Minority Recruitment and Retention at Penn

As work has proceeded on Agenda for Excellence , the University's strategic plan, I have thought a great deal about aspects of the plan that need to be fleshed out or clarified. In a coming issue of Almanac the Provost and I will fill in gaps in the Agenda, as it was published last November, by outlining several strategic priorities for the University in academic areas of critical importance. In this issue I would like to offer some thoughts and announce several initiatives on the subject of minority permanence at Penn. Agenda for Excellence clearly says that as part of the University's drive toward comprehensive excellence, we must value diversity and strengthen our efforts to recruit and retain students and faculty from underrepresented minority groups. My desire in this space is to provide some details on how we may do this.

When I came to Penn from the Philadelphia public schools as an undergraduate in the early 1960s, the number of African American students in my class was exceedingly smallbelow one percent of the total. The number of non-white faculty at the University was even smaller. To say people of color were "underrepresented," as we use the term today, is to understate the obvious.

Penn was not unique in this regard. Other prestigious universities in the Ivy League and elsewhere were no different. In most cases, this was not because these universities refused to admit persons of color. To the contrary, in Penn's case, the University awarded its first degree to an African American almost a century before I arrived, and many talented African American students continued to enroll and receive undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees through the following decades. But until minority recruitment and retention efforts began to be proactive in the late 1960s, the number remained small.

Penn has obviously changed over the past three decades. There are many more African American and Hispanic students and faculty at the University. Their numbers are still not what they should be, but a stroll through campus today reflects their presence as part of a fuller mosaic of races and cultures that is America.

Sustaining diversity is vital to the future of Penn, higher education and our country. It is central to our institutional commitment and highest calling to provide Penn students with the best possible education. All my instincts and experience as an educator tell me that we can learn muchand frequently learn bestfrom those who are different than we are in race, culture and beliefs.

Learning in this way may not be simple, quiet or easy. Indeed, the coexistence on one campus of individuals of varied backgrounds and divergent ideas is complicated; it requires hard work and commitment from all concerned. But those willing to reach out will find new and unexpected perspectives, and real education will occur.

As an institution of higher education, then, we have a responsibility to create and nurture a community of different peoples in which a true diversity of views and opinions, persons and groups is valued and shared. The quality of life at Penn must be good for people of all races, ethnicity or other personal or group characteristics. Our goal is not to homogenize our differences, but to capitalize on and learn from them.

Moreover, if Penn intends to educate leaders, as we frequently proclaim, then we must recognize and accommodate the diversity of the society we expect our graduates to lead. If Penn's mission is genuinely tripartite teaching, research and servicethen our service to a tremendously complex and ever-changing society demands that we educate future leaders who come from and participate in that complexity and change. Penn graduates must be people of many colors and from many backgrounds if they are to lead and serve society in the future.

There is nothing uniform about America: diversity is its calling card. Philadelphia--the University's home for more than 250 years--is a case in point. Some forty percent of Philadelphians identify themselves as African American; the percentage is higher still among the 220,000 residents of the West Philadelphia communities surrounding Penn. Thousands of African Americans either work or have worked at Penn, the city's largest private employer, and have made unique contributions to the University's success. Among the city's 1.5 million residents are members of many other races and ethnic groups as well. With the diversity of Philadelphia at its doorstep, how could Penn claim to teach both theory and practice if its campus were an island remote and unlike the world in which all practice must take place?

With reasons like these in mind, Penn's Trustees in 1985 determined "that Blacks and other minorities are not sufficiently represented among its faculty and its. . . student bodies." As a result, the Trustees agreed to undertake programs to attract "a greater number of underrepresented minority students and faculty . . . so that the University as a whole will be enriched and the University will provide a model for the nation in the integration of minorities into our higher education system."

Similar sentiments have been expressed by many other colleges and universities as they have come to the firm belief that efforts to increase diversity will improve education for all studentsnot just those from under-represented groups. Consistent with this, they have undertaken and funded a wide range of initiatives and programs aimed at recruitment and retention of minority students and faculty. Racial diversity, in this connection, must be seen as a legitimate consideration in a university's decisions about the students and the faculty it recruits. It must not be an exclusive consideration, a proxy for quotas or a rationale for admitting or hiring the unqualified, but it must remain one among other factors legitimately taken into account. To the extent recent court decisions suggest otherwise, I believe those decisions pose a real threat to the ability of universities to deliver education of the highest quality.

In my opinion, we must continue efforts to recruit students and faculty from under-represented minority groups and, at the same time, articulate much better the importance and value of those efforts to our educational enterprise. Indeed, this is a moment when, rather than retreat, we must redouble our efforts. According to current figures, the number of matriculants from under-represented minority groups in the class of 2000 is lower than the number a year ago, and there has been little real growth in African American and Hispanic faculty over the past decade.

This administration has a strong commitment to improving this situation. Therefore, I announce today the following important initiatives:

  1. Over the next five years the University will make a special allocation of $5 million or $1 million a yearfor the recruitment and retention of students and faculty from underrepresented minorities. Central funds provided for this effort will supplement, not replace, other significant funds already devoted to minority permanence at Penn. To augment these new central funds, in all but exceptional cases, every dollar used for the benefit of a particular school should be matched by that school. Applications for these funds will be made to the Provost, who will make allocations after consultation with appropriate faculty and student groups.

  2. Simultaneously, over the next five years, as one of a number of fundraising efforts undertaken as part of Agenda for Excellence, the University will seek to raise $20 million for recruitment, retention and programs of importance to diversity at Penn. To the greatest extent possible, this money must be deposited in a special endowment rather than spent on short-term projects. Our goal will be to build an endowment that can generate sufficient income to replace, after the fifth year, the final $1 million central allocation. This will be an important departure from the practice in the campaign for minority permanence that ended in 1994. The lion's share of the money raised in that campaign was term-limited and, while it provided critical financial aid and program support for many students and faculty, the money is now gone. An endowment will provide the kind of long-term support required.

  3. Separate from any of the items listed above, $250,000 in foundation support will be sought to provide seed funding for research by Penn faculty and students on the educational benefits of diversity in a university setting. Although my belief in these benefits is profound, I recognize nonetheless, as a social scientist, that more and better research must be conducted to give proof to those skeptics who remain unconvinced.

  4. This fall I will ask a member of the standing faculty to serve as a Special Advisor to the President, to assist me on a number of fronts and provide key advice to me and my office. Among other important assignments, the Special Advisor will monitor and periodically report on progress made on the initiatives announced in this letter. I look forward to making this appointment after I have consulted with faculty colleagues.

Although this is a time of fiscal constraints, I am announcing these initiatives because I believe they are vital to the future of the University. I urge everyone to help ensure their success. Among many other things, this means something as simple as speaking well of Penn to prospective students or faculty when they visit campus and want to know "what things are really like." We must work together to make Penn a model, diverse community that other universities will strive to emulate. And we must get out the word to the students and faculty we hope will join us.

Let us work together to achieve our goals and continue to move forward.


Volume 43 Number 4
September 17, 1996

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