Thomas Sowell's Testimony before Congressional Subcommittee

February 23rd, 1977,  before the House Subcommittee on Science, Research and Technology

Thomas Sowell:   There is a very serious problem at the supply stage of minority and female individuals in mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering.  In fact, this is part of a more general problem which extends well beyond those fields.  Inadequate mathematical and scientific preparation severely limits career choices, even within the social sciences, and can affect job prospects in clerical and other fields not normally thought of as requiring any scientific background.
     For example, minority and female faculty members are not only concentrated disproportionately in fields requiring little or no mathematical preparation—such as the humanities, education, the social sciences, and so forth—but also within a given field, such as economics, they are concentrated in the more nontechnical subspecialties—that is, consumer economics rather than econometrics.
     The less technical, the less demanding fields are almost invariably the less well-paid fields. In the general labor market, even clerical jobs which require passing tests—such as civil service examinations—contain questions that can be answered easier or faster by someone with a facility in mathematics, so that even here an inadequate scientific background is a competitive handicap in the job market, though the job itself may have nothing to do with science.
     The question is: How is this very real problem being met by the legislation under consideration here? The approach taken by Senate bill S. 3202 and the corresponding House bill H.R. 12566 is an approach which has already been tried repeatedly in other fields, especially during the 1960s, and which has failed repeatedly, and at tragic personal cost to many of the minority students, quite aside from the money wasted.
     The crucial need is for upgraded skills for individuals, not for a larger body count of particular kinds of people at particular institutions.
     Yet, the basic approach of this proposed legislation is for larger body counts in various institutions. Skills are indeed mentioned, but only in assumptions and pious hopes. When it comes to hard cash, money is to be paid for body count—that is, in the language of the bill—for having "substantial minority student enrollment," for being "geographically located near minority population centers," or for countering "under- representation."
     This emphasis on body count rather than on skill development is a familiar pattern from the 1960s, and it is worth noting some of the personal and institutional disasters produced by this approach.
     Youngsters with insufficient skills were drawn into programs which ruthlessly sacrificed them to the pursuit of federal and foundation money on campus after campus. For example, one-half of the black students at Cornell University in the late 1960s were on some form of academic probation, a fact by no means unrelated to the guns-on-campus tragedy at that institution. The same proportion were on academic probation at the University of Chicago. And more than 90 percent were "not in good standing" at Wayne State Law School. Things like this happened at colleges and universities across the country, though some were able to keep the exact figures under lock and key, while they issued inspiring statements to the public.
     The proposed legislation, like the ill-conceived programs of the 1960s, requires no monitoring of actual skill development by independent testing organizations—of which there are many, such as the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, which administers the nationwide College Board examinations.
     The bottom line of the proposed legislation is money to be paid for physical presence—body count—not educational results. The approach of the proposed legislation is for institutional subsidies for going through certain motions, not individual support for achieving educational results. The direct beneficiaries are to be colleges, universities, and proposed "centers."
     By contrast, consider the GI bill, which supported individuals pursuing their educational goals wherever they chose to pursue them, provided that they continued in good academic standing at some accredited institution. This did away with any need for either legislators or other government officials to decide whether certain institutions are "inspiring" for students, as claimed in S. 3202, or have been a lot less than inspiring, as reported by a number of scholars who have studied these same institutions—for example, E. Franklin Frazier, Ralph Ellison, Jencks and Riesman, etc. It did away with any need for chancy forecasts or blithe assumptions as to how the improvement of scientific skills today would translate into "representation" in specific occupations tomorrow. It was enough that the Government supported and rewarded the upgrading of skills.
     A similar approach now would do much to bring much-needed skills to minority, female, and other disadvantaged youngsters, so that they could advance and compete on the basis of ability. If the more mathematically and scientifically prepared minority youth choose to become economists rather than engineers or geneticists rather than mathematicians, that is a personal matter and is certainly no misuse of the skills, whatever its impact on the numbers and percents which are a constant preoccupation of the proposed legislation.
     The proposal to create minority graduate centers is a proposal to create campus ghettos, which would be especially inexcusable in mathematics and the natural sciences, which are among the most universal of human activities. There is no black mathematics or Hispanic engineering.
     Moreover, the emphasis on graduate scientific education puts the emphasis at precisely the wrong end of the educational experience. Mathematical and scientific skills build on previous mathematical and scientific skills, so that the effort needs to be concentrated in the early school years where the battle for scientific literacy is won or lost.
     The NSF bill is not a way to educate minority youngsters; it is "pork barrel" legislation for academics, and it is not surprising to find those who stand to gain by it already on record in favor of it. The bias of this bill is further indicated by its proposal to staff various NSF committees with people chosen for their activism in a political sense, rather than for their scientific or educational achievements.
     Not only must minorities be a majority of a key board, according to the original Senate bill these are not to be minority individuals chosen for their scientific standing but because they are members of organizations which have a record of favoring the body count approach.
     In summary, the educational needs of minority youngsters are too important, both for them and for the country, to be sacrificed to institutional interests and fashions.
     What matters is not the rhetoric of the bill, but the financial incentives it creates. If the final legislation pays for body count, it is going to produce body count—at whatever cost in human terms. If this money is to be paid only for demonstrated skill development, then that is what it will produce. And that is what we need.
     Thank you.

