Monthly Archives: October 2012

Higher Ed in Need of Better Warrior Care

Helping colleges and universities prepare for returning veterans and active duty service members was an interest of mine before 2004 when I was a guest of the Secretary of Defense and given the opportunity to tour the European Command. Since that tour, it has become a passion.

Because of this passion, I left my home located between Baltimore and Washington, DC about 6:40 a.m. on Thursday, October 25, 2012 to travel to Bethesda, MD, home of the Walter Reed National Military Center (WRNMC). Six other alumni who had also, at one time or another, been a guest of the Secretary of Defense to tour a military command were also invited to the WRNMC to learn more about warrior care.

This medical center is the flagship of military medicine with state-of-the-art facilities to support wounded warriors and their families. Rather than describe the facility, I’d like to tell you what I learned that was not on the agenda for the tour.

  • I learned that service members are surprised that our “veteran-friendly” colleges and universities still deny them admission based on their high school transcripts that are often a reflection of immaturity and a lack of a sense of direction. Their poor high school record is one reason that many of them volunteered to serve their country in the first place.
  • I learned that service members are furious that colleges and universities want to force them to use their benefits and spend their time re-taking courses for which they already earned credit while on active duty.
  • I learned that these service members at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center work extra hard to overcome the fact that they have lost limbs, that they have other wounds, that they have to learn basic skills all over again because of Traumatic Brain Injury. Because of their hard work, when they leave the medical facility, they want to be seen as prepared for their next phase in life. They want the opportunity to fit in as much as they desire. They say that they understand the intent of our referrals to our offices for students with disabilities, but they do not want to be seen as someone not  prepared for the challenges ahead.

Because of some of the things I learned, some service members ask, “Is this the way colleges and universities say, “Thank you for your service?”

Making Diversity Inclusive

Last week, I attended the AAC&U Modeling Equity, Engaging Difference Conference in Baltimore. The Associate Provost of Towson University in Baltimore and I put together a student panel to speak to diversity and equity. The Associate Provost and I were each responsible for identifying two students for the panel presentation, representing four different types of institutions, in total.

When I called my colleagues at two colleges to request two students to be on the panel, I only described the program and what the students would be asked to address. I did not specify any demographics about the students. While the Associate Provost and I had a phone conversation with the four students to discuss the presentation, we did not see the students until the day of the conference. One student was studying in the U.S. from Kenya; another student, the only male, was from Pakistan; and two Black students were from the Baltimore area. All of these students were leaders on their campuses and bright, ambitious, and very much engaged in their education.

The first question for the panel was, “What does diversity and equity mean to you?” I think the question is one that we as educators should ponder, and one for which we should be able to provide a response. While I was not surprised by there being no White student from the United States on the panel, a panel on diversity and equity that includes only students of color and international students may say that when we educators think of diversity and equity, we do not include White students. How can we help White students understand that diversity includes them if we do not behave as if we understand that diversity includes all of us?

Beyond the Supreme Court – Difficult Dialogues

Affirmative Action and “Victimized Whites”

Retain Affirmative Action—Because It’s the Morally Right Thing to Do

So read the headlines of October 5 and 8 articles, respectively, in The Chronicle of Higher Education, leading up to the Supreme Court’s review of affirmative action in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. Because I have been around a while, I have seen the presentation of affirmative action in such diametrically different ways more times than I can count.

I also have been aware of the legal history of affirmative action, which in one form or another began before 1965 and 1967, when President Lyndon Johnson signed executive orders around race and sex, respectively, and before 1972, when affirmative action regulations were applicable to most institutions because of the Title IX regulation.

There have been large percentage increases in the number of traditionally underrepresented students and women, in particular, in higher education since those pieces of legislation were enacted. We all know that there are many more individuals who do not even make it to the gates of colleges and universities. On the other hand, we also know that admission is not a guarantee of success in achieving the goals of higher education.

I believe that a variable in the decline in the success of historically underrepresented students is a political environment–particularly that Academe–in which resistance to the notion of affirmative action seems to be as strong and visceral in 2012 as it was in the 1960s and 1970s. I would not have thought this to be the case, given the fact that many colleges and universities have a critical mass of historically underrepresented students and emphasize diversity as an educational benefit. As I read the comments following the articles mentioned above, however, it was discouraging to think what some students must endure on college and university campuses when members of the faculty, administration, and staff hold such views.

For me, the future of access in its broadest sense is not as much about what the Supreme Court decides in the Fisher case as it is about the ideology and attitudes of the faculty, administrators, and staff in higher education. Many of the readers who responded to the articles on affirmative action that I mentioned above did not attempt to disguise the fact that they were referring to Black people, for the most part, when they talked about “victims,” “inferior,” “unqualified,” “character flaw,” “lack of responsibility,” and “violent behavior.” Having a position that Black students are at some institutions because of affirmative action and as a result unworthy of being there appears to be the attitude of many of those who responded bitterly to the notion of affirmative action.

Our colleagues need an opportunity to be in face-to-face dialogues with one another about their beliefs in facilitated conversations where they can listen, think critically, and learn, rather than glibly write their opinions behind pseudonyms in the public media. I have faith in the power of people to learn and attempt to understand others, and no one needs these opportunities more than our educators who are carrying agendas based on historical prejudices and misinformation. We should have teach-ins for our colleagues. If students are to learn about other cultures and benefit from interacting with others from diverse cultures, including different religious beliefs, our colleagues need to experience the same kind of learning. The key is to create an atmosphere in which people with what might be considered unpopular attitudes and stances will feel free to express themselves without self-righteous indignation from their colleagues who think differently.

People make fun of what used to be called “sensitivity training,” and- D perhaps the way this training was introduced and carried out deserve the derision, but something needs to be done to get educators in the same room with others who hold different opinions on an issue such as affirmative action, regardless of the decision of the Supreme Court, in order to have what have been called “difficult dialogues.”

The decision of the Court does not end the debate; it just goes underground and it smolders and eventually may damage those who depend on educators to prepare them to live in a world where intercultural understanding and communication is a requirement for not only their careers but for their life away from work. The good news is that, more often than not, today’s students are open and want to know and learn from other cultures. Faculty, administrators and staff who are locked into positions of ignorance are unable to help students move forward in a multicultural, diverse, and global environment. Our colleagues need help.