Addressing a Large Elephant in the Room

Recently, a coalition of black students at UCLA demanded that the state of California use $40 million from an endowment fund for a “comprehensive effort to address the underrepresentation of African-American students, faculty, and staff…”  To wit, they want free housing, mandatory diversity training, campus safe spaces, and other goodies.  At the University of Chicago, “students of color” made a list of 50 demands including the creation of several new departments dedicated to a plethora of minority group studies.

To be certain, the number of black students in college was a dismal 6.5% of all college students in 1965.  By 1988, that number had risen to 15.5% which approximates the black population at large.  Unfortunately, as a Pew poll from 2014 indicates and whose trends continue today, despite increased enrollment by blacks in college, they lag behind their white and Asian counterparts when it comes to graduating with a bachelor’s degree.  The reason is simple: many hail from high schools with low standards that do not adequately prepare these students for the rigor of a college education.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in SAT scores.  Despite what many may say about the “institutional racism” or “cultural bias” in the SAT, it remains one of the greatest predictors of college success.  This is a FACT which many have discovered despite how they interpret the data.  A recent study out of Virginia showed these facts to be true.  For example, students at the University of Virginia had an average verbal/math composite score of 1350 and a graduation rate of 85%.  Conversely, Virginia Commonwealth had a composite average of 1080 and a graduation rate of 32%.

In the math section, the average score one year was 511 (out of 800).  The average for white students was 534 while the average for black students taking the SAT in 2015 was 428.  This does not suggest that blacks, in general, are not as smart as whites when it comes to the SAT.  But, neither does it suggest that the test- especially the math portion- is racially biased.  It does indicate that high schools are, for whatever reason, ill-preparing black students for the rigors of college.

Unfortunately, the results of these objective facts has been twofold: (1) an attack on the test itself and (2) “equalization.”  In 2015, the LA Times reported that blacks get a 230 point advantage in SAT scores by virtue of their skin color while Asians are penalized an average of 50 points.  In other words, colleges do not want too many smart Asian students, but they will take underachieving black students to “even out” the student body.

The problem started in the 1960’s.  Then, blacks attending college- although a small part of the student body- rarely would make “demands” of college administrations.  There may have been incidents of blacks being rejected by fraternities and the like.

As a result of the civil rights movement, a general acceptance of and premium on higher education, and court decrees, colleges began to recruit and accept more blacks.  Unfortunately, colleges found out what the SAT was predicting- they were ill-prepared for college.  Instead of focusing on high schools, colleges in their rush to increase diversity and keep minority students, instituted remedial programs.  College students were now being taught what they should have mastered in high school.  In a few instances (in an effort to attract black faculty to teach African languages), some colleges created Black Studies departments.  However, social justice was not on their agenda and lacking in the syllabus.

Still, despite the growing number of black students on campus, racial demands and protests were scant.  The Berkeley Free Speech Movement, the 1968 Columbia protests and the 1970 Yale strike- all high profile campus protests- were led by whites and all had nothing to do with race.

By the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the college efforts began to shift.  Black enrollment was up across the board as a percentage of the student body, yet graduation rates lagged behind others.  Instead, the focus shifted to making blacks “feel at home” at the college.  The word “diversity” started to creep into the lexicon of college administrators and the focus was on “retention.”  Some managed to actually graduate with a degree after changing their majors to Black Studies, or other majors that ill-prepare one for life outside college unless you intend to become a community organizer, activist, or social justice warrior.  Such a degree may get you a stint on an MSNBC panel, but little more.

In fact, most of today’s activists hail from the height of Black Studies which has been in decline since the 1990’s.  Columbia had ten full-time professors of Black studies; today they have four professors.

Simply, intensified recruitment spurred on by affirmative action in college admissions more-or-less codified by the Bakke decision, failed to bring in qualified black students and faculty.  To have an increased black presence on your faculty, those people must first earn a bachelor’s degree and higher.  It just was not happening except in the bogus departments like Black Studies.  Black students in the 1970’s and 1980’s may have been challenged by college math, but to many of today’s students, it is almost a foreign language.

Unable to recruit qualified faculty, the next best thing is to hire administration.  Hence, to retain their job, they create explanations and excuses to explain away academic failure: institutional racism, micro-aggression, and white privilege.  These terms were rarely heard at the height of the civil rights movement.  Furthermore, many whites inculcated in the “diversity is strength” mantra have joined the protests.

These periodic campus upheavals are inevitable.  Frustration with meeting the demands of college boil over and it becomes fashionable to stage a protest, sit-in, or hunger strike then present a list of 50 non-negotiable demands.  They are more common now because social media makes the cost of organizing a protest almost nothing.  Throw in some signs, some chants and a media presence and you have college campuses today.

The demands are silly.  They are either impractical, illegal, or have zero relevance to academic achievement at the college level.  Using that list from the University of Chicago, do they honestly believe they can simply increase the number of black faculty with a wave of a wand?  Increasing the wages of campus food service workers helps the students how?  Other demands are just punitive such as asking for apologies from college presidents for perceived wrongs in the past.

College administrators are loathe to condemn these protests because it costs them nothing.  Unlike a labor protest where profits are on the line, the costs are unseen if the demands are met.  Creating a Black Studies Department, as was demanded at the University of Chicago, could be achieved.  But, it would mean less math or engineering professors.  And everyone suffers for the wants of a few.  Tuition increases, the government (taxpayers) are squeezed for more money, and rich donors extorted for more contributions.  And a bigger bureaucracy necessarily means a bigger budget.

Further, college administrators who cave in are usually applauded for avoiding a potentially violent situation.  A hard-line administrator would be pilloried in the media for being “insensitive” to what are objectively ridiculous demands.

The situation cannot last forever, but it will persist.  There is one encouraging sign and it comes out of the University of Missouri protests that cost several well-qualified people their jobs.  Parents stopped enrolling their kids and looked elsewhere.  As a result, tuition revenue dropped sharply and renters are now offering coupons for student housing.  The silly protests had a ripple effect throughout the local economy.

This is but one possible tactic to deter these nonsensical protests and demands.  Students should organize and demand an Appalachian Studies Department to be populated with hillbilly professors.  Perhaps college administrators could sue protesters for demanding “all black housing” as a form of racial discrimination.  After all, wasn’t the question of segregated schools decided in the 1950’s?

Of course, the greatest cure for the problem is for colleges to recruit and graduate the most qualified students despite the color of their skin.  Despite the disadvantages some black students face in certain inner city high schools, there are shining exceptions who deserve to be in college.  Instead of lowering standards to achieve some racial parity and soothe the consciences of college administrators, or providing remedial courses to people who should not be in college in the first place, re-establishing standards is the first step.

In the abstract, there is nothing the matter with “affirmative action.”  It merely asserts that a college, in this context, make a greater effort to recruit minority students.  It says nothing about accepting them, lowering their standards to do so, providing remedial courses if they do, or awarding bonus points on standardized tests.  If the effort pays off, great; if not, oh well.  Giving into the demands of college protesters will not result in academic achievement or graduation with a meaningful degree.  Fixing the ills at the high school and even elementary levels by providing school choice to those who want to break out of the shackles of a failing public school is another great start.  What can be more racist than keeping a minority student chained to a failing public school?