The Challenge to Higher Education
in an Inclusive Society
Friday, Nov 4, 2005
A keynote address by Charles Z. Smith
Installation ceremony for Dr. George S. Bridges
as thirteenth president of Whitman College
November 3, 2005
It is a distinct privilege for me to stand here today in the "garden of intellectual delights" -Whitman College - an institution of higher learning which I have held in great awe since learning about it more than 50 years ago.
In my education as a lawyer at the University of Washington Law School I became aware of one of Whitman’s most distinguished alumni-the great and honorable William O. Douglas, then a justice on the United States Supreme Court. Justice Douglas was-and still is-an outstanding model of what it means to be a lawyer and a judge and the contribution one may make in improving the human condition for all persons in our great United States. In addition to admiring and respecting his contribution to the legal history of our America, I came to appreciate him even more after learning of the struggle in his early years to get his education at Whitman College.
I first visited Whitman College about three years ago when our court (the Washington State Supreme Court) held sessions on the campus. I was able then to observe at firsthand the activities of students and faculty and the tranquil atmosphere of this oasis of learning in the midst of the agricultural fields of Walla Walla County.
I appear here today not only to express my admiration for the students and faculty of Whitman College, but especially to pay tribute to my esteemed friend, Dr. George S. Bridges, the thirteenth president of this great institution.
The Presidency of a Great Institution of Higher Learning
I have been aware from various reports of the leadership manifested by previous presidents of Whitman College. I am fully aware of the responsibility resting upon the shoulders of leaders in institutions of higher learning.
I rejoiced upon learning that my friend George S. Bridges had accepted the call of the board of trustees to serve as president of this great institution. This notwithstanding that we on the West side of Washington would be losing a vice provost and distinguished professor of sociology at the University of Washington. And notwithstanding that we on the Supreme Court’s Washington State Minority and Justice Commission would be losing a member of our commission and periodic researcher who was an integral participant in our activities for nearly 20 years. I know without doubt that he is the right person at the right time to assume the mantle of leadership as Whitman College moves ahead in facing the challenges in its future.
Whitman College as I Understand It
I have always believed-from whatever sources of information-that Whitman represented "intellectual elitism" in the quality of its students, faculty and curriculum. In this sense my reference to "elitism" is not a pejorative, but is instead an acknowledgment of the highest quality in all aspects of an undergraduate education.
My limited research on Whitman College convinces me that my stereotypical impressions of it are confirmed by historically documented facts.
I know that Whitman College "is committed to providing an excellent, well-rounded liberal arts and sciences undergraduate education" offering "an ideal setting for rigorous learning and scholarship" encouraging "creativity, character and responsibility" with programs "intended to foster intellectual vitality, confidence, leadership, and the flexibility to succeed in a changing, technological, multicultural world."
I know that there are 1,400 students (44% male and 56% female), representing 43 states and 29 countries. I know that more than 51% of alumni "actively support the college by donating money or volunteering"; that the alumni giving rate is one of the 20 highest in the nation; and that the market value of Whitman’s endowment and trust funds is $300 million. I know that Whitman is in The Princeton Review list of "The Best 361 Colleges for 2005-2006" and that Whitman scored 11 top-20 rankings, with seven of them being in the top 10.
I was particularly impressed to learn of the August 30, 2005, annual opening for the multicultural center in which President Bridges, students, faculty and staff participated, calling attention to the Intercultural Center with participation of the 12 multicultural student groups under the umbrella of the Intercultural Center. Those groups include Shalom, Black Student Union, GLBTQ and FACE. At that time President Bridges, addressing the group, called attention to his years of studying social groups and the effect ethnicity and racial differences have upon progress in out society.
Race, Ethnicity, Culture, Pluralism and Inclusiveness
I am neither a social scientist, an anthropologist, a geneticist nor any other type of scientist who professionally studies the origins of humankind. As a member of what is indisputably referred to as the "human race," as a person of color born in America, as the descendant of immigrants, and as one who firmly believes in equality in all its forms, I have for my entire lifetime lived under emphases of race, ethnicity, and culture. Indeed, the great United States reflects scientific, social, linguistic and legal history which at times has been tragic and at times been almost comical and even ludicrous.
