University of Texas Again Faces a Lawsuit Over Race-Sensitive Admissions

Abigail Noel Fisher, a white high school senior, has filed a federal lawsuit claiming she was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin due to a race-sensitive admissions plan that does not conform to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 Grutter ruling that upheld the use of race in admissions decision at the University of Michigan School of Law.

The Grutter ruling stated that public universities should exhaust race-neutral alternatives to achieve diversity before resorting to considerations of race. The current lawsuit notes that the Texas 10 percent plan, which automatically guarantees students who rank in the top 10 percent of their high school class a place at the state university of their choice, has been successful in achieving an adequate level of racial diversity. The suit notes that the percentage of black and Hispanic students at the university under the 10 percent plan is now higher than was the case in 1996 when race-sensitive admissions were banned as a result of the Hopwood decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Today, 81 percent of all places at the University of Austin go to students who finished in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Therefore, 19 percent of the spots in the entering class are decided by admissions officials who are permitted to use race as a consideration when making these decisions.

The plaintiffs in this new lawsuit contend that race-neutral measures have been successful in increasing diversity. Therefore, they argue, the continued use of race-sensitive admissions is no longer justified.


Johns Hopkins University Allocates $5 Million to Advance Faculty Diversity

According to the latest JBHE survey, blacks make up about 4 percent of all faculty members at Johns Hopkins University. To increase the number of blacks, women, and other minorities in teaching positions, the university administration is allocating $5 million over the next five years to increase faculty diversity.

The so-called Mosaic Initiative will provide up to $1 million per year in matching funds to academic departments to use in hiring or retaining minority or women faculty members. Departments may request up to $250,000 to be used over a three-year period to hire or retain a faculty member whose presence on campus will increase diversity.


Black Studies Major Proposed at Southern Illinois University

The black studies program at the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale has been in existence for nearly 40 years. Now Joseph A. Brown, a Catholic priest who is the director of the black studies effort, is seeking departmental status and the institution of a black studies major at the university. Brown has suggested that due to the program’s international focus, the major should be renamed Africana studies.

Father Brown is a graduate of Saint Louis University. He holds a master’s degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University, a second master’s degree from Yale University in Afro-American studies, and a Ph.D. from Yale in American studies. Before coming to Carbondale, he taught at Creighton University, Xavier University of Louisiana, and the University of Virginia.


Report Finds Shockingly Low Graduation Rates in Predominantly Black Inner-City Schools

Clearly, the first major hurdle to gaining a college education for young African Americans is the earning of a high school diploma. But it appears that just over half of black students who enter high school go on to graduate.

A new report issued by America’s Promise Alliance, the educational organization founded by Colin Powell, has found that high school graduation rates in the nation’s largest cities have dropped to dangerously new lows. Many of these inner-city high schools are predominantly black.

The report finds that, nationwide, about 70 percent of students of all races who start ninth grade go on to earn their diploma. For whites and Asians, the high school graduation rate is near 80 percent, but for black students, the graduation rate is only 53.4 percent.

The situation is particularly critical in many of the nation’s predominantly black inner cities. Among the 50 cities examined in the report, Detroit has the lowest high school graduation rate at 25 percent. In Indianapolis, Cleveland, and Baltimore, the graduation rate is below 35 percent. In the largely black inner-city schools in Dallas, New York, Oakland, Kansas City, Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia, the high school graduation rate is below 50 percent.


Economist Who Is Black Named President of TIAA-CREF

Roger W. Ferguson Jr., former vice chair of the Federal Reserve Board, was named president and CEO of TIAA-CREF, the retirement fund for 3.4 million academic and research scientists. The fund has more than $435 billion in assets.

Prior to this appointment, Dr. Ferguson was chair of Swiss Re America Holding Corporation. He joined the Federal Reserve Board in 1997 and was named vice chair in 1999. Ferguson is widely credited as being the guiding force that calmed financial markets and institutions in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

Ferguson is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He also holds a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard and currently sits on the university’s board of overseers.


Historically Black University Opens Office of Diversity

The nation’s highest-ranked colleges and universities all have established programs to increase racial and ethnic diversity on campus. Some of these efforts are tokens designed to deflect criticism of poor performance in this area. But many of these efforts are well funded and go to great lengths to achieve their stated goals.

Now, in a surprise to many readers, the administration at Fort Valley State University, a historically black educational institution in Georgia, has established an Office of Diversity and International Affairs. At the present time about 95 percent of the student body at the university is African American.

