Will UVa Provide the Data Needed for an Open Discussion about Race?

UVa president’s house. Will UVa’s new president open up the data needed for a honest and open dialogue about race and racism at the university?

As I blogged last week, the University of Virginia is organizing a seminar with the goal of equipping faculty to teach their disciplines “in relation to the history and present reality of race and racism both locally and nationally.” Sessions will “connect historical events and struggles with contemporary concerns such as health, educational, and economic disparities, as well as white supremacist discourse and actions and present efforts toward justice and equity.”

It was unfair of me in that post to suggest that the exercise might be dominated by a politically correct, social-justice-warrior perspective that will illuminate the views of white supremacists but give short shrift to mainstream conservative and libertarian thinking. UVa has assured me that the seminar will “encourage open dialogue among the seminar participants.”

I also have every confidence that the university will take an honest look at its own practices regarding race, not just in the past but in the present. In the spirit of open dialogue, I offer a few data points to consider.

A good place to start is the demographic breakdown of Virginia’s population (2010 census):

White — 68.6%
Black — 19.4%
Asian — 5.5%
Other — 3.7%
Multiracial — 2.9%

(Hispanics, a cultural group apportioned between the aforementioned racial groups, comprise 7.9% of the population.)

Now, here is a breakdown of UVa’s undergraduate student population, based on data from its Diversity Dashboard:

By percentage, that works out to:

White — 58.9%
Black — 6.5%
Asian — 14.0%
Hispanic — 6.5%
Multiracial — 4.3%
Other (foreign, unknown, other) — 10.6%

Even accounting for the differing ways of categorizing by race and culture, it’s clear that blacks are severely under-represented at UVa, Asians are over-represented, and whites are represented in rough proportion to their percentage of the overall population. Examine the charts on the UVa website for graduate students, staff, and faculty as well. While there are some differences (foreign students push up the “other” grouping among graduate students), comparable racial disparities exist across the board.

Here’s the first question. Do the disparities reflect institutional racism at the University of Virginia? Or do disparities reflect the dismal realities of the labor market (there are fewer African-Americans possessing the educational credentials to teach at UVa) and the dismal realities of the educational pipeline (fewer African-Americans meeting the UVa entry requirements)?

Here’s a second question. How does one account for the massive over-representation of Asian students — 14% of the student body but only 5.5% of the student population? Does UVa discriminate in favor of Asian students? Or does it have a meritocratic admissions policy that favors Asians based on objective criteria such as SAT scores, high school class rankings, and other factors?

Once we have touched upon those issues, we can move to a related matter. UVa has stepped up its diversity efforts over the past decade. Perhaps the university could document its dedication to the task by providing an accounting of the manpower and budget devoted to diversity. Yet the number of African-American students actually has declined from 1,199 in 2009 to 1,049 today. Has institutional racism at the university gotten worse, or might there be a different explanation? (Interestingly, the decline has been the most marked among African-American women. Has UVa become more sexist as well as more racist during this period?)

One way we can answer these questions is to provide admissions data that the university administration has heretofore held close to its chest. What is the average SAT score broken down by racial/ethnic group? If average SAT scores of African-Americans are higher than those of other racial/ethnic groups, we could reasonably conclude that they are being discriminated against. Conversely, lower scores would suggest that UVa admissions criteria are designed to increase representation of blacks. So, which is it? It is within UVa’s power to answer this fundamental question. Will it?

Another way to approach the issue of institutional racism is to examine graduation rates by race and ethnic origin. UVa publishes graduation rates for all students. According to UVa’s data, almost 90% graduate within four years, and 94% within six years. The university even publishes graduation rates for athletes (75% within four years). But curiously, it does not publish a breakdown by race. The information is vital to an open and honest dialogue, however, so I feel confident that the UVa administration will make it available.

It’s also curious that the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, which maintains a voluminous database for all public colleges and universities, does not break down 4- or 6-year graduations by race. It does, however, break down graduation rates between “majority” students and “students of color.” The database does not define “students of color.” By common definition, however, the term refers to non-whites, thus it includes Asians as well as blacks, Pacific Islanders, and American Indians.

According to SCHEV data, “majority” students graduate from UVa within four years at a rate of 86.3%. (I can’t explain the discrepancy between UVa data and SCHEV data.) “Students of color” graduate at rate of 83.5%. Given the proclivity of Asians to out-perform all other racial/ethnic groups academically, it is reasonable to assume that they graduate at a rate at least as high as the white rate of 86.3%. Remove them from the “students of color” category, and the average four-year graduation rate drops to 80% or so. That’s just a guess, of course, but if I’m off, UVa can provide authoritative data any time it wants.

What accounts for the 6% to 7% disparity in graduation rate? Is the graduation gap evidence that UVa creates an environment that is hostile to blacks? If the graduation rate is higher for black women and lower for black men (as I suspect it is), does that mean the university environment is more hostile to black men than to black women, and, if so, how does that comport with the pervasive academic theory that black women are victims of both pervasive racism and sexism? I hesitate to bring up yet another possibility, but the question must be asked: Is it possible that campus identity-based ideology based on grievance and victimhood contributes to blacks’ sense of alienation and affects their commitment to graduate?