Mr. Harkin:   Thank you very much, Dr. Sowell.
     That brings up the question I asked earlier about the "push and pull" or the "pull upward" type, where emphasis ought to be placed. From my own experience and my own background—I went to law school, but I do have a basic science background also—I remember when I went to law school there was a program for black students that they brought from various colleges in the South—I went to law school at Washington—and gave them an intensive summer program of training, and put them into law school. Many of them didn't do well in law school as such, at the beginning, but later they did. And a couple of them were very close friends of mine and have become very successful lawyers.
     Do you perceive some kind of a diff erence between that—I think you allude to that in your testimony—is there a difference between, let's say, the study of law or social science and the types of science and engineering that we're talking about here? In other words, can you leap-frog in one, but you can't in another?

Dr. Sowell:   I think that would be one difference. I must say that, even in the social sciences and in the law, when you judge these programs, they all turn out some successful individuals. By the same token, there are people without education at all who are successful in business without a higher education. I understand, for example, that the two richest men in the world haven't finished high school.
     But, aside from that, when I've looked at these programs as a whole, I haven't found that level of success in them. One of the things that happens in many of these programs—I'm talking generally, not the scientific program—at first is that you draw people into a certain level of institution which is inappropriate for their educational background. That is, you have someone at Harvard who would have been an excellent student at Rutgers, and he may be a failure at Harvard. The guy who succeeds at Harvard by some sort of superhuman effort might have succeeded with less of a superhuman effort, might have succeeded more, someplace else, in a less highly competitive environment.
     Now, if I can use the example of Cornell again, in the sixties (1960s) I looked into the College Board scores of the black students at Cornell. Those students scored in the 75th percentile on a national level; that is, they were better than three-quarters of all American college students.
     The reason they were on probation was that they were at Cornell, where the students at that time ranked somewhere in the top I percent on a national level of college students—so that those same students distributed differently in society would undoubtedly have been on the dean's list, in good standing, and so on, around the country.
     To get more specifically back to the question that you asked, about the scientific area, I think it's even harder in the scientific area to do this because one thing does build on another. For example, in the state of California, a study has been done in San Francisco of black students who in the 10th grade averaged 6.6th grade level on various standardized tests. What that does, quite aside from the question of whether those tests are culturally biased and so on, it keeps them from taking the first course in algebra in high school, which in turn keeps them from taking the first course in calculus in college, which in turn puts a great number of occupations off limits before they even set foot on the campus.
     The same thing is true of female students. Someone mentioned the University of California. The University of California, Los Angeles, and Berkeley, pick about the top 12.5 percent of the students in California. Even from this select group of students, 43 percent of the men—that is, men in general, not minority students—and 92 percent of the women did not have enough math when they came to the University of California at Berkeley to take the standard introductory calculus course. And so for all those students, all these areas we're talking about were just off limits from the beginning.
     So there is a tremendous problem for minorities and equally for women, which you can follow through their careers, in terms of what fields they can go into, how well they can do in those fields, and so on.

Mr. Harkin:   Your statement about Cornell and that Cornell experience, does this have the opposite effect? Would that then lend credence to the argument there ought to be an establishment of minority centers—

Dr. Sowell:   No.

Mr. Harkin:   —rather than going to traditional. . .