The goal of the new office is not only to recruit students of other races and ethnic groups but to increase foreign enrollments and to seek out nontraditional students, such as working mothers and seniors.


At Emory University, Blacks Make Up Smaller Percentage of Admitted Students Than a Year Ago

This year Emory University in Atlanta, like many of its peer institutions, had its largest applicant pool in history. The university admitted 25.8 percent of its 17,448 applicants.

This year 521 blacks were admitted to Emory. They made up 11.6 percent of all accepted students at Emory.

In 2007, 519 black students were accepted at Emory. They were 12.4 percent of the students admitted to the university. In 2007, only 23.3 percent of the black students admitted to the university decided to enroll.


Saint Mary’s College of California Warned to Improve Race Relations or Risk Sanctions by Accrediting Body

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges sent a letter to the president at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, California, which stated that the association was concerned about “racism and discrimination” on campus. The accrediting agency threatened to sanction the college if it failed to address “the increasing and sustained lack of civility on campus.” The letter went on to say, “There is evidence that a significant proportion of the Saint Mary’s community does not feel respected and has been subjected to behaviors that are unacceptable.” No specific allegations were mentioned in the letter.

Blacks make up 7 percent of the 2,800 undergraduate students at the college.



• Beverly Washington Jones, provost and vice president for academic affairs at North Carolina Central University, was named president of the Association of Chief Academic Officers of the Southern States.

• Richard D. Parsons, former CEO of Time Warner, was appointed to the Gwendolyn S. and Colbert I. King Endowed Chair in Public Policy at Howard University. Parsons will hold the chair through the 2008-09 academic year.

• Olufemi Vaughan was named professor of Africana studies and professor of history at Bowdoin College. He was a professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook where he also served as associate provost and associate dean in the graduate school.

• Dorothy Mosby was promoted to associate professor of Spanish and granted tenure at Mount Holyoke College. Dr. Mosby teaches courses on Afro-Hispanic literature.

• John Frank Green was named president/dean of Turner Theological Seminary at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia. He has been serving as the pastor of the Bethel AME Church in Tallahassee, Florida.



The Virginia State University Foundation received a $1.5 million grant from the Cameron Foundation to establish a Cultural Arts Museum in the Old Towne section of Petersburg. The historically black university will work with the Petersburg Area Art League on the project.



Proposal to Give Honorary Degrees to Freedom Riders Expelled From Tennessee State University Voted Down by Board of Regents

A proposal offered by Congressman John Lewis and other civil rights leaders called for Tennessee State University to award honorary degrees to 13 students who were expelled from the university for participating in the 1961 Freedom Rides. The expulsions were ordered by then Tennessee Governor Buford Ellington.

But by a vote of 7 to 5, the Tennessee Board of Regents rejected the proposal. Board members said there was nothing racial about the rejection of the proposal. University rules simply prohibit the granting of more than two honorary degrees per campus per year.

In a letter to current Tennessee Governor Phil Breeden, Congressman Lewis asked that an exception be made in this instance. “It took nothing short of raw courage,” Lewis wrote, “to stand up to the governor, mounted police, tear gas, fire hoses, attack dogs, and yes, even their colleges and universities.”


“The University of Texas at Austin failed to consider and take advantage of alternative race-neutral means of achieving diversity prior to implementing their racially discriminatory policies.”

Edward Blum of the Project on Fair Representation, announcing the filing of a lawsuit against the race-sensitive admissions program at the University of Texas, April 7, 2008 (See story avoe.)


Analysis Finds That Historically Black Universities Still Come Up Short in State Funding

A new report by Dr. James T. Minor, an assistant professor of higher education at Michigan State University, finds that black colleges and universities continue to face funding shortfalls from state governments and government research agencies.

Professor Minor’s study, made possible by a grant from the Lumina Foundation, analyzed funding patterns in four states: Mississippi, North Carolina, Alabama, and Louisiana. He found that predominantly white universities received a disproportionate level of funding compared to historically black institutions. For example, in North Carolina, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University, two predominantly white institutions, received more appropriations from the state than all five historically black universities combined.

It is true that the two predominantly white universities are considerably larger than the black schools. But Dr. Minor’s analysis of per-student appropriations finds that Chapel Hill and North Carolina State receive about $15,700 per student each year whereas the historically black universities receive about $7,800 per student.

Dr. Minor’s data showed similar discrepancies in the three other states examined.

He also found that black colleges and universities received only tidbits in research funds from the National Science Foundation and other federal organizations. In fact, there are six predominantly white universities that receive more research grants than 79 historically black universities combined.

