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Universities plan to add minority Ph.D.s in post-Prop. 209 climate

STANFORD -- To Ted Greenwood, the numbers tell the story. Big advances have been made in affirmative action in higher education over the past 30 years. But at the top of the educational ladder, where the nation's future faculty and top management earn their doctoral degrees, the numbers of minorities remain stubbornly small.

Approximately 20,000 Ph.D.s are granted by U.S. universities each year in mathematics, science and engineering. According to Greenwood, only about 450 of those doctorates are earned by blacks, Latinos or Native Americans.

Two-and-a-half years ago, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation initiated a challenge to faculty at some of the nation's top science universities to change that picture. Greenwood is the Sloan grants officer who challenges universities, departments and, in some cases, individual faculty members to add 100 scholars nationwide to the yearly numbers of underrepresented minorities who earn the Ph.D.

"We believe the equity argument," Greenwood said. "Equal results don't always come from equal opportunity when people don't start from the same place. [And] we just think it's good business, good for an increasingly diverse country to have the full range of Americans participate."

It's an argument that seems out of sync with today's political climate. When representatives of 11 Sloan grant institutions met at Stanford last month to share strategies, major topics of the conversation were California's Proposition 209, the University of California Regents' decision, and a recent federal district court ruling that affects Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. All these actions limit state agencies, including colleges and universities, from granting preferences based on race or gender.

  Noe Lozano

"The question becomes, How do we improve the recruitment and retention of minorities and women regardless of the constraints?" said Noe Lozano, host of the meeting and associate dean of student affairs in Stanford's School of Engineering.

On Nov. 6, after the passage of California's Proposition 209, Stanford President Gerhard Casper specifically reiterated his university's commitment to affirmative action, saying, "This shows once again the importance of the freedom of private universities to choose their own educational ideals, standards and goals."

But in interviews conducted after the conference, Lozano and his counterparts at several universities said that even private institutions are re-thinking minority access. He said that in addition to laws and court decisions, there are some signs of a "concerted effort" by conservative groups to bring lawsuits against affirmative action.

"Our programs won't stop, but they will change," said Richard Tapia of Rice University in Houston. Like Stanford, Rice is a private institution in a region with anti-affirmative action laws. "I think we'll see this nationwide: a broader definition of diversity. [We're still seeking] a student body that creates an environment conducive to a broad education. A student body that represents the population."

So far, Eastern schools have not had to take a stand against such legal challenges, said Isaac Colbert, senior associate dean of graduate education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "But we're not immune to the normal pushes and pulls of a society that's struggling once again with the issue of fair access."

The anti-affirmative action movement "causes us to examine what we're doing, to clarify for ourselves what the objectives are," Colbert said. "We believe that we are doing what's right ­ that the nation and the civilized world needs to reach out aggressively to include members of underrepresented groups in science and technology and to do it with all deliberate speed."

Lozano, the son of Mexican immigrants, said he never would have considered college without a recruiter who tracked him down and told him his grades would get him into the University of California-Santa Cruz. Now, 25 years later, he said, "I'd be the first to say that some affirmative action programs needed to be revamped. But you can't throw the whole thing out just because it needs to be fixed."

Colbert, an African American, said, "The anti-affirmative action people see progress as belonging to one group. That attitude is arrogant and self-serving: that all the slots are taken, that adding minorities takes a slot away from someone else."

How laws limit programs

The effects of California's Proposition 209 are still uncertain because the new law, passed by the voters Nov. 5, may be tied up by court challenges for several years. However, the UC Regents decision made last year requires University of California campuses to dismantle programs that award financial aid or admissions based on race and gender. Outreach and student support programs that target specific minority groups also must be curtailed

"It's debatable whether even private foundation grants or scholarships will be allowed," Lozano said. But he said that these institutions still can offer information to disadvantaged students who would not traditionally be encouraged to attend college or to go on and seek master's and doctoral degrees. They still can offer "retention" programs ­ moral and even financial support to students of any background who have trouble staying in school.

The new laws also should not affect ethnic studies or gender studies programs, or student centers that celebrate a particular culture. "Those are things that can be open to anyone," Lozano said.

He said that private institutions also must be aware of these issues because of the possibility of lawsuits. He said Stanford is not particularly vulnerable to suit because race and gender are not deciding factors in admissions or funding. Instead the university depends on outreach to draw from a diverse pool of students, all of whom must meet a high threshold of qualifications. He said that recruitment and retention programs are targeted to help minorities, but open to all students who need them.

