The Racial Crisis in American Higher Education

The Racial Crisis in American Higher Education

The Racial Crisis in American Higher Education

The Racial Crisis in American Higher Education


Across the country our universities and colleges continue to be beset by incidences of racial turmoil on campus. The first contemporary serious collection of articles on this topic, this book goes beyond rhetoric to examine the causes and impact of campus racial tensions both by examining some key university case studies and by investigating some of the underlying elements of the crisis.

In order to raise the consciousness of the entire university community to the import of these concerns the authors focus both on current research and on the flashpoints of controversy. The first part of the volume deals with broader issues relating to the academic community and to the curriculum. The overarching issues including debates about affirmative action, and admissions policies are considered as well as the difficulties of recruitment, retention, and campus life for Afro-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American faculty. Studies of some of the campuses which have recently experienced a heightening of racial tension including Columbia, Stanford, Arizona State, and Cornell are provided.


The Racial Crisis in American Higher Education reads to me, in its totality, like the famous passage from the Book of Daniel. in case you have forgotten: "Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting." This volume does not go so far, however, as does the Book of Daniel, and also say: "Thy kingdom [is] finished." the central message is that higher education, in its policies toward minorities and its treatment of them, has been found wanting, and that there have been, and will be even more, serious consequences.

The injunction is that the greatest single imperative before American higher education currently is to improve its performance in this crucial area. I agree that this is one of the great imperatives now before higher education but would suggest that there are others, including but not limited to: (1) responding to the demands of our society for higher education to make greater contributions to our national economic competitiveness and (2) renewing our faculties and facilities in a short period of time to replace those recruited and built in the 1960s and early 1970s. the first of these two poses a great contradiction—it places a very heavy emphasis on merit alone while the treatment of minorities includes an emphasis on compensatory opportunities. the second, however, is a complementary force since it will open up many new faculty positions for possible appointments of minorities.

I have spoken of this volume "in its totality" and will comment further upon it also "in its totality" but this, I fully realize, is somewhat misleading for there are altogether fifteen essays involving nineteen authors. Each essay has, of course, its own themes and emphases. However, they do add up to one overall and consistent impression that: all is not well! This theme is quickly stated by the two editors, Philip G. Altbach and Kofi Lomotey—both at State University of New York at Buffalo—in the first chapter and in the conclusion. Lomotey writes of different racial cultures "living separately, with little knowledge of, or respect for, each other"; and Altbach of how racial issues in American higher education have been and are at "flashpoints of crisis. . . ."

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