UM diversity: Why won't Loh invest in what works?

I read with interest the recent article, “Black student enrollment lags at the University of Maryland” (Jan. 29) and a subsequent op-ed written in response submitted by University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh (“UMD: We are committed to black student enrollment, success,” Feb. 2). I write as a Maryland taxpayer, a parent who pays tuition for a child to attend the University of Maryland and as chair of the Parents’ Board of Directors of the College Success Scholars Program within the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Education at the University of Maryland.

Established under the outstanding leadership of Christopher Lester over 10 years ago, the CSS program provides structured personal, academic and professional support to black and Latino males at the University of Maryland to ensure that scholars have the opportunity to become fully engaged in all aspects of university life and are able to succeed academically, personally and professionally. Through its careful attention to student welfare and the ongoing monitoring of academic performance over the past 10 years, the CSS program has produced outstanding results not only with respect to significantly addressing the “achievement gap” with respect to classroom performance and graduation rates but also in placing its graduates in leadership positions with national and international organizations and gaining admission to elite graduate institutions across the country.

Moreover, the CSS program maintains volumes of data it records on a daily basis that can be used to support its proven results. However, notwithstanding 10 years of requests, the CSS program continues to receive no direct dedicated funding from the University of Maryland and relies upon parent contributions, fundraising and unfilled staffing positions to fund its daily operations on behalf of our scholars.Therefore, it is with some degree of irony that I read President Loh’s response once again boasting that University of Maryland’s “graduation rate for African Americans (80 percent) is the highest among Big Ten institutions.” Perhaps that is due to the fact that, according to our research, no other Big Ten institution has a program like the CSS program at the University of Maryland.

The University of Maryland is quick to extol the success of its diversity programs whenever significant events occur on campus (such as the recent death of Lt. Richard Collins) or whenever its commitment to diversity is challenged, but it is unwilling to provide direct funding to support the CSS program upon which the University of Maryland’s professed accomplishments in diversity are based. If the University of Maryland would provide direct funding to support the program, its benefits could be offered to a wider range of students who, as minority undergraduates at the University of Maryland, need all the help and support they can get. Therefore, I have a few questions for President Loh: Why after ten years of repeated requests is the University of Maryland unwilling to provide direct funding to support the CSS program whose results are not speculative but based on objective facts and proven results? Why must I, as a parent of a University of Maryland minority undergraduate student, pay an additional stipend for my child to receive the benefits the CSS program provides because the University of Maryland is unwilling to allocate budget dollars to support it?

I am a Maryland taxpayer as well. Why are my tax dollars not being used to support these types of beneficial, proven programs at the University of Maryland? Is there another program at the University of Maryland which, like the CSS program, can boast a retention rate that exceeds 90-plus percent on an annual basis (which far exceeds schoolwide retention rates for whites, African-Americans and Hispanics), can confirm that more than 50 percent of the program participants maintain a cumulative 3.0 GPA or above, and generated a graduate who was one of only two UMD graduates ever to be awarded the prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship — all without receiving any dedicated funding from the University of Maryland? Why, when the University of Maryland conducts multi-billion-dollar fundraising campaigns, aren’t any of those dollars allocated to support the CSS program? Is that accurately indicative of the University of Maryland’s alleged “commitment to black student enrollment, success?”

Why hasn’t President Loh or anyone from the University of Maryland administration attended the CSS Program Gala when he has been invited over the past several years? (By the way, this year’s gala takes place in the Stamp Student Union on campus on the evening of Saturday, April 7 at 6 p.m.). During Mr. Loh’s videotaped Jan. 23 discussion with The Baltimore Sun’s editorial board, he indicated that the reason why there may be fewer minority enrollments of the University of Maryland is due to “the legacy of institutional racism and unequal funding that has gone on for years.” But isn’t the University of Maryland’s continued failure to fund the CSS program for the past 10 years perpetuating the type of institutional racism?

In that same interview, the president also stated: “It’s not just about access but it is also about quality. And quality is not inborn, you must invest in it to have the education.” If that’s true, why doesn’t he dedicate a dollar to the CSS program when it has proven to generate positive results for its scholars year-in, year-out for the past 10 years? As a taxpaying parent of a University of Maryland College Success Scholar, I hope that President Loh will demonstrate his commitment to supporting diversity efforts at the University of Maryland by providing direct, dedicated funding to support the positive outcomes of the CSS program.

In his commentary, President Loh concludes suggesting that, when it comes to resolving the challenges of diversity at the University of Maryland, “we’re working on it.” I, for one, will be watching whether these statements represent another attempt by the administration to paint itself in a favorable light as it pertains to diversity issues or whether they will take definitive action through an affirmative commitment with targeted dollars to support a program that has benefited the lives of hundreds of young black and Latino males at the University of Maryland. Our scholars deserve no less.

Donald J. Walters, Bethesda

The writer is the 2017-18 chair of the College Success Scholars Program’s Parents’ Board of Directors.

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