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Senators differ over recruiting minority graduate students

STANFORD -- Presentation of a report about Stanford's mixed record in recruiting minority graduate students prompted a spirited discussion at the Faculty Senate's Oct. 27 meeting.

During discussion of a 49-page report from the Provost's Committee on the Recruitment, Retention and Graduation of Targeted Minority Graduate Students, the senators expressed differing views about how to increase the size of the applicant pool, the role of minority faculty members, the need to increase the number of student fellowships, and whether the university should monitor minority student achievements during their Stanford careers.

The committee, appointed in November 1993 and chaired by George Dekker, associate dean of graduate policy, made seven specific recommendations to help Stanford meet its goals (see separate story).

Dekker started the senate discussion by characterizing the report as "cautiously upbeat," despite Stanford's failure to meet a 1989 goal of doubling the number of minority graduate students.

He noted that the committee was encouraged by a sharp improvement in minority enrollments since 1988, after prolonged periods of lower enrollments in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Excluding the professional schools of law, medicine and business, Stanford this fall enrolled 119 "targeted" minorities - or 8.6 percent - of the 1,384 new students entering various master's and doctoral programs. The targeted minorities are African Americans, Native Americans, Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans. Asian Americans are not considered a targeted minority.

For the future, the university should focus less on "quick recruiting payoffs" intended to produce high numbers, and instead work to assure that those who are recruited do well in Stanford's programs, Dekker said.

New coordinating group

Following Dekker's presentation, Provost Condoleezza Rice told the senate that she and Dekker would co-chair a "steering council" she intends to appoint that would try to improve Stanford's minority graduate student enrollment, with particular focus on increasing the pool of minority students.

The proposed steering council would include recruiting representatives from each of the schools, a representative from the vice provost and dean for student affairs, and Jim Larimore, former director of the American Indian Program Office, who is working part time on these issues in Rice's office.

This is "not a Stanford problem, it is a national problem," Rice said. Stanford is admitting minority students at "relatively high rates," but the size of the pool is a problem.

As college juniors, more minority students should be encouraged to consider careers for which the doctorate is necessary. Some students may need more preparation in quantitative fields so they could study for doctorates in engineering, business or medicine, she said.

"As a member of an ethnic community myself, let me tell you that I am just thoroughly embarrassed at the number of African American minority Ph.D.s that we produce nationwide," Rice said.

She said she also was embarrassed by occasional conversations in the African American community that seem to "devalue the academic enterprise and devalue the Ph.D."

Ethnic communities must "step up to bat" and say they want to participate in the world of ideas. That can only happen, she said, in an honest conversation "that says if we don't produce the Ph.D.s, we can't produce [minority] professors."

Increasing the applicant pool

Several senators discussed how to increase the number of qualified applicants - what they called the "pipeline" issue.

"Increasing the size and the quality of the pool strikes me," said Tom Heller, law, "as an extremely valuable road to take."

He asked what efforts research universities are making jointly to deal with the issue.

Dean of Humanities and Sciences John Shoven told Heller that Stanford has played a leadership role in exchanging the names of minority undergraduates who might be interested in graduate school among a consortium of universities.

Dekker said that pipeline programs exist both nationally and at Stanford, especially in fields such as engineering, where potential candidates can be identified fairly early.

The Graduate School of Business, he said, has proposed a program aimed at helping minority graduate students develop quantitative skills that would help them in the engineering, business, science and technology fields.

"This seems to me to be one of the most valuable ideas around," Dekker said.

Pat Jones, chair of biological sciences, said she talked to many students last year at a conference of minority undergraduate science students, where she found a "wealth of talent" and interest in research. Many of the students were from the East Coast and the South. Those who knew about Stanford said it was too far away, she recalled.

"Though we did get a couple of students to apply, they were offered admission and they turned us down," she said.

A good strategy, already being tried on a small scale at Stanford, she said, is to bring minority students to campus for summer programs. Among these students, Stanford is having better success with enrollment. These efforts should be expanded, Jones said.

Roger Noll, economics, suggested that the pipeline problem "has to be dealt with before the beginning of the freshman year."

Based on his extensive experience as a freshman adviser, Noll said that a large number of students arrive at Stanford "believing they don't belong." This is true of minority students, athletes, students from rural areas and students from below- average high schools.

Many of these students "get massively stressed when they first arrive," he said.

"We're going to have to do a lot more than be warm and friendly to get these kids up to the point where they can compete effectively right from the beginning and have confidence in what they're doing," Noll said.

Stanford must take responsibility to help students, especially those from bad high schools, to catch up quickly so they might become interested in doctoral research, Noll said.

Role of minority faculty?

Lack of minority faculty to work with minority students was a concern raised by English Professor Regenia Gagnier, who also heads the program in modern thought and literature. Some students come to Stanford to do work related to their ethnicity or race, she said, and they become "alarmed and disaffected" when there are no minority faculty for them to work with.

