Promise and Dilemma: Perspectives on Racial Diversity and Higher Education

Promise and Dilemma: Perspectives on Racial Diversity and Higher Education

by Eugene Y. Lowe (Editor)


Use Express Shipping for guaranteed delivery by December 24 
Qualifying orders placed by 11:59 a.m. ET on Dec. 21 can still be sent to Manhattan, NY addresses. Details

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691004891
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 03/28/1999
Series: The William G. Bowen Series , #32
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Eugene Y. Lowe, Jr., is Associate Provost of Northwestern University.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



Eugene Y. Lowe, Jr.

Celebrating the value of racial and ethnic diversity has become routine in educational circles. The idea is deeply consonant with shaping ideals of the American ethos, the conviction that out of many origins and backgrounds, a new people is formed; out of divergent "manyness," new opportunity is created. A similar-sounding theme is struck about the missions of colleges and universities and about the centrality of the interplay of different viewpoints and experiences—the robust exchange of ideas—in the search for new interpretations of experience. The practice of teaching and research, so the argument goes, is strengthened by the engagement of intellectual and cultural diversity.

    Whether support for the value of diversity is grounded in an interpretation of the national motto, e pluribus unum, or in an appreciation of the purposes and requirements of a learning community, diversity exercises strong appeal socially and intellectually. The fusion of this two-sided appeal reinforces prevailing patterns of belief about the promise of education as a process of transformation and growth. To be sure, while colleges and universities have distinctive purposes in teaching, research, and service, their legitimacy, their capacity to evoke the most durable support from constituencies, derives from their role as agents of change and opportunity for individuals.

    While, then, the value of diversity is consistentlyaffirmed, there is also considerable contemporary evidence of ambivalence and opposition to institutional strategies designed to enhance diversity. In higher education, many such concerns focus on admissions policies in professional and undergraduate education. The point of tension and friction is aggravated under conditions of scarcity when racial preference affects the allocation of a sought-after, but finite good, such as an acceptance to a law or medical school or to a selective undergraduate program. The scarcer the good, the greater the pressure on the allocation mechanism. Under such conditions, the process used to enhance demographic diversity is fundamentally an individual meritocratic evaluation procedure in which individual cases are considered in some systematic fashion. When opportunity is allocated from one individual to another for reasons having to do with factors other than an evaluation of the merits of the applicants, questions do arise. Recent experience in the United States strongly suggests that under such circumstances, appeals about unfairness to individuals that result from institutional commitments to diversity will pit civil rights arguments on behalf of individuals against diversity rationales adopted by institutions. In such situations, the consensus about diversity as a value is challenged. Put another way, when the "price" of diversity is represented in a way that raises questions about fairness, a "crisis" of belief develops about the relationship of means and ends, and the cost and value of diversity.

    Affirmative action is certainly a case in point. When this concept is understood as facilitating diversity by providing opportunity to those who have unfairly been denied opportunity, for example, by providing opportunities for people to gain the skills needed for successful competition, or by insisting on search processes that cast the net more widely in the search for job candidates, support for such action tends to be strong. On the other hand, if, in a particular case, an institution chooses to accept or to hire someone and race becomes a "tipping" factor in the decision, suspicions are aroused and the legitimacy of the decision can become problematic for both the institution and the individual selected. Of course, the degree of suspicion is directly related to how much benefit is accrued to one party, and how great the loss sustained by the other, based on the racial plus factor (see, e.g., Steeh and Krysan 1996). We find ourselves in a difficult quandary, valuing diversity but eschewing preference. It is one manifestation of America's continuing dilemma about race. The tension between these values has been difficult to resolve because of the complex ways in which a historical legacy of inequality continues to be reflected in our experience, particularly in the ways in which we evaluate intellectual competence and merit.

    Originally a federally sanctioned policy to provide access and opportunity for blacks in employment and contracting, affirmative action was extended in the period following 1965 to encompass college and university admissions as well. In this latter area the tensions between American traditions valuing individualism and traditions supporting egalitarianism are most apparent. Affirmative action was conceived to address, and to redress, exclusion experienced by black Americans. The black/ white relationship that shapes American history and sensibility retains an unresolved centrality even as affirmative action efforts have been extended to focus on other groups who have also experienced discrimination. Peter Schrag, former associate editor of the Sacramento Bee, has offered a thoughtful reflection about this permutation and expansion of the meaning of "minority." Affirmative action, he observes, which was "originally designed to remedy the effects of slavery and Jim Crow," has "been broadened to include a host of other minority groups, many of which can make no equivalent claims to a history of discrimination" (Sacramento Bee 14 August 1996). In California, a state that has played a central role in depicting the changing racial composition of the United States, the danger is, as Schrag sees it, that affirmative action is no longer understood in a specific historical context. As such it becomes highly vulnerable to becoming delegitimated in the public mind. While the binary pattern of black and white no longer describes the country's racial demography, the problem of the "color line," as W.E.B. Du Bois predicted nearly a century ago, continues to constrain at the conclusion of the twentieth century, as it did at its beginning, the resolution of America's struggle with racial issues. At the century's end, however, we seemed to have learned to make diversity a value, while remaining divided about the means to achieve it. This underlying ambivalence conditions public and private discourse and experience in important ways.

    Until rather recently, it has not been common to express reservations publicly about affirmative action in elite colleges and universities. Many would undoubtedly identify with the sentiment expressed by a Berkeley faculty member that an "unwritten compact" precluded such discussion (Hollinger 1997). The reasons for this probably included such factors as a deeply shared recognition by members of the academic community about the historical injustices visited on blacks and other minorities, the hope that special measures put into effect to advance minority participation would be temporary, the belief that diversity made educational sense, and, finally, a fear of being branded as racist (a fear rather widely felt among many white college and university administrators).