Dr. Sowell:   No. I think that's saying that some third party ought to decide that minority students should be in white schools, or saying that some third party ought to decide that minority students ought to be in black schools.
     I think the minority students, like the people who received the GI bill, should distribute themselves where they see fit, into such schools as they can get into.

Mr. Harkin:   In other words, if I understand you correctly, what you're saying is if we put $36 million in this program in 1 year—that's the upper limit, let's say—do you think that money would be better spent by individual grants rather than going to institutional types of grants, more like the GI. bill type of thing?

Dr. Sowell:   I would say that, and I would say the distribution I would favor would be one that would put much more emphasis further back in the educational process, to make sure that people have not put whole fields of the academic world off limits to themselves by the time they're in high school.

Mr. Harkin:   But as I understand the testimony of Dr. Jackson, the centers would be more or less like the hub of a wheel, with spokes going out to the various high schools and grade schools, providing the basis of support for science education and teaching in the schools.

Dr. Sowell:   That is one of the things I had in mind when I spoke of pious hopes. There's nothing in the bill that says the money is contingent on that.

Mr. Harkin:   That's true. But that is basically the concept of how it
would operate, but it's not written—

Dr. Sowell:   I don't know why one would think—for what reason one would think that people who are teaching in a graduate science and engineering program would be the best people to teach at the very low level of math in the elementary and high schools. In fact, if I were to make a wild guess, my guess would be that the people who are at that high level probably have a much more difficult time understanding the math difficulties of a teenage kid—one that was having trouble with the math—than someone who was, let's say, a teacher of math or something for that age level.
     I can't believe that just because one is a scientist that one can teach at that low level of math. in fact, I would think, if anything, it would make it much more difficult.
     I don't have the view, for example, that the introductory math courses, introductory calculus course, let's say, would be better taught at a major university with a tremendous number of high-prestige scientists. I just don't believe that.

Mr. Harkin:   How do you get those grade school and high school students with all of the various institutional barriers they have to getting into science, whether it's teachers they have in the school, the lack of role models they can see to give them the desire, how do you start breaking this—

Dr. Sowell:   I think role models will not be a substitute for math. I think if the students have the background they will go on in that. George Washington Carver did not have role models; he was raised by a German couple. So I don't think that's necessary—I think that can be overdone very easily.
     I wouldn't want to get into a debate on amateur psychology. But certainly, in terms of skills, what we do know is that the skills are absolutely necessary. We can speculate about role models all we want, visibility, all that sort of thing.

Mr. Harkin:   Again, I perceive a difference between engineering and science and things like law. A person with an eighth grade education could become a very good lawyer.

Dr. Sowell:   Yes.

Mr. Harkin:   You don't need that high school and college education. In fact, you used to be able to read for the law, and things like that.
When you get into math, if you miss a basic math course, you can't go on to algebra or calculus.

Dr. Sowell:   That's right.

Mr. Harkin:   Or in chemistry, if you're missing basic chemistry courses then you can't go on to the advanced chemistry courses, and one has to be built on the other. I'm concerned that maybe in the social sciences you can leap-frog, as I call it.

Dr. Sowell:   You can do it less and less. In economics, if you don't have calculus, for example, you're not allowed to major in economics at UCLA. It's just that simple. It's becoming more so in the other fields, psychology, even sociology. The other areas normally thought of as softer sciences are becoming less soft; they're requiring more statistics. The statistics themselves require more math.

Mr. Harkin:   Again, if in establishing these minority centers we do break the cycle and somehow get the people back into the lower levels, the primary and secondary school levels who have a good background in science, to instill in young people—I can't remember who it was who mentioned it; maybe it was Dr. Jackson. But he had one teacher that really instilled in him the desire for chemistry All of us I think can point to that kind of experience we had in our own educational background.
     Perhaps these centers then would develop that kind of a person, to go back and instill in people, especially black people, a desire to stay in math or economics or chemistry or engineering.

Dr. Sowell:   I expect if the Government were to make money available to schools contingent upon their ability to raise the mathematical level of their students in general, that you would find them raising the mathematical level of the students in general. I think if you're going to pay them for going through certain motions, they will go through those motions and collect the money

Mr. Harkin:   Dr. Sowell, you have reaffirmed my belief that scientists are about as difficult to agree with one another as farmers. [Laughter.]

