From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Educators strategize about campus diversity
Wed, 25 Jun 2003 13:42:03 -0500
June 25, 2003 News media contact: Linda Green7(615)742-54707Nashville, Tenn.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) - As the U.S. Supreme Court was deciding on the
future of affirmative action, officials of United Methodist-related colleges
and universities were wrapping their heads around increasing the presence of
minorities on campus.
The court's June 24 decision upheld the use of racial preference to promote
diversity in university admissions. In their 5-4 decision, the justices ruled
that the University of Michigan Laws School's preferential treatment of
disadvantaged minorities is legal, but in a 6-3 vote, they struck down the
use of a point system to ensure diversity in the university's undergraduate
College presidents, admissions officers, counselors and other education
leaders attending the United Methodist Institute of Higher Education, June
22-24, applauded the decision and said it affirmed the United Methodist
Church's commitment to college diversity. Before the ruling came down, many
said that regardless of the decision, the church would continue to support
"Now that the Supreme Court has affirmed that affirmative action can play a
role in higher education, our action has been reaffirmed," said David
Beckley, president of Rust College in Holly Springs, Miss.
The United Methodist Church has 124 colleges and universities, including
Duke, Emory and Southern Methodist University, as well as 13 seminaries. It
also operates Africa University in Zimbabwe.
As the educators celebrated, they cautioned that work in expanding the
diversity on their campuses must continue. There is a difference between
legal and moral responsibility, said the Rev. James Noseworthy, president of
Hiwassee College in Madisonville, Tenn. The schools related to the
denomination were founded on the premise of joining knowledge and piety, and
United Methodist and other faith-based colleges have the responsibility of
transforming the culture in the spirit of the gospel, he said.
Noseworthy said United Methodist colleges would continue the denomination's
commitment to be intentionally diverse.
The Rev. Joreatha M. Capers, director of the Black College Fund of the United
Methodist Church, said the Supreme Court's support of affirmative action
ensures access and equal opportunity for all Americans in their pursuit of
quality education and the American dream.
"The United Methodist Church, since its inception in the United States, has
been committed to access in education, especially for the poor and
disenfranchised members of society," she said.
Historically black colleges and universities make up nearly 35 percent of the
institutions in the United States but are responsible for 30 percent of
African Americans obtaining bachelor degrees, she said. The United Methodist
Church has 11 historically black colleges and universities. "This is a good
indicator of our church's investment (in) access."
The Supreme Court's split decision was fair but also indicative of the need
for "more work to be done to promote equality throughout the nation," said
Camilyah Johnson, director of multicultural student services at Adrian
Also delighted at the decision was Wanda Bigham, incoming staff executive of
the office of schools, colleges and universities at the United Methodist
Board of Higher Education and Ministry. "It will benefit society as a whole,"
Before the Supreme Court's decision, Walter Broadnax, president of Clark
Atlanta University, lamented the assault on diversity and the campaign across
the United States to reverse the racial advances made in the '60s, '70s and
'80s. "Diversity, once above reproach, now finds itself in the cross hairs -
a targeted and endangered species with fewer places of refuge and fewer in
government or the judiciary willing to defend it," he said.
He urged those present to "stand strong in your resolve to keep classrooms
open to students with the desire and the qualifications to be there."
"It is my hope that United Methodist colleges and universities as well as
small independent colleges continue doing the important work of providing
quality education to minority students," said Kenneth Hoyt, president of
Centenary College in Hackettstown, N.J. The decision comes as a relief for
many people who had been concerned about which way the ruling would go, he
Small schools typically have a 64 percent retention rate for minority
students, while the national average is 15 percent to 20 percent, Hoyt said.
"So we are three times more successful."
The message of the decision is that "the work of fairness, equity and justice
is not done," said Ronald Swain, senior adviser to the president at
Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. "We as church-related
institutions can take the continued leadership role in ensuring that our
institutions are models for the larger society."
The Institute of Higher Education's discussion of diversity is significant,
he said. "We must not necessarily wait for legal and political systems to
act, but we must do what we know to be right."
Tony Booker, director of admissions at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski,
Tenn., also said that the decision is an indicator of work to be done for
people on both sides of the affirmative action debates. The court has
temporarily ensured that minorities will get help in entering some of the
more elite U.S. schools, he said.
"For schools like Martin Methodist, the ruling has very little effect. We are
already one of the most diverse colleges in the country, and the initiatives
we take will ensure that for years to come."
For 30 years, the institute has brought representatives from United
Methodist-related academic institutions together to address common concerns.
The United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, the National
Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities, and the United Methodist
Higher Education Foundation sponsor the annual event.
Throughout the gathering, the leaders and executives of the church-related
colleges and universities examined trends impacting higher education among
ethnic groups, and among African-Americans in particular.
In a keynote address, Broadnax discussed the growing gender disparity among
African Americans, coupled with the declining number of black youth attending
college in general. Recent statistics illustrate that among adults 25 or
older, 34 percent have completed at least four years of college, while the
figure for adults in the black community is 17 percent.
In 1999, he said, 60 percent of all students enrolled in historically black
colleges were women, he said. In 2000, 791,000 black men were in prisons and
county jails, compared to a little more than 600,000 pursuing baccalaureate
degrees. "We have much work to do."
Leaders in higher education must develop strategies to address the growing
imbalance, he said. Efforts also must be developed to get more black men into
the classroom instead of into prison.
Speaker after speaker talked about the pursuit of a diverse campus, and those
in attendance re-examined their schools' recruitment strategies with an eye
toward achieving inclusive campuses.
Other topics discussed in conversations and addresses included the lack of
diversity among faculty and administrators.
"It is clear that there is a crisis in higher education across the board,"
said the Rev. Hal Hartley, director of student ministries at the Board of
Higher Education and Ministry. Racial and ethnic students are
disproportionately represented on campuses and United Methodist institutions
need to do a better job of recruiting them, he said. "It is not that we are
not reaching out. It is a (question) of how do we improve our outreach."
Vicka Bell-Robinson, area hall director at North Central College in
Naperville, Ill., said that if United Methodist colleges and universities
remain true to their Wesleyan values, they will have more success in
obtaining and recruiting a diverse student body. "Focusing on United
Methodist goals and values would bring direction to the staff, faculty and
students on campus."
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United Methodist News Service
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