    It is not easy to assess the impact of this last inhibition. A combination of factors have enabled educators as well as the broader public to diffuse focus on a problem that emerged very early in the affirmative action debate: the measurable performance differentials characterizing members of different ethnic groups who present themselves as candidates in competitive admission processes (Klitgaard 1995). Measured qualifications are, as many have persuasively argued, not the only qualifications that matter, or the only objectives institutions seek to maximize through admissions policies and practices (Fetter 1995). They are, however, understood as important and helpful indicators about the capacity to use the verbal and mathematical languages of the academy, and the prospects for academic success in environments that take for granted a certain level of proficiency in the use of those "languages" as a precondition for such success. The formidable limiting factor here has been the small number of non-Asian minorities whose measured academic qualifications are comparable to the much larger number of Asian-American and white candidates for admission at selective institutions (College Entrance Examination Board 1992). These imbalances in the applicant pools have created a new scarcity, which institutions have worked to address: a shortage of black and Hispanic students who can thrive in elite institutions. The small numbers problem combined with an institutional commitment to diversity has aggravated the unsettled relationship between the value of diversity and the value of individual fairness in meritocratic evaluation procedures.

    The essays in this volume presuppose that a critical examination of empirical data about and experience with diversity is important. First, and perhaps most important, there is a shared concern that racial diversity is a positive development for educational as well as other reasons in higher education; at the same time, those involved in this project also believe that it is time for a more candid discussion than takes place in many venues about the kinds of strategies and institutional programs that have promoted diversity on college and university campuses. The long-term interests of educational institutions and the many kinds of students they help to train are not well served by avoiding critical analysis of strategies that may be well intentioned in their origins, but that serve students and institutions less well than they might. We are, in short, committed to the proposition that we can become wiser teachers and administrators if we take stock of what we have done, learn from our experience, and aim to do better.

    Second, the various contributors recognize that it is important to understand that this progress continues to be affected by the legacy of the past. It takes a long time and careful thought and action to overcome a long history of inequality. To be responsible to the present and the future entails a deep appreciation of the impact of what has come before.

    Third, in ways that are particularly the concern of this introductory essay, the appropriation of change in patterns of access has affected the responsibilities of institutional leaders—presidents and senior administrators—in distinctive ways. This group, in contrast to faculty members and students, has been responsible for mediating and articulating institutional purposes for a number of critical constituencies, including the general public and the courts. As a consequence, public opinion and judicial decisions have had profound and shaping influence on the ways in which colleges and universities have understood and executed their responsibilities in affirmative action and diversity.

    Finally, it should be noted that we emphasize empirical experience and its assessment. In ways that this volume will make clear, equity and excellence are not easy partners to align in institutional policy and practice. We need to recognize this, learn more about the constraints we face, and improve institutional practice, particularly in highly selective colleges and universities.

    Over the last third of the twentieth century, educational institutions have mediated the persisting tensions between individualistically oriented values about fairness and opportunity provision and the shared social values of diversity and pluralism. Debates about diversity have chiefly been debates about who goes to what schools and what and how those schools teach. As mediating institutions in society, schools of all sorts will incorporate tensions on unresolved dilemmas of their communities. Under such circumstances, educational leadership entails important responsibility for mediating, searching for consensus, and navigating through conflicts.

    The group of essays collected here reflect what I have characterized as the promise and dilemma of selective higher education principally in the United States. Both the United States and South Africa—the subject of one essay in this volume—share a historical ideology based on the Biblical idea of the promise. Both have secularized in very different contexts the motif of exodus. In both cases, as indeed in the Biblical story itself, the realization of the "promise" for one group has been profoundly compromised by the cultural subjugation of others. This cultural subjugation—based on race—has had long-lasting political, institutional, and ideological consequences in both situations.

    The dilemma faced by educational institutions is that they are inextricably bound up in the history that roots them, while, at the same time, they seek to transform individuals and serve their host communities. Their dilemma is that "transformation" cannot be sustained unless its value is endorsed by its constituencies.

    Promise and Dilemma represents an assessment of what we have learned about the workings of an influential category of educational institutions involving issues of racial diversity. The introductory essay, comprising Part I, focuses on the mediating responsibilities of institutional leaders during a period of shifting public and judicial norms. In Part II, the focus shifts to fundamental questions having to do with the continued small numbers of high-achieving black and Hispanic students and the ways in which stereotypes continue to constrain the promise of intellectual equality. The implications of the research summarized in Part II for admissions, teaching, and learning in selective higher education are profound. Presently available evidence suggests that an "achievement" gap between whites and Asian-Americans, on the one hand, and blacks and Latinos on the other, will persist for some time to come. What is understood and, just as importantly, what is believed about this will have important consequences in both public policy and in patterns of instruction.

    In Part III, as in Part I, the focus is on a more qualitative, macroscopic analysis of the institutional and cultural dimensions of affirmative action in California and South Africa. Both in California and South Africa, public institutions of higher education find themselves in a crossfire of community expectations. Mamphela Ramphele describes the tension of equity and excellence where pent-up demands of a fully enfranchised black majority for opportunity and inclusion, no longer subjugated by the policy of apartheid, must be balanced in relation to the objectives of a world-class African research university. Like California, the new South Africa has invested heavily in the development of a state-sponsored system of higher education, designed to increase opportunity and to advance research. While Promise and Dilemma is essentially oriented toward the United States, the juxtaposition of California and South Africa provides a useful reminder about the "cross-national" dilemmas associated with overcoming histories of discrimination.

    The incorporation of the promise of diversity in the life of institutions and communities has raised expectations on many fronts that the legacy of a burdened and prejudiced history can be overcome by a new ideology of inclusion and transformation. The dilemma societies with histories of discrimination face is that history has consequences, consequences that persist beyond the discrediting of the ideologies they reflect. However, reckoning responsibly with those consequences requires something more than the promulgation of a different ideology. It requires the development of patterns of institutional action, both administrative and pedagogical, that validate in practice what is professed as ideal.