"Mentoring programs [at some institutions] had started to be race-conscious," Lozano said. "After 30 years of affirmative action, this may be a good time to go to the next phase, to build diversity programs. No one ever wanted these things to be separate but equal, even if it was done for the right reasons."

He said there have been "race-exclusive" programs at Stanford but he is not aware of any now that are funded by the university.

Tapia said that the new broader definition of diversity may go beyond race and gender to encourage students who are the first in their families to attend college. "Or they could come from tiny towns, students who are quite creative but didn't have the schooling that a person from a top high school in Houston would have. Or the family traveled around ­ the father was in the service."

Stanford aims for top engineers

Two years ago, Stanford's School of Engineering committed matching funds to a $690,500 Sloan grant with the goal of doubling the number of targeted minority Ph.D.s in two of its largest departments: electrical and mechanical engineering. By the 1999-2000 school year, those departments aim to have 50 minority students working toward their doctoral degrees.

Numbers in the School of Engineering as a whole already have begun to climb. There are more than 60 minorities enrolled in doctoral programs this year, up from 29 in 1989, when Lozano was appointed to develop a minority recruitment and retention program for engineering students at all levels. Twenty-two percent of engineering undergrads are targeted minorities, and 40 percent (including Asian Americans) are minorities. "That is up from 1 percent [minorities] 30 years ago," Lozano said.

The figures for minority grad students do not represent the full range of diversity at Stanford, which includes scholars from all over the globe. In terms of adding underrepresented U.S. minorities to the pipeline, however, Stanford is in the range with the rest of the nation: In the School of Engineering, for example, underrepresented minorities still comprise only 5 percent of the doctoral candidates. Lozano points out that they are a very competitive 5 percent ­ they hold 18 percent of the school's National Science Foundation fellowships.

This year, Dean of Engineering John Hennessy gave Lozano a mandate to concentrate on aggressive recruitment of more top-notch candidates for the doctoral degree.

"I told Noe that we want to recruit the best minority Ph.D. candidates from throughout the U.S. to participate in a world-class engineering program," Hennessy said. Stanford is in a position to help alleviate the "pipeline" problem, he said, by raising the low numbers of highly qualified minority scientists and engineers, which now limit the numbers that top universities and corporations can hire.

Lozano's job is to find those highly qualified minority candidates to present to the faculty, who make the ultimate decision about who will be chosen. That means work to encourage promising undergraduate and master's degree students, at Stanford and around the country. It means recruiting from the nation's top undergraduate schools, and from schools with good academic records and traditionally black or Hispanic student bodies.

It also sometimes means providing support to keep people in graduate school. That applies to all students, regardless of background, Hennessy said: "We admit them because we believe they have the talent, and I don't want to see someone we've admitted dropping out for reasons of difficulty. Some do leave ­ they realize the Ph.D. wasn't for them, or someone in Silicon Valley gave them a great offer they can't refuse. But you don't want to lose a talented individual because he or she is missing some part of the preparation, or just never had the right professor along the way."

Stanford's School of Humanities and Sciences and School of Medicine also have programs to seek out highly qualified minority science students for their Ph.D. programs. In addition, Humanities and Sciences offers a tutoring and mentoring outreach program aimed to encourage future scientists at local Carlmont High School. The School of Medicine's Center of Excellence offers programs ranging from high school outreach, to M.D. and Ph.D. recruitment, to opportunities to study health care issues affecting minority and underserved populations. The center also sponsors clinical clerkships to allow medical students to work in those communities.

Other universities have varied their approaches to the challenge. For example, Colbert oversees programs in all the schools at MIT. He said while they work on graduate student recruitment at several levels, the cornerstone of their program is an intensive summer program that "broadens the pool" of potential Ph.D.s by bringing undergraduates from non-research institutions to study in the labs of top scientists and engineers. That is in addition to the research opportunities offered to all MIT undergrads.

It comes down to individuals

At the University of California, where the future of such programs is in doubt, integrative biology Professor Tyrone Hayes vows that outreach to minorities will still continue. Hayes, an African American, said that most of his fellow faculty support the concept of affirmative action. The difficulty will be in finding opportunities to do as he now does, lecturing in public schools or offering summer research opportunities for first-generation college women, without programs to organize these activities.

