Thursday, September 23, 2021

McKinsey commits to youth capacity building in MENA region

Projecting that by 2040 one out of every six youth will live in the Middle East, McKinsey & Co. has committed to a capacity building initiative. The McKinsey strategy, titled Giving back in 2020, proposes a multi-pronged approach including; empower leadership, upskill the workforce, serve communities, and aid the refugee crisis. The Forward declares "We are committed to doing all we can to help youth in this region get opportunities they deserve to pursue their dreams."

The McKinsey initiative isn't only about building capacity in the Middle East, North Africa, and Pakistan but worldwide. If youth in these regions don't have hope and the accompanying support to fulfill their promise, the entire world will suffer.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Hrabowski leaves legacy of "you can be the best"

Freeman Hrabowski is stepping down as President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, after 30 years. There's not much question that he is one of the most popular presidents in contemporary U.S.A. higher education but that's not the most important part of his legacy. The message he sought to convey and the legacy he will leave is that you can be the best. This is an individual message to students, faculty, and staff and an organizational message. Individually or collectively, you don't have to be the richest or most prestigious in order to be accomplished.

Regardless of institutional prestige, retention, not just recruitment, has to be emphasized in order for all students to succeed. The PLOS study indicates that "failed retention contributes to mis-representation across academia and that the stages responsible for the largest disparities differ by race and ethnicity."

In an interview with Inside Higher Education, Hrabowski commented, "What we are best known for is the fact that we lead the country in producing African Americans who go on to get science Ph.D.s and M.D. Ph.D.s - we are No. 1 in the nation. What's really great, though, is that we produce large numbers of students of all races who go on to grad school, in the humanities and sciences." The sad reality of elitism in higher education is that institutions such as UMBC have to "counter the notion that you see in the media: that anybody who is wealthy enough and privileged enough will tend to go to certain universities. And if you didn't -- particularly in certain parts of the country -- people are like, 'Oh, I'm sorry.'"

Hrabowski retires in June 2022, with accolades from near and far. His leadership of UMBC for 30 years was transformative for the institution and a model for broader higher education. Why can't the lessons applied at UMC not help other institutions learn how to be both more inclusive and reflected the highest possible quality?

Somewhat aligned, but in other ways flawed, a new partnership funded by Strada Education Network will support 28 HBCUs in promoting career readiness and leadership development. The partnership, involving $25 million for scholarships, is portrayed as a long-game strategy to enhance student economic mobility. HBCUs that participate will select three students per year, for 12 each once fully operational, who will receive scholarship and more intentional cultivation related to career and leadership. While testing a model on a small, elite, number may be necessary to learn how to scale the project to larger numbers, the label "Strada Scholar" sends a potentially problematic message that may not fall far from the flawed philosophy of the "talented 10th." Strada and the partnering HBCUs will need to pay close attention to this  potential unintended consequence.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Higher education's legacy of colonialism

As various academic disciplines continue to examine their histories and the bias that exists in what they advance in teaching and scholarship, the institution of higher education, itself, must be examined. That appears to be the premise of Professor Leigh Patel in No study without struggle. Simply reading the review by Scott Jaschik caused me to pause. As Patel is quoted in this interview, "Reckoning with unsavory histories that continue to rumble in the present isn't easy, but it's far more tenable than selling higher education as an experience, wallpapering publicly available histories of how wealth and property (were accumulated) since the start."

Reckoning includes several key points for higher education to begin to correct its past. Steve Mintz recommends; publicly acknowledge history, address wrong doings, validate and affirm the importance of equity, rectify the harm that has been done, and look forward.

Serving the underserved is a frequent call for action in higher education. And, access and success for students cannot be addressed without honesty and a broad discussion among educators. Tuition waivers for Native American students is one example of acknowledging and addressing the impact of colonization in the U.S.A. Addressing a conference of higher education executives on policy questions, Shaun Harper said, "'Avoidance is the primary way we deal with the issues of race' in many workplaces and other settings,... and it is often left to employees of color to raise the issues."

