Revisiting racial diversity
is an excerpt from an opinion piece published in The Daily Progress
on Jan. 18, 2004
By M. Rick Turner,
Dean of the Office of
The University of Virginia,
one of the nation’s premier institutions in research and
in academics, has also become a leader in the retention and graduation
of black students. ... It is no small feat that we ... graduate
87 percent of [black students], a percentage well above the national
average. However, ... [I] have become increasingly concerned about
the declining number of black students applying for undergraduate
admission and subsequently enrolling as first-year students.
In its 2002 summer issue, The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education
[noted that] ... “in recent years, black first-year students
and overall black enrollments [at U.Va.] have dropped significantly.”
... [A] primary factor ... is the diminishing recruitment of black
students. This situation initially resulted from the University’s
concern about the threat of litigation from ... adversaries of
affirmative action. The Supreme Court’s June 2003 decision
upholding affirmative action has effectively alleviated that threat.
... [Therefore], it is important for the University of Virginia
to resume aggressive recruitment ... [of] black students ... [and
to] strengthen [its] ... commitment to ... creating a supportive
and welcoming climate ... [for] African-American students, faculty,
staff and administrators. ...
Clay Carson, a Martin Luther King Jr. scholar at Stanford University,
reminds us that when we discuss ... diversity, the basic question
should be, “Do African-Americans have access to educational
opportunities equal to white Americans?” The answer is clearly
a resounding “NO!” Diversity initiatives do not address
the complexities of inherited disadvantage.
Frank Hale, whom many consider to be the Father of Diversity,
asserts in his new book, “Diversity in Higher Education:
Why It Matters”: “It is an illusion to believe that
diversity in its genuine sense is alive and well in the academy.
... Until sincere efforts are made to encourage campus communities
to make the cause of diversity their own and translate it into
models that work and produce positive results, it is sheer nonsense
to have high-minded expectations.”
We want to be sure that the efforts of the University of Virginia
are sincere and proactive. The Commission on Diversity and Equity,
and the Special Committee on Diversity ... [were created] in part
from the dismal racial climate on Grounds during 2003, when we
witnessed racial assaults ..., biased reporting ..., [and] blackface
incidents. ... If [these] efforts ... are to be taken seriously,
... the University [must] regain its momentum in enrolling black
[undergraduate] students. ... [I]t must also ... make a significant
difference in our black graduate and professional school enrollment.
Deneese L. Jones, in her Nov. 20, 2003, article in Black Issues
in Higher Education, states, “A diverse administrative body
means that issues of access and success for all students can be
addressed from multiple perspectives. Additionally, the impact
of diverse leadership for creating genuine academic communities
can make a critical difference in the way institutions effectively
educate and prepare future faculty and students to occupy their
positions in the larger society.” ...
It is encouraging to see that the Office of the Provost has begun
paying more attention to how deans and department chairs address
the five-year decline in the percentage of black faculty. Holding
administrators accountable for addressing the hiring and retention
of black faculty is an important step forward. We must address
these important issues of diversity by developing creative strategies
and bold leadership that are seriously committed to implementing
As the number-one public institution in higher education, the
University of Virginia must do no less than lead.