Some will continue ­ recruiting trips organized by groups like Scientists of Color will not be affected by the new laws because student groups are protected by freedom-of-association rules. But if university-run programs are curtailed, Hayes said, "it makes it a little more difficult to find the places where I can make a difference.

"In large part it's going to fall more on individuals," Hayes said. "The burden will be on students and individual faculty to do this, presumably without university funds."

He is working in a long tradition of individual professors and single departments that have tried to make a difference in minority recruitment. For example, Colbert said that for years MIT and Stanford led the nation in production of African American Ph.D.s, and Stanford astrophysicist Art Walker confirms that.

Walker said the practice started in the 1960s, under the leadership of former physics chair Walter Meyerhof, now a professor emeritus. He found advisers for the students among the physicists in several departments. Over the years, 33 African Americans and Latinos have earned doctorates in physics and applied physics at Stanford. MIT has trained nearly as many, under the leadership of top physicists like Jerome Friedman and Philip Morrison. No other university comes close ­ so far.

"In the last several years, everyone is interested in these students," Walker said. The National Conference of Black Physics Students is mobbed each year with 20 or 30 university representatives, he said, wooing potential physicists for schools from Georgia Tech to Michigan State. Meanwhile, Walker said that Stanford's physics department has several minority students working toward their degrees, but "no new minority graduate students [joined] either department this year, for the first time in many years."

Blas Cabrera, chair of physics and former chair of the department's admissions committee, said the commitment to Meyerhof's tradition continues. This year, the minority students who were offered admission chose to go somewhere else ­ but he said the incoming class does include 40 percent women, well above the national average of 15 percent women in graduate physics programs. "I certainly hope that the decrease in minority applicants and acceptances is not a trend but rather a fluctuation in the statistics of small numbers," Cabrera said.

Walker also noted that while the physicists were adding successful new Ph.D.s to the pipeline, the number of minority scientists on Stanford's faculty has not grown. "I've been here 22 years, and in the School of Humanities and Sciences, I'm still the only African American scientist," he said. The School of Engineering has four African Americans and three Latinos; Earth Sciences has one African American.

Tapia has used his position as the first Latino to be elected to the National Academy of Engineering as leverage to help build Rice's highly respected department of computational and applied mathematics into a model of diversity, with 50 percent women and more than one-third underrepresented minorities. Rice's outreach efforts now extend from elementary schools to doctoral programs and have gained national attention.

For an individual to make this kind of difference requires the cooperation of his colleagues, Tapia says; for a faculty member, that means having top scientific credentials "so no one can say, you don't understand the culture [of academe]."

All agreed that faculty culture is the essential ingredient in raising the numbers of minority Ph.D.s. "It comes down one way or another to individual commitment," Colbert said. "The question is, How many individuals do you have? When does [recruiting minorities] become a department-wide imperative and part of the institutional fabric? At some indeterminate point, it becomes part of the group's expectation that this is what is done, and it doesn't need any further discussion."

Departments and individuals cannot make a difference on their own, however. Doctoral students are supported primarily by grants and usually do not drain department resources, but institutional resources are needed for recruitment and retention efforts, and to seek out sources of support like the Sloan grants.

In the new political climate, "the question among my colleagues is how much risk their institutions are willing to take to continue this work," Lozano said. "Institutions with strong programs will re-vamp them. But without the commitment of the top administration and faculty, some will fold overnight."

Code words

The spotlight now is on Proposition 209 proponents like UC regent Ward Connerly and California Gov. Pete Wilson, Lozano said. "They can't just tear down diversity in higher education and watch it fall apart. They have to come up with a better idea. If all they wanted to do is dismantle diversity, the mood of the nation would not allow it," he said.

Why work to increase minority numbers ­ why not assume that the best will find their way somehow to top universities?

"Because it's the ethical thing to do," said Lozano. "Because it creates opportunity where we know it has been stifled and not allowed to grow. And because of the contribution that diversity brings: True learning doesn't occur until you have to argue your positions with people who have lived a different existence and have a different world view. And because it creates friendships and respect for tolerance and understanding that we need as the world begins to shrink."

Minorities working for doctoral degrees
in Science & Engineering at Stanford, Autumn 1996

Engineering            60
Earth Sciences           6
Humanities and Sciences,
   science departments   20
Medicine (Ph.D.)        27

Includes African American, Chicano/Latino and Native American students. The School of Medicine also has 83 minorities working toward the M.D.

-Janet Basu-


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