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Sounding Off About a Silver Celebration

William E. Cox and Frank Matthews discuss the vision they had when they started Black Issues/Diverse 25 years ago and the magazine’s contributions to the higher education community.

William Cox, Co-founder

For 25 years, Diverse: Issues In Higher Education, formerly Black Issues In Higher Education, has chronicled the plight of minority educators and students, as well as those committed to issues of access and opportunity and helping the underrepresented achieve their full educational potential. Throughout this quarter-century the magazine has served as a tool to help colleges and universities diversify their work force. William E. Cox and Frank L. Matthews formed Cox, Matthews and Associates in 1984, producing publications that for more than two decades have reported on the issues relevant to underrepresented groups in higher education. In their own words, Cox and Matthews discuss their early vision, the transition from Black Issues to Diverse, as well as the magazine’s contributions to the higher education community.

When we were thinking about publishing a newsletter in 1983, no newspaper or any other publication was reporting on a regular basis the plight of Black faculty and administrators in higher education. We were the first ones to come along to pretty much fill that void. We faced incredible challenges as the publication cemetery is filled with the tombstones of failed start-up magazines, newsletters and newspapers.

We knew we were on to something when we first met with faculty and administrators from Black colleges at a NAFEO convention in 1984. Black Issues was embraced by that particular group of conference attendees. The acceptance was so strong that it strengthened our resolve to march forward.

The second thing that really solidified it was a conference during the summer of 1984 at MIT [the Massachusetts Institute of Technology] of Black faculty and administrators from predominantly White institutions (PWIs). Some 1,000 people were in attendance at that conference. We hosted a reception and the room was packed. This experience told us that our appeal beyond the HBCU community would be equally strong.

Those early experiences in the life of the magazine validated that we had reached the Black colleges, but also the Black faculty and administrators working at PWIs that were so few and far between 25 years ago. Black faculty and administrators at PWIs found something in Black Issues they could claim. In a sense they were saying to themselves, “Now people can’t tell us that they can’t find Black faculty and administrators.” Those were critical stepping-stones in our early history and formed the foundation for what Diverse has become today. We began to grow after that, increasing the publication from 10 to 20 issues a year and now to 26.

 After 20 years of Black Issues, we felt that it was time to become more inclusive — that meant expanding our coverage to other ethnic groups, more women, the disabled. We felt by becoming more diverse, we could offer more to those not only in higher education, but outside higher education as well. To be honest, I have to say we had some core Black Issues readers who had very strong opinions and feelings about the magazine remaining Black Issues. Overall, however, the majority of our readers agreed that the name change was one of the best things that we have ever done.

Hopefully we’ve impacted a lot of individuals, especially those of color. But the biggest struggle that remains as I see it is retention and access for students, especially Black males. Many gains have been made. Greater numbers of heretofore underserved and underrepresented students are now being admitted to higher education. More needs to be done. New and more focused attention must also be devoted to serving the admitted students’ needs through college to a degree attainment.

The higher education community is perhaps doing the best it can, but I think there is so much more that needs to be done. If you look at incarceration rates, if you look at crime, things that plague our communities, too often it involves men of color.

I think the magazine will be remembered as being the tool that colleges and universities found to be of great assistance in diversifying their faculty and administration. I would hope we would also be remembered as ones who took bold and innovative moves over 25 years ago to fill a critical void, and as two men with a vision who tried to make changes in higher education. Thanks to our readers and advertisers who have been our partners through a quarter-century of challenging, rewarding work.

— William Cox, Co-founder

Frank Matthews, Co-founder

*When we decided to launch Black Issues In Higher Education, the vision for me was twofold — one was to help people like me (a law school professor) with sound career information and, second, to bring some clarity in terms of what was permissible in efforts to bring in minority faculty and students.

There was a raging debate about affirmative action. The issue was what does it really mean? How does it play out? People needed clarification. I thought there was a great need for the information that we could provide and felt a lot was going on in terms of the political environment.

Probably around 1986 the ads started coming in. Colleges and universities were advertising. The environment was unambiguous. You (academic departments) had goals and timetables. It was not uncommon to hear of the need to hire two Black faculty members in a particular department. You don’t hear that anymore.

In terms of the transition to Diverse, I recently met a college president, and she said, “I used to read the magazine when it was Black Issues In Higher Education.” I say that to make the point that there’s still a large constituency out there that did not want ambiguity. They wanted to be clear that this was the audience that we were addressing. A sense that, “I can address the issues of affecting Black people by reading this magazine and staying informed.” There were no gray areas. Even when we were Black Issues we covered Whites as well as other minorities, but there was a perception that “Black” was definitive. As a practical matter, (changing to Diverse) probably was the right thing to do. From a psychological standpoint, I’m not as sure. The country has not gotten over the historic injustices that were suffered by African-Americans. But, as we said when we transitioned, “We changed our name, but we didn’t change our mission.”

The current struggle in my opinion as it pertains to minority students and higher ed professionals has to do with the minimization of race in terms of the outcomes of people’s lives. That is a very dangerous proposition. A lot of people have used the election of Barack Obama as cover to say race is no longer an issue. I think the country is now going through a period of denial about its history and about racism. I guess that’s the law of unintended consequences, but you can’t continue to deny the impact of race and how race impacts the lives of individuals. I’d hope our legacy could be that, during a very difficult time in race relations in higher education in America, we were a clear voice that gave guidance and light to the issues that were pertinent during that time period — we were the goto guys for high-quality reporting and journalism. One of the highlights for me was when we received the Folio Award in New York in 2002 (for best education magazine). When they announced Black Issues In Higher Education, that made it all worth it. That was an affirmation, confirmation about the work we had done.

Most importantly we want to humbly acknowledge and thank the many dedicated professionals who we’ve been fortunate enough to be associated with over the past 25 years. These talented professionals here on our internal staff as well as our subscribers, readers and advertisers have been the foundation of any success that we have experienced. None of this could have been possible without them and for their steadfast and loyal support we continue to be grateful.

— Frank Matthews, Co-founder

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