    In sum, this volume might usefully be viewed as a collection of reflections about the interplay of academic values, educational practice, and community beliefs. The tension between the values of diversity and meritocracy are not new: The ways in which the pressure between them has been concentrated in elite educational institutions are increasingly experienced as a conundrum. Sorting out what we know, what we have learned, and what we can do is a critical responsibility as we prepare for the challenges of a new century. The resolutions of the dilemma must emphasize the development and assessment of more effective practices as we continue to grapple with the underlying ideological and cultural tensions that characterize the discussions about affirmative action.

    Promise and Dilemma provides a "thick description" of the status of racial diversity at this critical juncture. To begin, it is important to describe the historical and policy backdrop that conditions the ways in which we all approach this question.

The Continuing Burden of Race in American Experience

The debate about affirmative action and racial preferences—a "wedge" issue for many pundits—constitutes another painful chapter in a long history. Unlike earlier controversies, the present unsettlement is not about rights, or whether segregation or integration is permissible. The contemporary discussion is focused on fairness, in light of a history of unfairness that has not yet released its grip on the present. What makes this debate difficult to ajudicate is not that Americans fundamentally disagree about the formal terms of equality, or that the heritage of the past regarding racial separation must be repudiated. The points of continuing divisiveness are about how to move forward with responsible cognizance about the impact of the past. More specifically, if the grip of the past continues to aggravate the social injury of racism, how does a society, a community, or an institution sustain procedures of allocation or choice that distribute opportunity fairly? How do communities make progress in the distribution of opportunity if they believe that the grip of the past social injury continues to compromise the capacities of different groups of individuals to demonstrate their qualifications and talents? What is the nature of the interest that a community has in making certain that its procedures assuring fairness work in the aggregate to be inclusive of individuals of different ethnic or racial groups? And, bluntly, how much special consideration is enough? How does a community decide when to stop making such provisions?

    The long-standing antagonism between American ideals about equality of opportunity and American habits of racial separation and division is a subject of deep historical irresolution. The 1896 decision of the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson, declaring that segregation was constitutional, sealed the legacy for the twentieth century to which Du Bois referred. The states were obligated to provide "equal" facilities and accommodations for all, but the development of such opportunities could be pursued separately if local jurisdictions preferred to provide segregated arrangements. Since political equality and racial separatism were compatible, the idea of "separate but equal" set the tone for the new century. "Separated" equality was, of course, stigmatized equality, a problem Du Bois clearly recognized. Writing just after the turn of the twentieth century, two generations after Appomattox, Du Bois understood clearly that the continuing legacy of the Civil War would not include a stable consensus about civil rights and social inclusion for blacks and that the relationship between blacks and whites would remain unsettled. Reconstruction had come to a close with a reunited nation tacitly agreeing that unity was paramount and that local customs and mores would prevail in the interpretation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The problems of implementing formal equality would be deferred until another time.

    Nearly a half-century later, in 1944, when the Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal published An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, the United States was enmeshed in an international conflict, waging with a segregated military a war cast as a crusade for freedom. Following the logic of Plessy v. Ferguson, segregation did not compromise equal protection under the law. Myrdal, who had been invited several years earlier to undertake a study of race relations in the United States because his Carnegie Foundation sponsors believed he could view the situation without preconceptions, found the contradiction between what the United States professed about universal equality and the maintenance of segregation in public and private life impossible to understand. "Separate but equal," in his estimation, effectively created and condoned a caste system in American life that compromised profoundly the principal tenets of the American creed of opportunity and equality. In Myrdal's interpretation of American experience, this contradiction could not endure. The instability of the relationship between ideals and practice constituted the crux of the American dilemma (Myrdal 1972).

    Myrdal's work catalyzed many parts of the culture and the academy. In policy terms, it helped prepare the ground for the development of government-sanctioned civil rights initiatives, beginning with President Truman's 1948 executive order to integrate the armed services. It also anticipated the development of social science that focused on intergroup relations, including such important works as Gordon Allport's 1954 study, The Nature of Prejudice. Perhaps most important, An American Dilemma helped set the stage for the reversal of Plessy in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education, when the Supreme Court unanimously declared, in a case about school segregation in Topeka, Kansas, that "separate but equal is inherently unequal."

    Myrdal's strong emphasis on the importance of modifying institutional arrangements to alleviate injustice established a pattern of institutional reform and practice. His work was oriented by a sense that social science could serve both an educational and an ameliorative purpose, that by pointing out in what ways the American experience fell short of American ideals, the collective will could be mustered and a way to change could be devised. This tradition of social science with origins in Wisconsin Progressivism was rooted deeply in a sensibility about the relationship between the pursuit of truth and advancing the social good. Its spirit was deeply consonant with a sensibility that would emerge in the 1960s around the challenges of race: that institutional adjustments would effectively reshape personal beliefs. Understanding the relationship between this kind of social scientific analysis and the impulse to improve social conditions that characterized An American Dilemma helps provide a context for appreciating the ways in which an activist federal sector became a catalyst for further racial reform. The federal government became the dominant institution in American life in the redefinition of race relations.

The Federal Government as Patron of Equality and Diversity

The formal repudiation of racial discrimination in American public life stimulated a new optimism about the possibilities of integration in American experience. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 represented a decisive enlargement of the meaning of pluralism in American life and, as such, constitute one of the most important developments in the second half of this century. Abruptly, it came to symbolize the end of the tradition of according a privileged status to white Americans. While segregation has deeply affected the status of black Americans, it has also affected other groups as well. For example, immigration policies long favored migration from Europe rather than Asia or Africa, a reflection of pervasive tendencies in American culture favoring whites over people of color. Less noted, the Immigration Act of 1965, somewhat unintentionally, has had a complementary impact on the meaning of pluralism in American experience, particularly as it facilitated immigration from Asia, India, and Pakistan. This law, as Peter Schrag has written, has had "enormous consequences," and by eliminating the national origins quota system, has facilitated a massive increase of legal immigration, bringing to the United States more than 15 million people who qualified for minority group preferences (Schrag 1995).

