Speaking to the NAACP convention in Kansas City on Monday (July 12), Michelle Obama said that because of “stubborn inequalities” that “still persist — in education and health, in income and wealth — “the NAACP’s founders “would urge us to increase our intensity.”
The White House, for some reason, appears to have heard her call, for on Tuesday, reported the Chronicle of Higher Education, “White House Official Says Civil-Rights Office Will Enforce Fair State Spending for Black Colleges.”
John S. Wilson Jr., executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, said on Tuesday that the Education Department was looking into which states continue to shortchange public black colleges and how the federal government can make sure appropriations are more equitable among public institutions.
Mr. Wilson said the department’s Office for Civil Rights was evaluating data on state appropriations to compare amounts given to historically black colleges with those given to traditionally white institutions. The office, he said, is developing strategies to improve any disparities and will announce more details about its plans for action at a September conference held by the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Presumably, according to the White House, in order to be “fair” and “equitable,” there can be no “disparities” between the funds states spend on “historically black” and “traditionally white” institutions.
It will be interesting to observe the enforcement of this new presidential effort at racial engineering. A quick look at a list of HBCU’s by state suggests some questions. Alabama, for example, has nine historically black colleges (not all public). Does the White House believe that equity and fairness (concepts with which it obviously believes itself to be more knowledgeable than the states) require that each one of them receive the same amount of state funds as each branch of the “traditionally white” institutions? That the sum total of funds be equally divided between “traditionally white” and “historically black” institutions? Or must the spending per student al all public institutions be the same (counting, or not counting, out of state students and in-state illegal immigrants)?
And what, if anything, should be done about states that have no HBCU’s, such as Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, or only one, such as California (Charles Drew University of Medicine & Science)? This problem may seem academic (as it were), but it will not seem that way to strong state universities — North Carolina, Virginia, and Texas come to mind — that compete with peers in Michigan, Wisconsin, and California but under the new White House rules would have to reduce, perhaps drastically, the budgets of their flagship institutions. (I am reminded of the response of a law professor friend of mine at the University of Texas who, after the Fifth Circuit in Hopwood v. Texas required that all applicants be treated without regard to race, told me how unfair it was for Texas to be required to practice racial equality while one of its biggest competitors, the University of Michigan law school, remained free to lower its requirements for black students. He was pleased, of course, when Grutter leveled the playing field again, allowing all equally to discriminate.)
And what does the White House propose to do about the Mexicans/Mexican-Americans/ Hispanics? Will the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans require “fair” and “equitable” spending on Hispanic-serving institutions as well? (And if not, why not?) The Hispanic Association of Colleges & Universities seems to have far more members than there are HBCUs, and they would seem to deserve “fair” and “equitable” treatment. Can the Obama administration, which has shown no reluctance to tell Arizona what laws it can and cannot pass to protect its citizens, refrain from telling it to spend less on the University of Arizona in Tucson (presumably a “traditionally white” institution since it is not listed as a member of HACU) and too little on, say, Northern Arizona University, Yuma Branch? Arizona’s difficulty in making its education spending “fair” and “equitable” might be minimized inasmuch as there are no HBCUs there, but Florida and Texas have both and will no doubt require close supervision from the fairness and equity experts in Washington.
Anyone who thought the Obama administration would, finally, allow us to move beyond race must now be having second (or third or fourth) thoughts.