by James A. Bacon
With the occupation of the Virginia Commonwealth University president’s office by an estimated 30 African-American students yesterday, the national politics of racial polarization has come to Richmond. Expressing solidarity with the black students at the University of Missouri, the black VCU students say they feel alienated from campus life and abandoned by the university. Given the black anger sweeping the nation, it was just a matter of time.
Race relations are worse now than any time I can remember since the race riots of the ’60s and ’70s. The militancy of the “Black Lives Matter” movement has given rise to a scary backlash by white hate groups, as highlighted by the South Carolina church bombing and the arrest yesterday of two white Richmond-area men for plotting to shoot up or bomb synagogues or black churches. The inflammatory words and actions of one extreme justifies the inflammatory words and actions of the other. The difference is that white extremist groups remain despised and marginalized in our society, as they should be, while the “Black Lives Matter” movement and its offshoots has demonstrated that it can dethrone university presidents.
Because broad sectors of our society, especially our intellectual elites, confer legitimacy upon black militants like VCU’s student activists — giving sympathetic play to their demands in a way they never would for alienated whites — it is only reasonable to subject the militants’ demands to critical scrutiny.
Based on the Richmond Times-Dispatch article, the VCU students expressed three broad sets of demands: (1) They want to double the percentage of black professors at VCU by 2017, (2) they want more funding for cultural organizations and events on campus, and (3) they want VCU to create a “cultural competency” course, which all students must attend. Let’s deal with those one by one.
More black professors. Fifteen percent of the VCU student body is black, while VCU says that only five percent of the professors are black. Students “say it’s often difficult for them to deal with educators who don’t understand their cultural concerns or the experience driving their thoughts and world view.” VCU, they insist, needs to double the percentage of African-American faculty within two years.
The Chinese, Korean and Middle Eastern students at VCU don’t seem to have a problem with the faculty’s cultural experience different from their own, but that’s a side issue. There is a very practical problem with the students’ demand: There are not enough black professors to go around. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, blacks comprised only six percent of full-time instructional faculty in degree-granting institutions in 2013. Granted, that’s one percentage point more than at VCU, so it’s possible that VCU could hire more black faculty. But raising the percentage to 10% is all but impossible. Making the job even harder for VCU is the fact that the scarcity value of black professors gives them a real premium in the academic marketplace, meaning that more prestigious schools with greater resources are likely to outbid VCU.
Accomplishing the goal within two years is literally impossible, even if VCU could achieve the goal demanded by students of ensuring that at least one of three candidates interviewing for a faculty position is black. While it’s true that 7% of PhDs awarded in the United States these days (based upon 2007 data published by the Survey of Earned Doctorates Fact Sheet) goes to to blacks, the distribution of degrees is highly unbalanced: 38.4% of all black doctoral recipients earned a degree in education (double the average for whites), which suggests that VCU will have no trouble making or exceeding its quota for education school professors. But much smaller percentages earned degrees in engineering and the hard sciences, meaning it will be nearly impossible for VCU to consider black candidates for certain fields.
Bottom line: The under-representation of blacks in VCU’s faculty does not reflect “institutional racism” or “white privilege” but the paucity of African-American PhDs. The paucity of African-American PhDs does not represent discrimination against African-Americans in higher ed, a bastion of liberalism and politically correct thinking, but the lower percentage of African-Americans graduating from high school capable of doing PhD-level work.
More funding for cultural organizations. The activists say there is “no effort being made to foster a community for black students.”
Really? VCU’s website lists 621 student organizations, including these:
African & American Student Empowerment Project
Association of Black Social Workers
Black Art Student Empowerment
Black Awakening Choir
Black Graduate Student Association
Black Ice (hip hop dance group)
Black Student Law Association (BLSA)
Minority Legal Students of BLSA
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
National Association of Black Accountants
National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice
National Society of Black Engineers
And that doesn’t include the cultural organizations for African students generally, and Ethiopians, Sudanese and Eritrean students specifically.
VCU has no student organizations based on white racial/ethnic identity. I presume that organizations like the Ukelele Club, the Car Club and the Tae Kwon Do Club are open to all, regardless of racial/ethnic affiliation. If there aren’t enough options among the 621 organizations listed to plug into university life, there is nothing to prevent African-American students from starting new organizations, registering with the university, and applying for student government funds like every other organization does. What’s the problem here? Why is it someone else’s responsibility, and not that of the students themselves, to create the kind of community they want?
The protesters say they want more funding for their cultural organizations and events. How would that play out in practice? Do they want exemptions to the rules that apply to other students organizations? On what grounds, other than their perception of victimization, do they warrant special treatment?
Cultural competency course. The VCU black activists say they want the university to create a “cultural competency” course. It doesn’t take much imagination to think that the purpose of such a course will be to indoctrinate students in the ideology of black victimization and white privilege, imposing leftist ideology and enforcing enforce conformity of behavior and thought. This is the most terrifying of all their demands. I don’t know how much it will accomplish in making African-Americans feel comfortable at VCU, but it will do one thing for sure — it will make whites feel a lot more uncomfortable.
The T-D article said that VCU President Michael Rao spent more than two hours in “an open and frank conversation” about the issues that the black students raised. Showing openness to the concerns of black students was probably a wise idea. But capitulating to their demands would be most unwise.There are currently no comments highlighted.