Chairman Thornton:   Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Well, the postulation of the issues and the differences of opinion is readily apparent, and the testimony is most valuable in highlighting a full range of differences. That's what we're called upon to do, is to have issues presented, articulated well, and then to see if there are some areas which then emerge which lead to a course of action.
     I'd like to explore for just a moment whether there are some areas where there might be agreement.

Dr. Sowell:   Yes.

Chairman Thornton:   Starting with the statistics of the small proportion of the cadre of outstanding scientists, engineers, professionals, who are drawn from minorities, is it reasonable to assume that there is something deficient in our institutions which leads to, or has not solved a problem of wide participation in these professions?

Dr. Sowell:   I'd incline that way, though I wouldn't lean very heavily on that because I don't share the assumption that in the absence of some kind of institutional barriers or arrangements, people would be randomly distributed.
     I think what I know of a number of areas would suggest to me that that's the case. If I look at activities totally within the control of the individual, what programs he watches on television, what games he plays, and musical instruments, I don't find that normal or random distribution. That's one reason for my hesitation.
     I'm inclined to believe, though, for other reasons, that the institutions are deficient, that they simply don't put the emphasis that they should on subjects like math, and that by not doing so they then bar people, inadvertently as it may be, from many occupations they otherwise might enter and where they might have a lot to contribute.

Chairman Thornton:   At least the variation from the results which you would expect from a random sampling though is evidence—it might not be conclusive evidence—that there is something wrong with the institutions. In other words, we're on a proper subject of inquiry here as to—

Dr. Sowell:   Yes. I think what's wrong with the institution, though, is likely to be that it doesn't provide enough of certain skills, rather than the people who have the skills don't use them in a certain way because they're not inspired, and so forth.
     For example, take the female case such as we have the data for. If only 8 percent of the women who enter college are capable of taking a first-year course in calculus, then we needn't talk about anything else as regards why there are fewer women, for example, in the sciences. That is sufficient unto itself. And no amount of role models is going to do very much for the other 92 percent. I don't have the corresponding data for blacks at the college level, but clearly it would be something approaching that order.

Chairman Thornton:   Now, if you do make that first threshold step, that the failure of getting a statistically proportional representation of women, of minorities, in these professions shows a possible deficiency in the utilization of human resources, and skills—

Dr. Sowell:   It's a failure to develop the skills.

Chairman Thornton:   Yes. If it does then, that calls for some innovative ideas to how to address that problem. I'm trying to see how far we can go in agreement here.
     Not between you and me, but between you and the other witnesses.

Dr. Sowell:   Sure. The word "innovative" bothers me, aside from the fact it's become fashionable.

Chairman Thornton:   Yes.

Dr. Sowell:   The schools—I've studied some black schools that have had some very different kinds of results, much better results. I don't find them innovative. I find them just doing things that other schools that get good results also do with their other students.
     I'm not willing to say if there's a problem, a serious problem, then we must do something sort of unprecedented, or follow someone's inspired idea. Clearly one must do something, but whether that something would fall under the category of innovative is another matter entirely.

Chairman Thornton:   Something different. It's not certainly—innovation is not a new idea. Francis Bacon said, in "Novurn Organon" that it would be unsound and contradictory to suppose that that which has never been accomplished cannot be accomplished except by means which have not yet been tried.
     I think that is as true today as when he said it.
     What we are trying to search for here is whether there are things that we can do in adjusting our institutions, and what things we might be able to do, in order to address a problem which I think you and all other witnesses do agree does exist in this area.

Dr. Sowell:   Yes. I think that if one is, for example, prepared to put more money at the elementary school level, with the continued flow of money being contingent upon demonstrable results as judged by some independent third party, then I think you can do a great deal.
     I think if you're going to have the usual situation where educational programs judge themselves, then where they judge themselves they have an unbroken record of success despite the fact that we find more and more kids in college who can't write, who can't figure, and so on-so I think the crucial thing is whether or not you're going to have any continuous monitoring, either by having independent organizations test for results or by allowing students to have a choice under the sort of GI bill arrangement whereby they decide whether the school's inspiring or not.
     We needn't decide in advance once and for all whether the schools are inspiring. The students themselves are perfectly capable of deciding just how inspiring those schools are as compared to other alternatives available to them.

