Administrator: Of course, we are firmly pledged to hire more women and minorities in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields, but we can't, because they are all being snapped up by the top schools.
Response: In fact, that isn't true. The top schools aren't really doing that, or at least not in all fields. E.g., the top 50 Chemistry departments hired one African American between the late 90's and early 2000's.
Administrator: Well, I guess then there aren't any good ones.
What's this conversation tell us?
Still, while it isn't true that women and minorities are missing from the PhD ranks, there are relatively few minority PhD's. Why? Are you tempted to think that well, maybe, you know, they just can't...
Today's NY Times has an article about the Meyerhoff program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
It has long been known that teachers' low expectations, particularly those related to race and racism, can depress student performance. At U.M.B.C. sustained success by minority students seems to have alleviated this poisonous problem. Faculty members who once looked askance when asked to take on minority students in their laboratories now clamor for them.
And the components? Better science teaching:
The students are encouraged to study in groups and taught to solve complex problems collectively, as teams of scientists do. Most important, they are quickly exposed to cutting-edge science in laboratory settings, which demystifies the profession and gives them early access to work that often leads to early publication in scientific journals. At the same time, however, the students are pushed to perform at the highest level. Those who earn C's, for example, are encouraged to repeat those courses so they can master basic concepts before moving on.
The laboratory approach keeps the students excited and prevents them from drifting off into less challenging disciplines. Indeed, according to Science, 86 percent of the Meyerhoff participants have graduated with science or engineering degrees. Nearly 9 in 10 of those graduates went on to graduate or professional programs, with a significant number earning M.D.'s or Ph.D's, or both.
You can see in the description the existence of white privilege in universities and the effect it has had on black parents:
The higher education establishment is generally startled to learn that more than half of the high-flying Meyerhoff students are black. This surprise stems from the unstated but nonetheless well-established belief that high-performing science students don't actually exist in the black community.
U.M.B.C.'s president, Freeman Hrabowski III, knows better. He has spent years expanding his school's access to high-performing minority students and has taken great pains to reassure black families that their children will be well looked after on his campus.
So when black kids go into science courses, the normal expectation is that they won't do well. And too often this will depress their performance.
And when we think about the Meyerhoff program, we might think about the losses both to black students and to the science community :
The Meyerhoff model shows that a vibrant, well-structured science program can produce large numbers of students who excel and remain in the field. It has also debunked the myth that academic excellence and minority access are mutually exclusive goals.