EXPECTING STANDARDS: Dupont Circle Associations Wrestle with Meeting High Diversity Expectations

Article excerpt

EXPECTING STANDARDS: Dupont Circle associations wrestle with meeting high diversity expectations.

BY BLACK ISSUES STAFF

WASHINGTON - The American Council of Education recently lost two of the most visible minorities in higher education.

Dr. Deborah Wilds, the association's deputy director of the Office of Minority Concerns, recently left to become a program officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (see related story, pg. 26).

Dr. Hector Garza, the vice president for minority affairs, left last fall to head up the National Council for Community and Educational Partnerships, a new organization working to encourage partnerships between colleges and elementary and secondary schools.

When the most visible minorities leave the most visible association - albeit for different reasons - people start talking.

The whole higher education enterprise here at One Dupont Circle becomes subject to speculation, because when the leading higher education associations meet to discuss major policy issues, there are few senior-level minority executives at the table.

Critics say Washington's higher education associations spout a lot of rhetoric about affirmative action and outreach efforts, but do very little to make sure that their staffs are diverse.

And a new Black Issues survey shows the associations have a long way to go. Despite a decent showing, constituents expect the minorities to occupy a larger percentage of the executive seats.

Concise head counts are hard to come by because there are discrepancies in who associations consider to be senior-level employees. Further, different associations have different names for the same position. For our purposes, Black Issues defines senior-level executives to be people who hold the position of vice president or above. Yet associations - some eager to boost their numbers, others genuinely puzzled by who should count as a senior-level employee - do not report the numbers in a uniform standard.

But, as one Dupont Circle insider put it: "The bottom line is, are there African Americans and Hispanics in the room when the vice presidents in these associations sit down to a discuss a policy issue affecting an American higher education decision?"

William "Buddy" Blakey, a higher education lobbyist, answers his own question in the negative.

"The associations are saying to their constituencies, `Do as I say, don't do as I do,'" says Blakey, a partner with Dean, Blakey and Moscowitz. "The associations ought to stop telling colleges to hire Latino faculty if they aren't going to hire any Latino staff members."

At a time when affirmative action is under attack and states are backpedaling on their commitment to provide access, it is more important than ever to have people of color in top positions.

But when jobs do open in associations, critics say people of color often are overlooked. And they say the few people of color who do hold senior-level positions either hold jobs that are solely responsible for minority issues or don't hold the jobs that count, like the vice presidencies for governmental relations.

Still others worry that new people aren't being groomed to replace the few minority people who do hold positions in associations. Finally, higher education observers say the makeup of the association staff will not change until diversity issues became part of the broad agenda.

The Hush-Hush

Diversity at One Dupont Circle is a touchy subject that many people did not want to talk about with Black Issues. Others would only talk under condition of anonymity because they feared they would be singled out as troublemakers. As one source put it, "We still have to eat."

The hush-hush only begs speculation as to the associations' combined commitment to diversity. But one thing is certain: Not much has changed since Black Issues conducted a similar survey ten years ago.

In 1990, four Black men were in the 35-member Washington Higher Education Secretariat, a body composed of the executive directors or presidents of the education establishment. …