The depth of systemic racism is addressed in Adam Harris' book, The State Must Provide. The point made in this book is that HBCUs have been underfunded and under supported from the beginning. Minority serving institutions had fewer resources in the beginning and have not added to their resources over the years. Harris proposes that wealthy institutions now partner with HBCUs to begin to counterbalance the privilege they have unfairly gained.

Unfortunately, the unevenness of support for various types of institutions isn't only long-standing but was accelerated as public support for higher education declined from the mid-20th century. Any hope that improved educational access will create a more even playing field for all talented young people is thwarted by the fact that elite institutions have largely been responsible for perpetuating social and economic hierarchy and the differences in how they serve students is dramatically different. Evan Mandery's Poison Ivy: How Elite Colleges Divide Us asserts the same critique. A class action suit filed against 16 private schools alleges that they are "gatekeepers to the American Dream" and that "Defendants' misconduct is therefore particularly egregious because it has narrowed a critical pathway to upward mobility."

Realizing the impact of elite recruitment strategies, the National Education Equity Lab initiated partnerships with elite institutions to more effectively reach underserved populations. Individual institutions such as Amherst College have begun to do their part by eliminating legacy admissions to reverse the advantage held by applicants with a family connection. Citing its history of racial injustice, Yale University's Divinity School designated a portion of its endowment to provide "social justice" scholarships. Harvard established a $100 million fund to redress its ties slavery. The financial advantage of endowment portfolios among elite institutions calls for accountability through innovation and opening access to prospective students of lesser economic means.

The idea of selectivity in admissions and financial aid requires examination and a dramatic shift in practice away from a zero-sum competition in enrolling a select and presumably gifted few. Touting selective admission relies on a reputational model that results in institutions being highly sought after, which then also translates to perceptual hierarchies of who belongs once students are enrolled. Having been associated with institutions that claimed high selectivity, the examples of how students of "superior intellectual ability" were treated are numerous. And, the fact that these students were superior only be virtue of the opportunities they received was abundantly clear.

The topic of colonialism in the legacy of the U.S.A. is relevant to international educators for at least three reasons.

  • Much of the literature studied in higher education throughout the world originated from Western (i.e. U.S.A. and European) institutions.
  • Branch campuses/programs are particularly likely to carry Western ideas into other cultural/national settings.
  • Colonialism was perpetrated by Western countries but vestiges of colonialism are everywhere and often embedded in policy or narrative that sustains the perspective of the original colonizers.

Recognizing the imbalances of North and South collaboration in academia is an essential place to start if the goal is decolonization. Collaboration (meaning co-labor) is at the center of the African Urbanism Humanities Lab proposal to end "hit and run" scholarship that benefits the North while exploiting the South. Lab members suggest that "Collaboration has the capacity to change the questions people ask and the answers they come to. It has the power to change the ways in which research is read and infused into the world. And it can serve as a vital tool for social mobility and social change."

A fascinating example of widely read literature that reinforces the necessity of critical examination is Mark Twain. Twain's work, ranging from Huckleberry Finn to Pudd'nhead Wilson, represent both reinforcement and a challenge to notions of race of his time. Colonialist expansion across the U.S.A. exploited race in order to achieve its objective and Twain was early to recognize it.

A central part of the problem of undoing the legacy of colonialism in Western thought and literature is what gets published as science. A call to action for social justice to be more purposefully recognized and incorporated in academic publishing could help to rectify the imbalance but central to achieving it is institutions' nurturing BIPOC faculty. However, correcting generations of scientific inquiry and literature is a substantial challenge. The process of reconsidering history, and especially the ebb and flow of human emancipation and liberation, includes placing U.S.A. history in the broader context of world history.

With debate raging about critical race theory and its role in the academy, it's obvious that someone's privileged assumptions have been challenged. Like any personally held psychological trick we play with ourselves, it's often the nagging thought in the back of our minds that is most troubling. The nagging question in my mind is how have I, and other well-meaning colleagues over time, perpetuated a colonialist view that has perpetuated the inequities with which we continue to struggle so deeply.