The report, Contemporary HBCUs: Considering Institutional Capacity and State Priorities, can be downloaded by clicking here.


Historically Black Virginia State University to Offer Its First Ph.D. Program

This fall Virginia State University, the historically black educational institution in Ettrick, Virginia, will launch its first Ph.D. program. The university will offer a doctoral program in health psychology.

Two different tracks will be offered. The first will be clinical and will prepare students to become licensed psychologists. The second track will be geared toward developing research scientists and college faculty. The university hopes to enroll eight students in the program this fall and plans to expand to 24 students.

The new Ph.D. program will be under the direction of Oliver W. Hill Jr., chair of the university psychology department. Dr. Hill is a graduate of Howard University and holds a master’s degree and Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Michigan.

Previously, the only doctoral-level degrees awarded by the university were in the field of education.


New Partnership Seeks to Enhance Educational Opportunities for Black Chemists

The University of Maryland has entered into a partnership agreement with the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE) in an effort to increase the number of black students in graduate programs in chemistry at the educational institution. The university presented the NOBCChE with a check for $15,000 to enhance the organization’s efforts to nurture young black scientists.


16.9%  Black percentage of all public school students in the United States.

27.9%  Black percentage of all students in the 100 largest school districts in the United States.

source: U.S. Department of Education


In Memoriam

William L. Smith (1930-2008)

William L. Smith, the last commissioner of the U.S. Office of Education before it became a cabinet department in 1980, has died from cardiovascular disease at a hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland. He was 79 years old.

Smith was a native of Boston. He was a 1949 graduate of Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, where he played in the school band. Serving in the Army during the Korean War, he earned a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. He held a master’s degree in education from the University of Massachusetts at Boston and a doctorate from Case Western Reserve University.

In 1970 Smith began a 37-year career with the federal government serving in a wide variety of positions. In 2005 he was appointed director of the Center for Rural Education. He retired the next year.

David Thomas Shannon Sr. (1933-2008)

David Thomas Shannon Sr., former president of Virginia Union University and Allen University, died late last month at a hospital in Atlanta. He was 74 years old.

Shannon was a native of Richmond, Virginia. He became a licensed preacher at the age of 16. He was a graduate of Virginia Union University and earned a master’s degree at the Oberlin Graduate School of Theology. He held two doctorates, one from Vanderbilt University and the other from the University of Pittsburgh.

In 1960 Dr. Shannon was named pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Richmond. In 1979 he was named president of Virginia Union University. He later served as vice president for academic affairs at the Interdenominational Theological Seminary in Atlanta. From 1994 to his retirement in 1997 Dr. Shannon was president of Allen University in South Carolina.

W. Avon Drake (1946-2008)

W. Avon Drake, until recently a professor of political science and African-American studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, died at his home in Trent Woods, North Carolina. He was 61 years old. He served on the Virginia Commonwealth faculty for nearly 20 years before his retirement in 2007.

A native of Hickman Hill, North Carolina, Professor Drake was a graduate of North Carolina A&T State University. He held a master’s degree in African-American studies and a Ph.D. in government from Cornell University.

Prior to joining the faculty at Virginia Commonwealth, Dr. Drake taught at the State University of New York, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and the University of California at Santa Barbara. He was coauthor of the 1996 book Affirmative Action and the Stalled Quest for Black Progress.



• James M. Rosser, president of California State University at Los Angeles, received the Frank W. Hale Jr. Diversity Leadership Award from the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education.

Dr. Rosser has served as president of the university for nearly 30 years. He holds bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from Southern Illinois University.

• Gloria Ladson-Billings, Kellner Family Professor in Urban Education in the department of curriculum and instruction, received the 2008 Hilldale Award recognizing excellence in teaching at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Professor Ladson-Billings has been on the University of Wisconsin faculty since 1991. She is a graduate of Morgan State University and holds a master’s degree from the University of Washington and a doctorate from Stanford University.

• Dereje Agonafer, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington, received the Thermomechanical Challenges in Electronic Packaging Award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers’ Components, Packaging and Manufacturing Technology Society.

A native of Ethiopia, Dr. Agonafer holds a bachelor’s of science from the University of Colorado and a master’s, and Ph.D. in engineering from Howard University.

• Aundreta Connor, a senior majoring in philosophy and religion, was named a Fulbright Scholar for study in Turkey. She is the first student from Claflin University, the historically black educational institution in Orangeburg, South Carolina, to win a Fulbright scholarship.

Copyright © 2008. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. All rights reserved.