Graduate School Administrators Unwittingly Parody Themselves

[NOTE: The following has been cross-posted by the National Association of Scholars]

After much soul-searching the Council of Graduate Schools decided to go ahead with its scheduled annual meeting in Arizona, despite being urged by some members and the example of other organizations to boycott the state. Some of the comments quoted in a Chronicle of Higher Education article about the meeting would have been funny in an organizational self-parody poking fun at isolated, condescending academics, but the context makes clear that no parody was intended.

Not surprisingly — these are academics, after all — much attention was paid to “diversity,” which was presented as one of the justifications for the enlightened educators to come to Arizona, despite misgivings, and share their wisdom with the benighted and prejudiced locals.

The focus on inclusiveness in many of the sessions also grew from the group’s decision to hold the meeting in Arizona, despite many groups’ boycott of the state over its 2010 immigration law. The planning committee weighed the decision to hold the meeting here carefully, said Ms. [Debra W.] Stewart [the group’s president].

“We came to a consensus that the most productive thing to do would be to stay and to focus the meeting very sharply on the relationship between inclusiveness, innovation, and excellence in graduate education,” Ms. Stewart said. “Our objective is to bring an active and vibrant discussion of diversity to this setting.”


Karen Jackson-Weaver, associate dean of academic affairs and diversity at Princeton University, said that given the socio-political climate of Arizona, it is understandable why the council considered holding the conference elsewhere. Ms. Jackson-Weaver, who led a well-attended workshop on recruitment and retention strategies for underrepresented groups, applauded the decision to stay in Arizona.

“I hope the fact that we have graduate-school deans and other administrative leaders from around the country and a number of institutional leaders from around the world here in Arizona tackling the issue of diversity front and center, will send an important message to the political leadership of the state of Arizona,” she said.

I’m sure Arizona political and civic leaders appreciated receiving instruction from such distinguished messengers, and the moral climate, the sensitivity, of “this setting,” Arizona, was no doubt uplifted, at least temporarily, by contributions such as the following:

During a question-and-answer portion of a Thursday-morning session on diversity and admissions practices, Rebeca C. Rufty, an associate dean at North Carolina State University who introduced herself as being Hispanic with a deceptive last name, joked about her fear of traveling to Arizona.

“It was with some trepidation that I came here,” Ms. Rufty told the audience. “Although I have pale skin, I brought all my papers with me just in case I get stopped for being Hispanic.”

Was Ms. Rufty really joking? About two million Hispanics live in Arizona. Is there evidence of large numbers, or any numbers, of them being “stopped for being Hispanic”?

There were, of course, some locals who were delighted to have the visitors come and sing from the same hymnal.

Michael M. Crow, president of Arizona State University, who spoke at the meeting’s opening session, said that diversity in graduate schools is critical to innovation, discovery, the development of a highly skilled work force, and economic prosperity. But, Mr. Crow said, “leading institutions increasingly define excellence through admissions practices based on exclusion.”

If President Crow mentioned any specific institutions that “define excellence through admissions practices based on exclusion” or  gave any examples of those practices (grades? test scores?), the Chronicle did not say.

While graduate schools have been successful at producing leaders in all sectors of society, including in higher education, the arts, business, and government, Mr. Crow said that universities must change policies from within and offer greater access to a broader demographic.

“Disproportionately few students from historically underrepresented groups are encouraged to pursue graduate study or offered opportunities to realize their potential,” he said. “It is imperative that academia champion diversity at all stages of the process. … If our leading institutions remain elitist and exclusionary, our standard of living will begin to decline steeply in coming generations.”

I wonder how many members of President Crow’s audience of graduate school administrators were surprised to learn that members of underrepresented groups are underrepresented in their programs. And not only underrepresented but disproportionately underrepresented — not because they didn’t apply or didn’t meet the admissions requirements (which, after all, are “based on exclusion”) but because they were not “offered opportunities.”

More, I suspect, based on the evidence here, than one might think.


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