I will not attempt to fathom the depths of academic discussion on the meaning of "race." I am willing for the moment to accept the bureaucratic labels established by such agencies as the United States Bureau of the Census and the Washington State Office of Financial Management. I will leave the esoteric exploration to knowledgeable social scientists. But in a simplistic manner, I will resort to definitions from Webster’s New World Dictionary (1986).
Race can be defined as "(1) any of the different varieties of mankind, distinguished by form of hair, color of skin and eyes, stature, bodily proportions, etc.; many anthropologists now consider that there are only three primary major groups, the Caucasoid, Negroid and Mongoloid, each with various subdivision (sometimes also called races).. (5) any group of people having the same ancestry; family; clan; lineage.."
Ethnic and its derivative ethnicity may be defined as "(2) designating or of any of the basic groups or divisions of mankind or of a heterogeneous population, as distinguished by customs, characteristics, language, common history, etc..."
Culture may be defined as "(3) a) the existence within a given nation or society of groups distinctive in ethnic origin, cultural patterns, religion, or the like b) a policy favoring the preservation of such groups within a given nation or society.."
Inclusiveness is not a technical term, but one which I have adopted from social scientists as an alternative to the term diversity. Both words are self-defining, but for this purpose I adopt the dictionary definition of inclusiveness: "including or tending to include, esp. taking everything into account."
Whither Goeth Higher Education?
It is presumptuous of me to suggest the future direction of higher education at Whitman College which over the years-and especially even now-has sought to use its influence in preparing its graduates for functional participation in our inclusive society.
I know already where President Bridges stands on diversity and inclusiveness. I have reviewed his October 1997 report for the Washington State Minority and Justice Commission titled "A Study on Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Superior Court Bail and Pre-Trial Detention Practices in Washington." That empirical study and his recommendations called attention to the critical needs of courts to become more aware of racial, ethnic and cultural differences of persons coming before them. The judges in our state, with the assistance of the commission, are even today conscientiously pursuing that goal.
I have reviewed also a chapter authored by President Bridges in a 1990 publication by the Minority and Justice Task Force (later the Minority and Justice Commission) entitled "Racial Ethnic and Gender Differences in the Washington State Bar." He concluded, "The analyses.show substantial differences between minority and white men attorneys in occupations and incomes. Despite similar levels of educational attainment-as measured by law school attended-minority attorneys are more likely than whites to be employed as government lawyers and public defenders. These legal positions provide valuable public service, but pay substantially less than positions in private law firms. Further, women attorneys report incomes substantially lower than men, even when they work in private law firms and have qualifications equivalent to men."
While these studies related primarily to the legal profession and the courts, they nevertheless suggest the orientation of George S. Bridges towards thoughtful inclusiveness of women and men and racial and ethnic "minorities" (persons of color, immigrants and persons of economic disadvantage) in our society.
Except to the social scientist, population statistics can be utterly boring. However, they are a "necessary evil" in any discussion on diversity of inclusiveness. Please indulge me in this brief foray into population figures.
For reasons of convenience and simplicity, in the United States we have adopted a series of classifications which generally refer to our populations as white, African American, Asian, Pacific Islanders, Native American and Hispanic (Latino). There are many variations of these, but they are at least convenient references.
The United States Bureau of the Census in 2005 published population statistics for 227 countries in the world. Heading the list are China (with 1,306,312,812) and India (with 1,080,264,388). The United States ranks third with only 295,734,879. Other countries rank in descending order from Indonesia (with 241,973,879) to Saint Pierre and Miquelon (with 7,012). This suggests at least that we are not a "majority" nation among nations of the world, despite our somewhat illogic insistence that we somehow constitute the world’s "most developed nation."
