial statistics on America’s colleges and universities, we do not in any way see racism lurking under every set of differing figures. Our purpose is simply to show major racial imbalances and leave competitive markets and other nonlegislative forces to operate on the information provided.

Black Students Need Comparative Statistics

We believe there is a further benefit in the statistics we gather and publish. A number of national surveys and handbooks — some good, some flawed — now provide American families and college-bound youngsters with comparative facts and figures about the various schools they might consider. Yet there is almost a total dearth of information on many of the academic and social conditions which particularly concern African-American students. Some institutions provide an educational environment favorable to blacks. Some do not. If, as is the case today, some of our universities countenance fraternity parties that stage mock lynchings by members dressed as the Ku Klux Klan, the hundreds of thousands of college-bound blacks in our country today need to know the names of these institutions. Black families in the United States currently have 928,000 students attending four-year colleges.

Despite the fact that American black families, on average, have only one seventh the wealth of white families, our calculations show that African-American families are spending (exclusive of scholarships and other aid) about $3 billion a year in tuition, room and board, and books. Surely, for this sum they are entitled to have clear and detailed information about which institutions have successfully integrated their campuses and provide a hospitable educational and social environment for black students.

— The Editors

The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education
PO Box 139
Bartonsville, PA 18321
Tel: (570) 871-5329; Fax: (570) 424-2027
E-mail: info@jbhe.com