Another area worth examining is disparities in what students of different ethnic/racial origins pay to attend UVa. The university, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the federal government dispense a significant amount of financial aid based upon the student’s family income. Whites on average come from more affluent families than blacks, so it goes without saying that they need, and receive, less financial aid. But any dialogue about “health, educational, and economic disparities” should take into account measures designed to reduce those disparities. Thus, it would be worthwhile to know how much whites pay for tuition on average versus how much blacks pay. If blacks benefit more than whites from financial aid, that discrepancy undercuts the idea of institutional racism. But we won’t know unless UVa publishes that data. Will it?

Any honest, open dialogue on race will encompass both perceptions and facts. The perceptions are real in the sense that people hold certain ideas about the world around them, but not all perceptions are equally grounded in the facts. It is important for UVa to provide the data so the discussion can proceed on the basis of both perceptions and facts.

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8 responses to “Will UVa Provide the Data Needed for an Open Discussion about Race?

  1. re: ” It was unfair of me in that post to suggest that the exercise might be dominated by a politically correct, social-justice-warrior perspective which, while illuminating the views of white supremacists, will give short shrift to mainstream conservative and libertarian views. ”

    wow! does that count as “eating your hat”?

    Perhaps things are looking up !!!!

    On the diversity thing… I don’t think selecting UVA out alone is really fair…. and here’s a way to get some context… get the data from Virginia’s community colleges then compare it to Va’s 4 year institutions..

    And yes.. I’d like to learn more about the why and how of higher than population percentages.. Asians do so well.. I suspect one of the reasons is that you just don’t find Asians living in rural regions or in poor neighborhoods in urban regions.. This can be seen in the VDOE stats for schools.. You won’t find many Asians in the inner city schools nor in rural Va schools..but you’ll find a good percentage in places like Fairfax.
    From Wiki: Demographics of Asian Americans

    • Asian – Americans differentially succeed because they work their asses off in school and take education very seriously. Even in Fairfax County Asian – Americans constitute a higher percentage of Thomas Jefferson High School students than the percentage of Asian – Americans in the county.

      Hard work and focus still pay off in America – even if you aren’t white.

  2. Yes, we need more complete disclosure from UVa. But there’s one other area I’d like to see explored. UVa had a reputation at one time for competing aggressively with other Virginia and prestigious out of State institutions for the limited pool of qualified black undergraduate admissions candidates who, as you say, come from an undersized pipeline. Now UVa’s share has fallen; but must that be weighed against increases elsewhere? Nationally and across the State? And how is the supply pipeline itself doing? Are there more black applicants today nationwide, and Virginia-specific wide, and at UVa, as a percentage of blacks’ share of the population of each, than, say, 30 years ago?

  3. re: ” Are there more black applicants today nationwide, and Virginia-specific wide, and at UVa, as a percentage of blacks’ share of the population of each, than, say, 30 years ago?”

    that’s one reason why I’d like to see how this is playing out in Community Colleges where the bar for enrollment is less of a hurdle.

    I suspect that we have some pretty high numbers of blacks at some of our Community Colleges.. but I don’t know that for a fact..and would like to see those facts as a context compared to 4yr institutions.

    • There’s also the overt competition between 4-year institutions trying to attract black admissions through financial aid packages and other inducements, all to improve their diversity percentage in just the way cited by JB. The fact that UVa’s black admissions have gone down isn’t surprising given their early successful outreach and the increased competition today. But we have to hope, and seek reassurance, that they don’t respond by lowering admission standards. I understand the pressure to boost black admissions, and there’s the argument that universities should bend their standards selectively for applicants who were less well prepared by inner city schools . . . Or even just to boost diversity statistics. But at what cost to the quality of the University experience for everyone else? At what cost to the perception by other students that they were discriminated against on the basis of their race?

  4. “I understand the pressure to boost black admissions, and there’s the argument that universities should bend their standards selectively for applicants who were less well prepared by inner city schools . . . Or even just to boost diversity statistics. But at what cost to the quality of the University experience for everyone else?”

    I would alter the last sentence above to read:

    “But at what cost to the quality of the University experience for everyone at the university, no matter their race, and for everyone unfairly excluded from the university by such prejudicial and racist admissions policies?”

  5. Well.. I remember way back in high school I had selected the “College Prep” track which was supposed to be up a notch or two from the standard track.

    It was a few years later after I had not gone immediately to College that I decide to go back and registered at a Community College which then had me take a few tests to determine my academic fitness – and to their credit -they refused to admit me until I had taken a semester of remedial courses to get me up to snuff. Now folks will _never_ guess one of my shortfalls… grammar… 😉

    At any rate – I can see that happening at a Community College… it’s the proper place to be taking remedial courses. What I don’t find appropriate or understand is how someone who has, apparently an acceptable SAT but still has to take remedial courses at a 4yr – and does it by going into debt.

    I suspect that more blacks are admitted – on the academic margins to boost minority percentages than turned away for racist policies…

    At the same time – I think “we” have a responsibility to help get those who are lacking sufficient academic capabilities get better and succeed by NOT pushing them into a 4 year program they’re not prepared for and going into debt also.

    The system needs to change. It needs reform, but it does not need to be burned to the ground and start over.

    I think we should focus more on that – than on statistic navel gazing about race…and percentages…

  6. Pingback: Online Articles That May Be of Interest to JBHE : The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education

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