    While significant progress has been achieved toward the goal of integration in many sectors of American society, movement has occurred chiefly in the agencies of government, the workplace, higher education, and, to a significantly lesser extent, in K-12 schools. Indeed, one of the paradoxes about this development has been the simultaneous embrace of integration as a public value and the intensification of racial division in residential settings and in other situations defined, like neighborhoods, by patterns of voluntary association.

    Federal action and occasionally federal intervention helped catalyze a broad social consensus against racial discrimination. Each of the three branches of the national government—but particularly the executive and judicial—has, at different moments, served as impetus to the process through which the country changed its laws and habits. This association of civil rights progress with federal power had, however, another consequence. From its beginnings, the strong identification of civil rights with an activist federal sector provided a basis for resistance to these changes because of a view about the division of authority between states and central government. States' rights became a proxy for resistance to racial change. The emphasis in the civil rights tradition on the importance of law and government obscured somewhat the continuing persistence of more informal and voluntary patterns of association that maintained segregated patterns of association. The civil rights tradition in law and policy emphasized the working of positive state action as an instrument of social change.

    Not surprisingly, one of the most successful institutions in American society in dealing with racial integration has been the United States Army (see, e.g., Moskos and Butler 1996). At the other extreme, its religious institutions and primary schools are among the most segregated associations in the country. Where voluntary choice is given freer rein, the dominant patterns of life effectively continue to be segregated. In more hierarchical situations, to different degrees, the impact of individual freedom of choice is constrained, as in the Army or, also interestingly, in many Roman Catholic schools. In these institutions the social distance between members of different ethnic groups decreases in the context of an overarching ideological commitment that emphasizes the good of the community as a whole. (In addition, there is evidence in such environments that the kinds of achievement differentials between whites and blacks that characterize so many schooling situations are decreased. See Bryk et al. [1993] for a fascinating analysis about the role of parochial schools in advancing academic achievement for underrepresented minority students.)

    On the other hand, as Anthony Lukas' prize-winning account of the struggle over the integration of the Boston public schools, Common Ground, makes clear, public schools have also become lightning rods for community conflict. The federal court order to bus school children across neighborhood boundaries to achieve racial balance in schools precipitated an extended community crisis with far-reaching consequences for the evolving patterns of race relations. The Boston school crisis of the 1970s dramatically exemplified the social and perceptual distances between the races and even between individuals who shared the goal of a genuinely integrated school system (Lukas 1985). That experience clearly taught the country how formidable an obstacle community sensibilities and beliefs pose for judicial mandates. Public schools, particularly at the primary level, comprise the first node of connection between the patterns of private or voluntary association that define neighborhoods and the more encompassing body politic. While they are agencies of local government, they also illustrate the tensions "revealed preferences" manifested in local patterns of voluntary association that shape neighborhoods and the public imperative not to discriminate and to be inclusive. These conflicts have regularly forced a recognition of the tension between voluntary associational habits and public values.

    The commitment to ethnic diversity, appealing at the level of principle, is a difficult social condition to create and sustain. It is not a condition to which very many people commit themselves voluntarily, as the persistent complaints about social engineering in higher education seem to suggest. Despite nearly a quarter century of civil rights legislation, residential patterns do not suggest that the nation's neighborhoods are less segregated. In fact, a 1993 study conducted at Harvard University found that nearly two-thirds of the black students in public schools in the 1991-92 school year attended schools that were predominantly minority (The New York Times 10 April 1994, p. 1; Orfield 1993). Other research suggests that the country has remained more segregated in those parts of life that allow the greatest degree of personal choice: where one lives, what kinds of affiliations one makes with voluntary associations, what one does with private time and private thoughts, and by extension what one is free to say (Milburn and Bowman 1991; Massey and Denton 1993). These kinds of patterns strongly suggest that the difference between legislating nondiscrimination and legitimating diversity must be understood.

    The Civil Rights movement helped to change the ways in which private as well as public institutions of higher education conceived of their responsibilities regarding the recruitment and admission of students. Colleges and universities developed organized programs to identify and attract minority students, a category that was initially interpreted to encompass black Americans. During and after that time, in colleges and universities across the nation, the task of facilitating access for black students—the population excluded most pervasively and consistently—became a special project in higher education administration.

    Frequently catalyzed by extraordinary events like urban riots and campus demonstrations, the duty to care about these questions tended to settle in central administrative functions. To be sure, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the impetus to undertake such efforts came from many faculty and students, often following a campus crisis or sit-in. At that point the objectives of campus protestors focused on ending discrimination against blacks and other minorities. This change has deeply affected the ways in which colleges and universities manage processes of recruitment and admission both for baccalaureate and postbaccalaureate degree programs. The civil rights "revolution" of the 1960s, succeeding urban riots in cities outside the South, and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968 provided the immediate backdrop for a decisive shift in the ways that colleges and universities thought about admissions. Cognizant of a heritage of exclusion caused by—in the term used by President Lyndon Johnson's advisory committee on civil disorders, the Kerner Commission—"white racism" (United States Kerner Commission 1968), institutions devised policies and procedures to increase the representation of black students on their campuses.

    It was characteristic during this early period to introduce special academic enrichment and social support for minority (dominantly black) students. Virtually all of these programs were premised on the idea that minority students lacked something necessary for full participation and success in elite institutions. The impact of this deficit-based institutional response—conceived to bring more people into the system—remains ambiguous. Clearly, the numbers of students increased dramatically. It is more difficult to evaluate their relative levels of academic success.

    As with the change in the country as a whole, these developments on campus tended to be sponsored by central responsibility units in the administration of the college or university. Admissions and financial aid—responsibility areas that dealt with access—and, frequently, the office of the president or of a senior administrator with ability to respond directly and immediately to the imperatives and opportunities that diversity presented became the focal points for institutional response. A review of a number of institutional histories suggests that the pattern of institutional engagement in this area did not evolve systematically; rather these institutional responses were opportunistic forms of crisis management, undertaken in the hope that the assimilation of minority populations would follow historical patterns that had characterized other outsider groups. While these responses by colleges and universities were endorsed by what emerged as strongly supportive campus consensus, they were from the beginning fundamentally administrative actions, initiatives shaped in the context of a crisis about access and fairness. By eliminating barriers to access, it was hoped that these actions would resolve a problem threatening to undermine the ability of American higher education to make good one of its fundamental claims to legitimacy.