No one can dispute that the world as we now know it is much more complicated than the simple world which introduced us to such personages as Lief Ericson, Amerigo Vespuci and Christopher Columbus (neither of whom actually "discovered" America but came upon the shores of North America which has been occupied by Native peoples for many centuries before). Thanks to the scientific development in transportation and communication, we are now inhabitants of a "small world" accessible in moments by the internet and in hours by continually-developing aircraft. This means that we must expand our concept of race and culture from conveniently simplistic terms. If we are to understand the "inclusive society" in which we now exist, we must learn more about the language, customs, history and origins of persons inhabiting the planet earth in the 227 nations in Europe, Asia, Africa, North America and South America.
More down-to-earth population statistics relate to our own State of Washington where this great institution of higher learning is located. The Washington State Office of Financial Management in its latest report (2005) reports a total population of 5,894,121. In this figure are 190,267 Blacks; 93,901 American Indian; 333,335 Asians; 23,954 Native Hawaiian; 228,923 "other"; 213,521 "two or more races"; and 442,509 Hispanic (Latino).
As we narrow our focus on population statistics, we find these equivalents in Walla Walla County: A total population of 47,100. In this figure are 930 Blacks; 465 American Indian; 614 Asians;123 Native Hawaiian; 4,548 "other"; 1,419 "two or more races"; and 8,654 Hispanic (Latino).
Another educator whom I greatly respect is Dr. John B. Slaughter, president emeritus of Occidental College, who in a November 2000 address focused on the subject "Creating the Inclusive Campus: The Essential Role of Faculty Diversity." He acknowledged the commendable efforts of colleges and universities in diversifying their student bodies by effective identification, recruitment and admissions. But he also called attention to the need for more, such as diversification of faculty and provision of more effective support systems for students of all racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. He stated:
"One of the principal impediments that we must overcome is the mindset on most college and university campuses that diversify refers only to the composition and characteristics of the student body. Ask an administrator or faculty member at most institutions to comment on the diversity at his or her institution and you will most likely receive a reply with percentages that pertain to the latest incoming class of students. If you respond to this answer with a question about faculty diversity you are most likely to receive a response that is significantly different, one that demonstrates that little attention has been given to this matter. A true commitment to diversity requires more than concern for the diversity of the students who come to be educated. It requires a similar commitment to the diversity of those responsible for providing the education-faculty, administration, staff, and trustees-and to the diversity of academic and support services provided to those students. Only then can a meaningful assessment of the institution’s commitment to a pluralistic, inclusive and multicultural learning environment be made. Only then does a commitment to diversity make itself evident."
Dr. Slaughter further states:
"It is becoming increasingly imperative for those of us in higher education to see the demographic changes that are taking place in society and, increasingly, on our campuses as an opportunity rather than a problem. We need to see them as an opportunity for us to educate ourselves and, ultimately, America, on how to develop and sustain inclusive and pluralistic communities-ones with shared values and goals, common purposes and dreams. To be sure, diverse, equitable and multicultural communities are difficult to create and sustain. Witness the bloodshed in Eastern Europe as an example. In this country, many of the hopes that were fostered in the post-civil rights era of the 1960s for building such communities have been dashed by the backlashes of the ’80s and ’90s, the reactions against affirmative action and increasing de facto residential segregation. I contend that such communities will be needed if America will ever fulfill its promise and, furthermore, that our colleges and universities must show the way. But to do so requires that we move far beyond the goals of achieving and celebrating the diversity of our students to the higher, common ground of inclusiveness and equality of opportunity throughout our institutions."
The Challenge in the Final Analysis
I firmly believe in the ultimate promise of our great country that we can achieve equity and fairness for all peoples without discrimination based upon race, culture, language, skin color, ancestry, religion or country of origin. The reality is that we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. The reality is that in our culture and society there is no justification for assuming the existence of a "master" race or "superior" or "inferior" status based solely on convenient labels.
As I contemplate the intellectual excellence and commitment to equity and justice by President George S. Bridges and the faculty, staff, students and alumni of Whitman College, I am more than confident that Whitman will continue its forward march toward achievement of equality in providing the highest quality of education for all racial, ethnic and cultural groups and persons in our pluralistic and inclusive society.
Charles Z. Smith is a retired Justice of the Washington State Supreme Court and Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington School of Law.