Setting diversity goals

Chancellor stresses enrolling minorities without quotas after state releases guidelines

March 14, 2009|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,stephen.kiehl@baltsun.com

Public universities should set goals - but not quotas - for minority enrollment, state university system Chancellor William E. Kirwan said yesterday. He said they "need to be pushing the limits of the law" to increase diversity on campuses.

For too long, Kirwan said, universities have been afraid to aggressively promote diversity out of fear of lawsuits. The University of Maryland, College Park, for instance, retreated after a federal court struck down its blacks-only Banneker scholarship in 1994.

In a bid to embolden universities, the state attorney general's office released a "legal road map" to help them create diverse campuses, reflective of the state's population. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down quotas but allowed race as an admissions factor.

"There's a great deal of confusion in this area of diversity in the wake of Supreme Court decisions," Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said. "The goal is a simple one: to achieve diversity without bringing a lot of lawsuits."

The 35-page framework says that weight can be given to race and ethnicity, along with other factors that would make for a diverse campus, such as whether a student has lived in another country, is fluent in multiple languages or has overcome personal hardship. Trying to achieve a "critical mass" of minorities is legal, Gansler said. Quotas are not.

The document is being sent to all public and private universities in the state. It is the first official guidance from Maryland to its universities on how they can consider race in recruitment, admissions, retention programs and hiring.

Kirwan said yesterday that each university should have its own goal for minority enrollment, based on its setting and the population it serves. He was careful to differentiate goals from quotas.

"A quota would be you're going to have a certain number irrespective of anything else," he said. "A goal means through recruitment and outreach, we'll try to create a pool of students, so as we look at established legal admissions criteria, we will be able to reach a certain point." He added, "A quota has rigidity. ... A goal is something we're trying to achieve in good faith."

The University of Maryland, College Park has set a goal for 38 percent of undergraduates to be ethnic minorities. The university is now at 33 percent if Asian- Americans are counted as minorities, or 19 percent if they are not. College Park uses race as one of about 26 factors it considers in admissions.

Other factors include where a student is from, athletic ability and whether the applicant's parents went to College Park. The university was stung by the Banneker decision and backed off explicit race-based programs to avoid litigation, said Robert Waters, associate vice president for academic affairs.

"We haven't had some of the legal struggles [post-Banneker] because I think our legal office has taken a fairly conservative approach after that case," Waters said. He said the university wouldn't change how it uses race in admissions but would be increasing its support programs to help minority students stay in school and graduate.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County does not consider race at all in admissions and has no plans to do so, said Yvette Mozie-Ross, assistant provost for enrollment management. She said UMBC has been able to attract students from all backgrounds by creating a diverse, supportive atmosphere. It has no explicit goal for minority enrollment.

Salisbury University does consider race in admissions, along with many other factors, Admissions Director Aaron Basko said. "We have a lot of students who are qualified [for admission], but within that qualified pool we can make sure there's a diverse set of perspectives that are represented," Basko said. The university has worked to build bridges in minority communities, which paid off this year as minority applications went up 19 percent.

Basko said the legal road map from the state will provide clarity on exactly what can be done. "I think there hasn't necessarily been a lot of clear guidance in the past."

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