    What emerges from this review as one of the pervasive quandaries about the status of racial pluralism in higher education is the relationship between centrally expressed values and activities promoting diversity that emanate from the leaders of colleges and universities and the more ambivalent patterns of acceptance and validation that developed among the various constituents of these communities. This distinction became more apparent as the crisis about inclusion was resolved, and institutions began to face charges about "reverse" discrimination that limited opportunity for whites. In a decentralized institution that cultivates a high degree of freedom of thought, leverage over people's opinions and beliefs is, and should be, limited. The freedom of choice and thought that characterizes such places includes the freedom not to engage and even to shun the human differences represented in a diversely populated residential college or university. Yet opinions and beliefs are a crucial component of the educational environment. If these sensibilities are not consistent with the public values of the institution regarding diversity, these patterns, or "mores," as Tocqueville would have described them, can become a medium of questioning and even rejection. If the opinions and beliefs of institutional constituents do not corroborate the expressed values about pluralism of the institution itself, the academic environment will be hospitable. The college or university has few effective defenses against the reluctance or ambivalence of its constituents regarding institutional commitments in the area of diversity.

    Thus, while colleges and universities have been at the forefront of institutions encouraging access to opportunity and social pluralism, these institutions have other characteristics that can make it hard to stimulate the kinds of voluntary consensual approbation that maintain cohesion about purposes and goals. The college or university has characteristics that reflect both the ethos of the centrally driven and regulated organization and of a voluntary association or guild. It is corporation and academy. An important consequence of this institutional characteristic is a de facto division between the administrative and academic sectors of educational institutions. Administrators, whose language and belief about diversity have been conditioned by judicial decisions, tend to speak about and understand the issue of diversity in ways that reflect and support the leadership of their presidents.

    It is also true that, at least initially, the argument about the beneficial effect of diversity was based on the character of community life that resulted from a diverse population. This argument, therefore, was more appropriately put forward by these who had responsibility for the life of the community (presidents, deans of students, and other central administrators), since the educational benefit being discussed was not based on formal classroom teaching. In short, administrators have been called upon to represent the "interests" of the extracurricular as faculty roles have become more exclusively focused on formal teaching responsibility.

    On the other hand, faculty and students, who are influenced by these institutional "tone-setters," tend to bring additional kinds of experience to this question, experience that more sharply highlights the tension between diversity goals and equity aspirations. Faculty and student cultures, which in different ways are more voluntaristic, seem to experience in more complicated ways the trade-offs involved between equity and excellence. This contrasting pattern of intra-institutional experience of diversity between the administrative and voluntary sectors of institutional life is a critical dimension of a persisting dilemma. Maintaining alignment between central institutional values and individual opinions and sensibilities about pluralism and diversity becomes more difficult when the question posed is diversity as an educational value rather than nondiscrimination.

    Because pluralism of racial association is such an unusual condition, colleges and universities have to stretch themselves to achieve the kinds of demographic diversity that unregulated patterns of social interaction do not tend to generate. The debates about speech codes on many college campuses (University of Michigan, Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, Tufts, University of Wisconsin) during the late 1980s and early 1990s signaled the fragility of the campus equilibrium about race. At the same time, they also manifested the vulnerability of minority students to unwelcoming or hostile campus climates. Arguably, a significant measure of the uncertainty gripping those who worry about this issue and feel somewhat stalemated about what to do next results from an underestimation of the degree of difficulty and the consequences of the task to which the higher education community committed itself during the late 1960s in the heyday of enthusiasm and hope about the Civil Rights movement.

Academic Leadership and Values Mediation

Universities and colleges are in one sense open systems whose interacting human agents vie in relationship to one another and to the surrounding environment for recognition and support of their interests. They are dynamic institutions that thrive on their ideological commitments to skepticism and change. In another sense, however, they are subject to a certain conservatism, a cautiousness resulting from resource constraints, decentralized patterns of decision-making, and the highly deliberative processes demanded for changing academic priorities. So, colleges and universities have shouldered distinctive responsibilities both as catalysts and conservators. As catalysts, they have been expected to be provocative about the tenets of conventional wisdom and to extend the borders of knowledge. As conservators, these institutions have—like the religious foundations from which many of them arose—been regarded as guardians of core values like the pursuit of truth and service to community. If the community consensus supporting an institution concurs in the kinds of judgments being made about these different values, the leaders of the institution can attend to the prickly issues of resource allocation. If the community consensus is divided and basic values contested, then the resource battle can take on an ideological cast as well. Either way, there will be friction of interests.

    Colleges and universities are artifacts of the society that creates them. They thrive in symbiotic relationships with their "worlds," expecting that, in exchange for various forms of support, they will do something important for the communities that depend on them. The constituencies of colleges and universities have come to expect that, in addition to these broadly conceived cultural roles, these institutions provide opportunity for individuals to make better lives for themselves. Their existence is also justified by practical ends, like training a student to get into a good graduate or professional school, or to become an employee of a highly regarded firm. As the capacity to provide opportunity becomes constrained, those institutions in which demand for the opportunities they can provide exceeds the supply develop mechanisms to distribute their scarce goods. High quality and high selectivity are correlated; so also are institutional quality and quality of postcollegiate outcomes. It becomes a difficult moral and educational calculus to justify how to distribute a scarce and desired good when it is clear that, for example, an admissions decision at age 17 or 18 can have a tangible, life-long impact.

