New Institute Seeks To Ask ‘The Race Question’ In Higher Ed

To address the disparities that exist in higher education for underrepresented minorities, the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) is slated to form in 2008 the new Institute on Equity Research Methods and Critical Policy Analysis. 

The institute is a collaborative effort among the higher education research institutions, including the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California and the Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance at the University of Houston Law Center. The Ford Foundation is providing a one-year planning grant to help establish the institute.

The institute will focus on addressing the academy’s critical issues: improving inclusion of minority scholars, researching methods to study questions of racial and ethnic equity in higher education, transforming the agendas of higher education policy centers, giving greater visibility to the needs and interests of minority communities and developing greater recognition of minority experts in higher education.

“The current body of empirical and policy-oriented knowledge contains major weaknesses: it tends to ignore race, ethnicity and language altogether or to interpret differences in educational outcomes to characteristics of minorities that set them apart [as] high risk or under-prepared,” says Estela Mara Bensimon, director of the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California.

Bensimon and other scholars associated with ASHE aim to “ask the race question critically and knowledgeably.”

As part of the institute’s  planning activities, a Higher Education Equity Publication Workshop will be held in June of 2008 in New Mexico. The intensive seminar for junior faculty is designed to improve the skills of faculty who write and teach in the field of postsecondary racial and ethnic equity. Attendance will be limited to junior faculty who have not yet been awarded tenure.

Michael Olivas, the William B. Bates Professor of Law and director from the University of Houston Law Center, says there is a tremendous need for training and support for junior faculty.  “The demands upon [junior faculty] for meeting the requirements for teaching and scholarship have increased, and the pressure for entrepreneurial grantsmanship and service are nothing short of extraordinary. These programs will provide the academic village that it takes to raise a productive faculty member,” he says.

–Michelle J. Nealy

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