Globe Editorial

One college gains true diversity

March 7, 2010

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WHEELOCK COLLEGE is without peer in diversity, with a tenured and tenure track faculty that is 23 percent black and Hispanic. A Globe survey found the percentage of such faculty to be between 3 and 8 percent at Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Boston College, Brandeis, Emerson, Northeastern, and Tufts. Not a single one of those private colleges and universities is even at the 9 percent national average for black and Hispanic faculty, in a nation that is 28 percent black and Hispanic.

Only UMass Boston, the city’s public university, offers Wheelock any competition with 13 percent black and Hispanic faculty. Boston University, the city’s largest private school, is only at 3.4 percent. Harvard may boast some black superstars such as Henry Louis Gates, Jr., but its faculty is only 5.8 percent black and Hispanic.

Wheelock proves that neither rocket science nor an undiscovered Dead Seas scroll is necessary to find the formula to achieve diversity. Wheelock President Jackie Jenkins-Scott, who is African American but says progress was underway well before her arrival in 2004, said that universities have to believe in diversity enough to have “a diversity officer with access to the departments [and] the ability to report situations to the leadership.’’

She asked out loud, “Is there someone who really is being given the authority to hold up a position until people of color are considered? Leadership has to give clear signals that this is a top priority and part of the mission.’’

That means having leaders who are not cowed by critics who demean diversity efforts as being politically correct. It means having chancellors and deans who no longer reach for the excuse that their school is somehow so specialized, rigorous, or elite that “they cannot find any.’’

Since Jenkins-Scott’s arrival, Wheelock, a liberal arts school founded in 1888 by kindergarten pioneer Lucy Wheelock and renowned for producing teachers and professional child and family advocates, has also increased the percentage of black and Hispanic undergraduates from 13 percent in 2006 to 17 percent this year.

The percentage of first-year students who are the first person in their family to go to college has increased from 32 percent in the fall of 2008 to 51 percent last September. “I had the problem coming in of having a more diverse faculty than we had a student body,’’ Jenkins-Scott laughed. It is an unheard-of problem for the rest of Boston’s colleges and universities, but no laughing matter for any school pretending to prepare leaders for a multi-cultural and global 21st century.