    During this same period in which the value of diversity has been professed, it has become even more important to leaders of academic institutions, and to the academic profession as a whole, to continue to enhance the quality of institutions, demanding still higher standards of achievement. Such aspirations have, as it were, built up still more pressure in a system (i.e., the college or university) already "heated up" by the interplay of interests and expectations bouncing against one another within the confines of a finite institutional resource base, further testing the relationship between equity concerns and excellence concerns in the institutional value consensus.

    Academic culture is driven by a peculiar combination of individualism and social purpose. On the one hand, it exalts a kind of maximization of individual development and choice; on the other, it appropriately justifies its efforts in a discourse based on public mission and the common good. Market analogies stressing the benign workings of an invisible "mind" rather than a hand help illuminate the relationship between individualism and the common good. The convergence of individual "maximization" and public purpose was reflected in the ethos of what Clark Kerr characterized as a "federal era" of higher education, roughly the 40-year period starting with the "G. I. Bill" during World War II and lasting into the mid-1980s. Two themes predominated. First, benefit support was directed to individuals, who would carry their benefits and use them at the institution where they could maximize their own opportunities. Second, following the successful 1957 Sputnik launch by America's cold-war antagonist, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, federal support of education stimulated emphasis on the roles of science, technology, and the underpinnings of foreign policy in a geopolitical competition with the Soviet Union. The escalating influence of government in higher education supported the mix of individualistic maximization and social purpose that has become characteristic of the ethos of American higher education. Arguably, it also contributed to a frame of mind that overestimated institutional capacities to solve social problems (Kerr 1995).

    More recently, a number of college and university leaders have advanced the argument that the connections between equity and excellence are deeper and more fundamental, bearing directly on the teaching and research missions of the institutions themselves. One of these in the United States is the highly regarded former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, Chang-Lin Tien. Also a contributor to this volume, Tien is a distinguished engineer and scientist, and a product of the era of strong federal support for university research. An immigrant whose family fled China during the 1949 revolution, he has become a public symbol of the ways in which California and the United States are changing. His personal story is a gripping account of the power of determination and belief in education. As the first Asian-American to lead a University of California campus, he exemplifies much of the complexity of California in the 1990s. His public disagreement with the California Board of Regents about affirmative action put him at odds with many members of the Asian-American community. As chancellor he enjoyed observing that his transition from engineering to administration had not been so difficult as many might have thought because his specialty had been the analysis of the dynamics of heat transfer. With a characteristically effective use of humor, he struck a chord that resonates with a wide range of academic leaders.

    As college presidents have become representative spokespersons, mediating among the various constituents of the college community, they may also have obscured from external view some of the conflicts that exist within their institutions. In the case of race, for example, the relatively consistent ways in which these leaders have embraced the principle that equity and academic excellence are inextricably interrelated has tended to present a more unified conviction about this than the more diverse views of its constituents may support. Academic institutions, even while their leaders attest to the importance of diversity as a public and institutional value, do not coerce the beliefs of other members of the institution because of intellectual freedom. The beliefs of those outside the administration matter for the success of diversity as an institutional goal. Indeed, their questions or ambivalences can shape the experience of those who represent the new populations of the institution.

    The commitment to racial inclusion in higher education was both consistent with national ideals and unprecedented in national experience. It emerged during a time when resources supporting higher education had facilitated a sense of optimism and boldness about the future. Unfortunately, this optimism was soon mitigated by the intense social division regarding the country's role in the Vietnam War and by campus unrest about the relationship of educational institutions to the government prosecuting that war. Just as it seemed that the most important breakthrough in civil rights in a century was being realized, the country seemed to be falling apart for other reasons. The civil rights revolution was, thus, part of a broad social shift affecting the terms of consensus about the relationships of individuals, common values, and the role of institutions in American life. This was the context in which many colleges and universities undertook to justify new approaches to racial inclusion.

    Access, however, turned out to be only part of the challenge facing these same institutions. Despite, in many cases, well-articulated programs to aid in academic and social transition, particularly to undergraduate life, significant numbers of minority students experienced academic difficulty, and their graduation rates were lower than for majority students. These early experiences—at that time more focused on black students than any other group—shaped the sensibilities of individuals and institutions about the tension between the values of equity and excellence. Colleges and universities struggled with the challenges embedded in this tension, which was more widely recognized than discussed. It was hoped that most measures adopted to facilitate access that modified academic standards would be interim adjustments only. More than a generation later, that same struggle continues because the number of high-achieving underrepresented minority students continues to be small (see also Miller 1995). At the same time, academic programs based on principles of remediation are being questioned.

    A double dilemma has emerged. First, among the most competitive undergraduate and professional schools, there continues to be a scarcity of opportunities compared to the number of applicants. Second, there is a scarcity of minority students available to meet "institutionally based" demand for their presence on these campuses. Dealing with the double problem of scarcity—too few slots in relation to overall demand and too few non-Asian minority applicants who are competitive—has become part of the normal work of college and university administrators. Increasingly, in mediating this dilemma, they have relied on the assistance of their lawyers and the guidance of the judicial system, because of the recurring pattern in which questions of individual rights and educational policy interpenetrate. This is the empirical manifestation of the value conflict between the goals of diversity and meritocratic evaluation. The outstanding example of this pattern, the 1978 Bakke decision of the Supreme Court, is discussed further below.

    For many reasons, college and university leaders frequently have found themselves in the line of fire since the 1960s. They came to be perceived as public symbols embodying the stress of social and cultural change. As educators and administrators, "captains of erudition" in Thorstein Veblen's phrase, college presidents and their administrative colleagues are regularly engaged in a balancing act mediating the frequently divergent expectations of students, faculty, community, and their governing boards. Their task: to weigh the demands of the present against the needs of the future. Dependent on the support and good will of diverse constituencies, successful academic leaders rely on a capacity to instill in students, faculty, staff, and their governing boards a desire for and enjoyment of being part of something larger than any particular individual or group interest. At the same time, they are charged to take responsibility for the future, supervising the deployment of resources for the long-term best interests of the institution's purposes to advance teaching, scholarship, and service.

