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Claims of campus diversity don't add up

In the commentary by George La Noue ("Antiquated ruling on desegregation," Oct. 27), he criticizes the recent court decision in the lawsuit brought by supporters of Maryland's historically black institutions against the Maryland Higher Education Commission. Among other things, he finds fault with the judge's decision to appoint a mediator to consider closing, merging, or transferring duplicative academic programs from traditionally white institutions to historically black institutions. There are some dubious and misleading statements in his op-ed.

Mr. La Noue claims that traditionally white institutions "have made aggressive efforts to become more diverse." He goes on to point out that the "University of Maryland, University of Maryland, Baltimore and University of Maryland, Baltimore County have all had minority presidents." So what? Those who've worked for racial desegregation have long known that appointing a minority to the top job at an institution while leaving its predominantly white infrastructure intact is a tactic that gives the appearance of equality of opportunity but not its substance.

For example, UMBC has an African-American president, Freeman Hrabowski. Have UMBC's "aggressive efforts to become more diverse" increased UMBC's hiring of African-American faculty? Mr. La Noue is a professor in the political science and public policy departments at UMBC. As the faculty photographs on its own website show, there are 15 faculty members in UMBC's political science department. Thirteen are white, only two are African-American. As the photographs on its own website show, there are 11 faculty members in UMBC's public policy department. Ten are white, only one is African-American. It seems to me that in both of the departments in which Mr. La Noue is a faculty member, UMBC's "aggressive efforts" to diversify haven't resulted in much diversity.

Mr. La Noue goes on to claim that UMBC is "considered a national model for diversity." He says that at UMBC "undergraduate enrollment is almost evenly divided between white and minority students." Really? That all depends upon who you count as "minority students." According to the 2012 UMBC Cultural Diversity Report, out of a total of 10,573 students, African-Americans are 16.1 percent. White students are 48.7 percent. So, if by "minority students" one means African-American students, then 48.7 percent and 16.1 percent is not an "almost evenly divided" undergraduate student body of white and minority students.

So, is African-American what Mr. La Noue means by "minority students" at UMBC? One would have been led to think that it is, since, in the same paragraph with his claim about UMBC's "evenly divided" student body, he says that there are "no judicial findings that Maryland institutions have discriminated against African-Americans in enrollment or hiring for at least 50 years." He goes on to say that even at Frostburg State "about 25 percent of students are African-American." And, after all, the issue does concern African-American educational institutions. So it seems like African-American is what he would mean by "minority students."

But you'd have been led astray if you thought that. Because the only way Mr. La Noue's claim would be correct is to count Asian students (20.9 percent), Hispanic students (4.7 percent), American Indian/Alaska Native students (0.3 percent) and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students (0.4 percent) together with African-American students to get a total of 42.4 percent "minority students." That's the only way one would get an "almost evenly divided" UMBC student body of white and minority students.

Counting "minority students" Mr. La Noue's way makes it look as if UMBC's "aggressive efforts to become more diverse" were paying off. A lot more than it would if he'd counted just African-American students as "minority students." A lot of wiggle room in that ambiguous term, "minority students," isn't there? And Mr. La Noue makes the most of it to make UMBC look good.

But, hey, isn't that 6.3 percent difference between white students (48.7%) and, as La Noue counts them, "minority students" (42.4 percent) what some would call a statistically significant difference? That 6.3% difference amounts to 666 students. That's a pretty big divide in what Mr. La Noue calls an "almost evenly divided" student body of white and "minority students."

Mr. La Noue concludes by saying that "Courts should insist that no person should suffer racial discrimination, but they are not the best vehicles for making educational policies or monitoring their outcomes." Really? What would be "the best?" Mr. La Noue doesn't say. In the meantime, it seems to me that when the state has permitted existing "educational policies" to create duplicative programs that make it easier for some white or Asian students to make their enrollment decisions based on the racial composition of a public university's student body instead of its academic programs, the courts are the only vehicle with the power to revise and monitor those policies in order to safeguard the progress our state has made in moving toward the goal of desegregation in higher education.

Roye Templeton, Parkton

The writer is a former instructor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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