Rice told Gagnier that "I'm obviously very interested in increasing the number of minority faculty. I'm doing everything I can.

"But I hope that we've not actually gotten to the place that minority students can only work with minority faculty," Rice said.

Gagnier replied that students committed to some area of ethnic studies "very much want to work with people who have specialized in those areas."

Rice retorted, "I'm very glad that people who work on Russia don't feel that way about me."

Gagnier told the provost that "if you're not aware of this problem you're going to be admitting a lot of students who will be very unhappy."

Rice responded, "I'm aware of the argument. I simply don't accept it."

Fellowship support

George Fredrickson, history, and John Bender, English, discussed fellowship support and its effect on their departments.

Fredrickson suggested creation of a special group of minority recruiting fellowships that could be diverted for use by departments that have an unusually large number of outstanding minority applicants.

His own department last year rejected many highly qualified minority applicants who wanted to specialize in American history "because we didn't have fellowships to offer them."

The department gets almost no minority applicants for medieval, German or Russian history, he said, and has not substantially increased the number of faculty in areas where minority candidates are applying. But the department could increase its minority student enrollment if the administration could provide more fellowships to match the types of applicants the department has been getting.

Fredrickson suggested a pool of fellowships for which departments could compete that would add to their allotment.

Dekker said that he and others are aware of the problem, but the suggested solution would tend to increase the uneven distribution of minority students. The Committee on Graduate Studies has discussed the issue before and will do so again, he said.

The English Department faces a similar problem, John Bender said. Virtually all minority candidates want to study 20th- century American literature, Bender said. Because of its success in recruiting minority students and faculty, very few fellowships remain for other elements of the department's mission, including 1,000 years of British literature and pre-20th-century American literature.

Over time, the department's success has distorted its mission, he said.

Shoven defended the current fellowship system, which awards a fraction of additional graduate student fellowship money to departments that admit minority graduate students.

But he also said the cost-sharing parameters might not please everyone, and he invited departments that are unhappy to discuss their concerns with his office.

Of the four populations in his school - faculty, staff, undergraduates and graduate students - the graduate students "by far got the most attention in terms of recruiting energy last year," he said. And enrollment of minorities in doctoral programs jumped from 21 students in fall 1993 to 33 this year. That increase, almost 50 percent, "certainly is the best we've ever done and we'll try to do better."

For the future, Shoven said, Humanities and Sciences should broaden its recruiting attention to faculty.

Measuring graduate student achievement

Stephen Krasner, political science, was critical of the report's methodology and resulting conclusions. The report only reflects the attitudes of those who responded to the survey, he said. “While the survey was mailed to a random sample of graduate students, there is no reason to think that the responses were random.

“The actual attitudes of targeted minority graduate students could be much better than the report suggests or could be much worse,” he said.

The report only deals with attitudes, not the reality of how a neutral third party might assess a particular experience, he said.

Except for statistics on graduation rates, the report lacks information about achievements of targeted minorities such as grade point average, honors and publications, he said.

Furthermore, targeted minorities are offered admission at a higher rate than others, he said, citing statistics from the report showing that last year 7.2 percent of targeted minorities were admitted to the Medical School compared with 3.6 percent of nonminorities. In the Law School, 11.1 percent of minority applicants were admitted, compared with 8.6 percent for others, and in Humanities and Sciences, the minority admissions rate was 16 percent, compared with 12.5 percent for nonminorities.

"These figures suggest that there is some difference in the qualifications of the pool of targeted minorities as opposed to the rest of the population," he said.

Krasner said that everyone should agree that "differences in achievement between targeted minorities and the rest of the population should be less at the end of their experience at Stanford than at the beginning," and ideally there should be no difference at all.

Of Krasner's first criticism, Dekker said that the committee went to "great lengths to listen to the minority graduate student communities." Giving an honest and accurate account "of what they said to us was part of our responsibility," even if it made for some embarrassing headlines.

Regarding the higher admission rate for minorities, Dekker said that in the early 1970s, the university admitted some minority students who were not able to handle the challenges of Stanford.

"We don't do that today," he said. The pattern over time has been "in the direction of an increase in applications in most schools, and along with that, a tightening up of the number of acceptances that have been offered."

Using the English Department as an example, Dekker said, "when you have 500 applications for your Ph.D. program, by the time you get down to the 100th cut, you're dealing with extremely good students. You could pick almost any one of them and they would do well in our program.

"I'm not really worried about the quality of the targeted minority grad students we admit today," he concluded.

On the issue of tracking achievement, Rice told Krasner that "it ought to be looked at without regard to ethnicity."

"I would hate to think that we [would] track minorities as if somehow there's an implied sense that they are going to do less well," she said.

Charlotte Jacobs, medicine, agreed with Krasner about the importance of measuring success. The Medical School, she said, tracks its M.D. students from the standpoint of how many papers they write, the number of national presentations they make and their rank of choice in terms of residency placement.



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