    The equity theme played itself out on campuses in other ways as well. For more than a generation, for example, the question of college and university endowment relationships to the apartheid regime in South Africa was a continuing source of campus discussion and campus activism. It is, perhaps, only coincidental that, following the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990 as campus activism about South African investments subsided, affirmative action in the United States became more controversial.

    The equity theme has also stimulated many academic disciplines to emphasize cultural, gender, and ethnic studies. The results, particularly manifested in the humanities, in history, and in many of the social sciences, have deepened our understanding of the human condition, bringing into focus previously unobserved or unappreciated perspectives on human experience. The debates about the "canon" and the curriculum that raged on many campuses, even though they gave rise to much ideological ventilation, were a manifestation of this important reorientation, which, at a minimum, forced consideration of the role of social location or context for the formulation and maintenance of intellectual and civic values.

    As the former dean of undergraduate admission at Stanford, Jean Fetter, has observed, changing demographics and increased diversity in student bodies leads inevitably to questions about curriculum (Fetter 1995, p. 243). In a carefully phrased reflection about the roles of "classical" texts in the curriculum, Stanford professor W. B. Carnochan corroborated this, observing that "liberal education remains a belief system that survives not so much through institutional self-understanding as through continued acts of faith," which form the basis of a consensus. He continued:

In the United States, which is unlike European nations in this respect, these acts of faith rest most deeply on the sense of social obligation that has come naturally to a nation of immigrants (a sense of obligation, not extended until recently to the nation's indigenous peoples). We expect "liberal education" to provide something more than compensation for the professional and commercial ways of the world—though we believe that a sense of social obligation corrects for limitations of the professional and commercial. We also expect something more from "great books" than aesthetic rewards—though we believe that aesthetic sensibilities contribute in their way to the fulfilling of civic responsibilities. And, whether we favor the multicultural curriculum or not, we argue our case by referring to societal needs, to the claims of diversity, or alternatively, to the value of the melting pot. But the crucial fact, which is a crucial problem, is this: the tradition of "Western Civilization" arose out of ideas, practices, attitudes so deeply ingrained as to have precluded serious inquiry into the relationship between social ends and curricular means, between civic and liberal education. (Carnochan 1993)

The "belief system" that will sustain the evolving consensus taking shape in American higher education remains a delicate construction, one that seeks to accommodate an interplay of forces that remain in unresolved tension. The complex relationship between a changing intellectual climate in which traditional articles of faith are regularly criticized as being culturally limited, and the arguments of college and university leaders about the educational benefits of diversity, is an important characteristic of the contemporary academy.

    In his 1993-1995 President's Report (p. 20), Neil Rudenstine attempted to address this deficiency by putting forward a historical reflection about the educational significance of diversity. Reaching back in Harvard's history to a point before the contemporary focus on race developed, Rudenstine cited the recollection of a member of Harvard's Class of 1910, John Reed (who later covered the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Ten Days that Shook the World) acknowledging that "a diverse community can lead to pain, isolation of separateness, as well as to intellectual exhilaration, greater self-knowledge, and moment of human reconciliation." Yet it is also the case that this undeniable progress has been accompanied by tension and uncertainty.

    The relationship between quality and diversity is a difficult value to measure in a way that might convince someone who believes differently. While it is demonstrable that higher status institutions have incorporated this value in their missions, these same institutions have been under pressure to maintain and enhance their own quality and reputations. This pressure has pushed them to emphasize other values that are not easy to align but that have critical consequences for the pursuit of diversity objectives. This is reflected, for example, in the way in which undergraduate admissions deans describe the results of their labors, emphasizing—frequently with a disclaimer—the improvement in SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) scores from one year to the next as the proxy for quality, and then talking about the diversity of the class using some combination of numbers and percentages. The distribution of SAT scores across the different racial populations is such that whenever such a report is given, underrepresented minority students will be classified within the peer reference group as below average in quality. The implications of this recognition are not widely appreciated and, therefore, it is not surprising that few institutions are addressing the implications of racially bifurcated patterns of measurable academic quality in the high status institutions that have been most aggressive in diversifying their student populations.

    In recent years, domestic and global politics have been regularly characterized by what Charles Taylor has characterized as a "politics of recognition." This works in two ways: First, through the recognition of injustice and exclusion, it can stimulate those who have been disadvantaged to a new appreciation of their identities and roles in a continuing human saga; second, it provides a rationale for constructing institutional arrangements that redress the inequities of the past. The arena of higher education has provided an important space in American culture for the engagement of the tensions that follow this kind of politics. The Civil Rights movement, an expanding view of the meaning of racial minority, changes in the patterns of immigration, a shifting consensus about the roles of women and men, as well as re-formed views about gender and sexuality, comprise a context of changed circumstances and presuppositions in personal and institutional experience. The campus has become the archetypal space in American life where these pluralistic and highly energized impulses are mediated culturally, educationally, and politically.

    Du Bois explicitly anticipated the debate about race, which became a paradigm for the other liberation movements stimulated by its moral and political force. The debate about affirmative action and racial preferences in California and Texas during the mid-1990s—like the debate about open admissions in the City University of New York in the 1970s—exemplifies the tension between ideals and practice (Traub 1994). In a more formal way, public institutions have been forced to face squarely the relationship between objectives and strategies that maximize access and those that maximize excellence. Much more recently, following the transition to black majority rule in 1994, South Africa—which, like California, relies heavily on a public system of higher education—has begun to face a similar dilemma: the problem of qualification and performance measures and their inequitable distribution across different racial groups. Thus, in both California and South Africa, social fairness and qualifications evaluation have become contentious matters of public debate.

