The NIH Diversifies Diversity

In yet another example of the Michigan affirmative action cases having the effect of leading institutions to modify or even abandon their racial preference programs,

[t]he National Institutes of Health has been quietly overhauling several of its diversity-oriented grant programs, largely to avoid lawsuits accusing it or its grantees of discriminating against white or Asian-American researchers.

The agency still operates some programs that award grants only to members of certain racial or ethnic minorities. But NIH officials said the agency planned, in the long term, to open all the programs to applicants who have disabilities or are deemed disadvantaged, regardless of their race.

“We have basically broadened the diversity tent to include a number of other groups,” said Norka Ruiz Bravo, the NIH’s deputy director for extramural research.

Some, of course, objected to this change. Clifton A. Poodry, director of the Minority Opportunities in Research Division in the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences, noted that

some NIH officials had wanted to shift the programs from serving members of minority groups to serving those deemed “disadvantaged,” but others, including himself, felt that such an approach “was wrongheaded,” partly because it seemed to equate minority status with disadvantage and partly because disadvantage is hard to define.

Still others, however, justify racial preferences precisely because they do identify minorities with disadvantage. Oh well, either way. Predictably, any attempt to fiddle with who receives preferences sets off a frantic squabble over the spoils.

Vanessa Northington Gamble, who is the director of Tuskegee University’s National Center for Bioethics and has extensively examined minority health issues, said she is concerned that the changes being adopted by the NIH will erode minority gains in the health-care professions, and could lead members of minority groups, people with disabilities, and the disadvantaged to “feel they are in competition with each other.”

How true. On the other hand, if more preference programs redefine “diversity” to include more groups, they may actually begin to make a contribution to, well, diversity. Stranger things have happened.

Say What? (3)

  1. Sandy P March 4, 2005 at 2:56 am | | Reply

    Who would she rather have them in competition with?

  2. Anonymous March 5, 2005 at 10:13 am | | Reply

    Aren’t all applicants in competition with each other? And isn’t that how it should be?

    What other legitimate basis for favoritism besides “disadvantage” is there?

  3. Loretta Dominguez March 9, 2005 at 10:09 am | | Reply

    There is disparity in bias in K-12 education to undergraduate colleges/universities denying equal education in sciences and math to ethnic minorities, especially ethnic females). Until American Indians (on/off reservations), Hispanics?Latinos, and African Americans are given greater attention to learning math and sciences, there will be disparity in minorities applying for NIH grants. I started out as a science major, and received negative feedback from professors and tutors. I changed my major.

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