HOLMBERG: Demands for racial fairness at colleges need to be a little more fair

Posted at 12:41 AM, Nov 13, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-13 11:13:51-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- A group of 30 or so VCU students were mentioned in the national news this week for making demands for racial fairness after a similar protest at the University of Missouri led to the resignation of its president of the demotion of its chancellor. The students just walked right in the Franklin Street offices of VCU president Michael Rao Thursday with their demands.

They were motivated by what they saw as "explicit racial terrorism" at the University of Missouri.

They demanded that the percentage of black instructors at VCU goes from 4.7% to 10% by the next school year, and increase another five percent every year after.

The University must interview one black out of every four faculty candidates, they said, and the school must increase the number of tenured black professors.

Among other demands, there must be an ombudsman for students to monitor fairness.  "We demand this person be someone nonwhite and non-male."

(While the number of black instructors has gone up in recent years at VCU, the school has grown so fast the percentage of African-American teachers has actually gone down a little, according to data released to us by VCU.)

VCU president Michael Rao came downstairs and spoke with the group cordially.

"Do I have some influence?" he told them. "I hope so. And will I use it? Yes. Can I use it more effectively because of this? Definitely."

In a statement he said, other schools could learn from our university.  "VCU is committed to diversity, inclusion and opportunity in extraordinary ways, and we should be leaders in championing these ideals everywhere."

But he didn't really address the protesters' specific concerns.

Because, really, it's like mission impossible. VCU is like most every other college in the nation, with an average of five percent African-American instructors. Many of these schools are also hustling to increase their black faculty to better reflect their 13 percent representation in the population.

But there's only a limited pool to pick from. Police agencies across the country similarly compete for black police leaders and top officers.

The demand to immediately double black teachers is sort of  like demanding VCU's basketball team be 70% white - to reflect the population - by next season, while maintaining a winning record, in my view.

It's just not fair or reasonable in this era where fairness is cherished - and demanded.

Kevin Allison, senior assistant Michael Rao, told me VCU constantly searches for good matches for the university. Diversity is crucial for them.

"We clearly have been, and will likely continue to be, in competition for faculty," he said.

The media has been fighting this same battle in the 30 years I've been in the business. Newspapers and TV stations often search for and train minority reporter candidates starting in high school and college to try to balance the scales. It has worked to some degree, particularly in television, but the business has fallen short of its goals.

So, the best thing these protesters can do, seems to me, is . . .

Get an advanced education degree, work really hard to become excellent teachers and administrators and then come back to VCU!

And don't be tempted by offers from more prestigious schools or ones that pay more money! Be the change!

And know that you're not discriminated against in this case. They hunger for you.

Mark Holmberg's commentaries do not necessarily reflect the views of WTVR.