    What is argued about in these cases, whether in public or private systems, is the character of institutional response to skewed patterns of qualification across different racial groups, patterns that tend in the United States to manifest themselves in lower levels of academic success for African-Americans and Hispanics, and in South Africa for blacks. Institutions of higher education have focused principally on issues of access in executing their affirmative action policies, while asserting—on the basis of belief—that diversity and quality are mutually reinforcing goals. The dilemma that institutions face, given these skewed patterns of qualification, is how to pursue excellence and equity while maintaining requisite levels of internal and external support when painful tradeoffs become necessary. One strategy has been focused on developing a better understanding of the relationship between standardized preadmission testing and academic performance at the undergraduate level. An implication of such a line of inquiry is that the tests themselves might be "biased" toward some kinds of people and not toward others. A second strategy has been to find better ways to improve the academic preparation for those who need such assistance.

    The mediation of these various aspirations and disagreements has become part of the practice of college administration. Because administrators are entrusted with the responsibility to see the institution "whole," they can find themselves perched rather precariously in a position to see and often to comprehend, but often not able to be influential in areas that may resist changes. In areas like admissions, student affairs, and nonfaculty personnel matters, the leverage can be more direct. In other matters having to do with faculty and curriculum, administrative leverage is limited to issues of process, a constraint not widely appreciated outside the academy where there is a tendency to impute more power to administrators than they, in fact, are able to exercise.

    Thus, colleges and universities have become a crucible in which these continuing dilemmas and aspirations vie with one another as the institutions proceed to incorporate a historically unprecedented measure of human diversity. At the same time, the ambivalence and vulnerability that mark the human condition and are exhibited throughout civil polity and our voluntary associations have not been absent during this time of profound cultural redefinition. Institutions of higher education are people-intensive organizations. The continuing viability of the enterprise of higher education and the status of affirmative action efforts within it will depend on what people believe, and on whether those whose cooperation cannot be mandated support the view that the kind of inclusion affirmative action encourages is good for everyone.

    Higher educationhas advanced considerably the mission of providing access; this progress notwithstanding, it has also become the crucible in which the unresolved dilemmas of a complicated racial history continue to be tested. Those charged to administer—to care for and manage—our colleges and universities do indeed live out this vocation in the heat of conflicting aspirations.

Affirmative Action and Institutional Excellence: Civil Rights and Academic Freedom

During the period following the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, the active practice of inclusiveness in the provision of opportunity and access, which came to be known as "affirmative action," has been accepted as a responsibility by institutions in both the private and the public sectors of American life. College, university, and professional school admissions practices have reflected an initial concern for facilitating access for black students. The numbers of minority persons admitted to or hired by institutions that previously would not have welcomed them increased dramatically. By the early 1970s, women as well as other underrepresented minorities joined blacks as designated target groups for affirmative action efforts, a step that led to more complex and not necessarily overlapping patterns of minority group interests. In California, for example, the initial target group for affirmative action, blacks, comprised less than 10% of the population. By the early 1990s, the expanded target group of "underrepresented" minorities—not including women—comprised more than 40% of the population, according to Berkeley sociologist Troy Duster. In a San Francisco Chronicle interview (10 April 1992), Duster, who has been a member of the Berkeley faculty for more than 25 years, observed that "we are up to a point where 8 out of 10 people" are claiming a status that brings some form of special consideration. "There is," he noted, an "unraveling of interest group conflict over scarce resources" (see also Fetter 1995, pp. 136 ff).

    The commitment to expand opportunity and participation has now in many circles been joined to a reformulation of the meaning of excellence. It is better to be inclusive of a range of experiences and backgrounds represented to be homogeneous not only because of a responsibility to educate a broad representation of future citizens and leaders, but also because, it is argued, the condition of social diversity is believed to be a better educational medium for all students. Thus, the themes of equal opportunity and enhancement of quality have been yoked to a view about the relationship of pluralism to educational excellence as well as to social progress.

    The relationship between what could be characterized as the "civil rights justification" for diversity and an "academic freedom justification" for diversity is important to appreciate because it represents a significant shift in the kinds of institutional arguments that were employed to support inclusion. In this area, the judiciary has increasingly become the arbiter of the shift from arguments based on equity, rooted in the civil rights law, to arguments based on diversity, rooted in a view about academic freedom. This development emerges from the landmark 1978 Supreme Court decision, Bakke v. Regents of the University of California. A revisiting of the legal context will help make this clear.


Table of Contents




1 Promise and Dilemma: Incorporating Racial Diversity in Selective Higher Education 3

2 Promoting High Academic Achievement among Non-Asian Minorities 47

3 A Threat in the Air: How Stereotypes Shape Intellectual Identity and Performance 92

4 A Practitioner's View from Texas: Comments on the Essays by L. Scott Miller and Claude M. Steele 129

5 Assessment and Student Diversity: Comments on the Essays by L. Scott Miller and Claude M. Steele 135

6 Equity and Excellence - Strange Bedfellows? A Case Study of South African Higher Education 145

7 Facing the Dilemmas of Difference: Comments on the Essay by Mamphela Ramphele 162

8 Problematics of Affirmative Action: A View from California 169

9 What a University Can Learn and Teach about Conflict and Difference: Comments on the Essay by Neil J. Smelser 193

Epilogue 199

Index 203

What People are Saying About This

Sheldon Hackney, University of Pennsylvania

I would feel a great deal better about the future of the country if every policymaker at the state and federal level read Promise and Dilemma, and I would be overjoyed if a large part of the public could benefit from its multiple perspectives.

Jennifer Hochschild, Princeton University

The topic of this book is timely, the contents are excellent, and the authors are eminent. Promise and Dilemma should be widely read by university administrators and faculty, by policymakers who are looking for ways of dealing productively with the vexed issue of affirmative action, and by the educated lay public.

Sheldon Hackney

I would feel a great deal better about the future of the country if every policymaker at the state and federal level read Promise and Dilemma, and I would be overjoyed if a large part of the public could benefit from its multiple perspectives.

Jennifer Hochschild

The topic of this book is timely, the contents are excellent, and the authors are eminent. Promise and Dilemma should be widely read by university administrators and faculty, by policymakers who are looking for ways of dealing productively with the vexed issue of affirmative action, and by the educated lay public.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews