Morgan dean crusades for more black Ph.D.s


January 10, 1995|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,Sun Staff Writer

Four years ago, says Frank L. Morris Sr., he was looking at graduate school statistics, "and it hit me like a ton of bricks."

Bad enough that blacks are so badly underrepresented in the graduate schools of American universities, says Dr. Morris, dean of graduate studies at Morgan State University. But worse, the statistics he saw showed that non-American citizens, most of them temporary visitors from China, Taiwan and Korea, earned six times more doctorates in 1990 than African-Americans.

"It just galled me," Dr. Morris says. "It galled me particularly because many of these guests aren't supporting themselves, and their governments aren't supporting them. They're enjoying research money that flows into universities, a lot of it from the federal government. In other words, you and I are paying to educate the elite from Asia, who are then taking their doctorates back home."

Since that day in 1991, Dr. Morris has been on a crusade. And the most recent statistics available, from 1992, haven't tempered his anger. They show that 6,464 Asians with temporary visas earned doctorates in the U.S., up from 1,829 a decade earlier. By contrast, 951 blacks with U.S. citizenship earned doctorates, down from 1,047 in 1982. (During that period, the number of white U.S. citizens earning doctorates increased only slightly, from 21,680 to 22,718.)

Indeed, Dr. Morris points out, blacks are the "only group in America producing fewer doctorates now than in 1977."

Dr. Morris' criticism is harsh. He blames the "culture" of graduate schools, which, he says, values Asians over black Americans and other minorities. "Asians are held in high esteem," he says, "and universities just don't believe American minorities can be successful."

"It's also an ego-boosting thing for the universities. They can say they have r.a.'s [research assistants] and t.a.'s [teaching assistants] from exotic places rather than from West Baltimore or Harlem. It's considered a sign of international sophistication."

Higher educators find this kind of talk discomforting. For years many of them have committed time and money to diversifying their graduate schools and the faculties these schools produce. But in 1992, the nation's entire production of black Ph.D.s in mathematics and biology was eight, and not a single doctorate was issued in general physics.

Graduate schools argue that under these circumstances, diversifying faculty is nearly impossible. They claim that many talented African-Americans opt for careers in business and the law, for which the necessary post-collegiate schooling is half of that required for a Ph.D. in the sciences or mathematics.

"It's a very sticky wicket within the academy," says Israel Tribble Jr., president of the Florida Education Fund, "and Frank has taken grief for his position. But he's right on the money. When you look at total dollars, we're funding more graduate education for foreigners in this country than all minorities put together. We have to address this problem openly without being xenophobic."

Dr. Tribble's organization, backed by a major foundation, is dedicated to recruiting and financing black doctoral students in Florida. (It has no counterpart in Maryland. But the Southern Regional Education Board, of which Maryland is a member, and two other regional groups last year announced a major campaign to recruit blacks to faculty ranks.)

Dr. Morris and the "Compact for Faculty Diversity" campaign agree on one thing: More money must be freed for minority research fellowships. The Morgan dean wants "one-for-one" funding. "Don't stop funding international students," he says. "But any time a university wants to fund an international student, it should fund an American minority to the same level."

Dr. Tribble praised the University of Maryland Baltimore County, a majority-white institution that eagerly recruits high-achieving black undergraduates in the sciences and mathematics. "It's still not cool to be a minority and a high achiever in school," says UMBC's president, Freeman A. Hrabowski, who is black. "We're trying to convince these young people that it's not only OK; it's great!"

Pratt 'Student Express'

Baltimore middle and high school students will get a helping hand -- attached to a computer -- when the Enoch Pratt Library opens the "Student Express" with ceremonies this afternoon at the Central Library, 400 Cathedral St.

Open to all students, public and private, the Student Express will offer a wide assortment of reference tools, personal computers, access to data bases, study guides, college catalogs, information on scholarships and financial aid and help with test preparation, term papers and science projects.

Funds for the center come from the Goldseker Foundation, the library Board of Trustees and state and city budgets.

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