Chairman Thomton:   I'm inclined to agree with your suggestion that the success or failure of programs is going to depend upon the degree to which you are able to motivate individual skills and individual development, and that it is not always correct by modeling a program and attempting to put people into that program that you do allow this kind of individual development.
     At the same time, I wonder if you might agree with the thrust or not of the testimony previously given by Dr. Jackson that a useful purpose institutionally could be achieved by targeting supportive environments and giving them added capacity to develop this kind of individual skill.

Dr. Sowell:   I frankly don't know what that means.

Chairman Thornton:   Well, that was what I drew from what his testimony was, that he was seeking to address the problem of targeting supportive environments of existing institutions which did tend to promote intellectual curiosity and development of skills, and to add to those institutions some added capacity for bringing out the kind of individual responses that he believed should—

Dr. Sowell:   If those words refer to hopes, I share those hopes. If they refer to any process, they don't refer to any process that I can identify.

Chairman Thornton:   OK. I think you've done an outstanding job of focusing upon some of the real intellectual and philosophical problems with which we are grappling here, and there is a need to distinguish between hopes and aspirations and institutions and solutions. I want to thank you for your testimony.

Dr. Sowell:   Thank you.

Chairman Thornton:   Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Harkin:   Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Just one final follow-up question.

Dr. Sowell:   Yes.

Mr. Harkin:   The chairman's question brought this to my mind. And that is there are various things that will compel a student to take up certain courses or proceed in a certain discipline, and I'm just wondering if because of the affirmative action programs that we have today will that be enough of an economic incentive to inspire minority centers to get into these areas, especially in affirmative action programs that are now developing in engineering and the sciences?
     What kind of an impact, economic impact, will that tend to have? Will that tend to solve a great part of this problem?

Dr. Sowell:   Well, I must say first that I have never perceived the problem myself, in my own experience, as being one of inspiring minority students to want to go into these fields. I've seen many minority students who do want to go into those fields. Some of them go into those fields and find it very different from what they expected. And certainly they differ from what their previous education has prepared them to cope with.
     So I don't think the problem is one of the numbers of inputs. It's a problem of getting survival and success in those fields.
     Secondly, as to affirmative action, I'm not sure whether you're referring to hiring or you're referring to educational programs. By affirmative action do you mean affirmative action hiring programs?

Mr. Harkin:   Yes.

Dr. Sowell:   Or affirmative action education programs?

Mr. Harkin:   Affirmative action hiring programs.

Dr. Sowell:   That would depend upon the actual impact of those programs. I've done a little research on this myself. The impact seems virtually nil for the period for which I've studied it.

Mr. Harkin:   I guess I'm looking at it from an economic standpoint, the supply and demand. What about the demand for minority—

Dr. Sowell:   Well, if there were a lack of demand then I would expect to find some unemployment level that would reflect that, and I don't find anything like that.
     When I studied, for example, minority faculty as compared to general population faculty, I don't find that minority faculty with given credentials, given publication records, did significantly worse. That is—and also holding the fields constant—that they did significantly worse, or did significantly worse before or after affirmative action than majority faculties with exactly the same credentials.
     The big problem is that the minority faculty are distributed rather differently in those fields. They're much more heavily concentrated in the lower-paying fields and had very different credentials. That is, they have a Ph.D. less often, have it from a top institution less often, and so on, for very obvious historical and economic reasons—and that explains the variation that you get.
     But, for example, in the study I did, there was something like $600 a year difference between black faculty and white faculty, and yet when you broke that down by fields and you broke that down by these various qualifications, blacks did at least as well as whites in most of the fields. The problem was that blacks were distributed differently
     The same thing is true of women. The major part of the difference between men and women is that men and women are working at different jobs, and that too reflects their educational preparation and what that means in terms of future opportunities.

Mr. Harkin:   Mr. Wells, do you have any questions?

Mr. Wells:   No, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Harkin:   Mr. Sowell, thank you very much.

Dr. Sowell:   Thank you.

[Additional information was submitted in a letter, which follows:]

Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences
Stanford, Calif., February 24, 1977

Hon. Ray Thornton

Chairman, Subcommittee on Science, Research and Technology
U.S. House of Representatives, Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. Thornton:
      In my testimony before your subcommittee on February 23, and particularly in my reply to your question, I may have left an important point insufficiently clear, and would like to clarify it somewhat now, if I may. You referred to "innovative" methods for teaching black young people the skills needed for mathematical and scientific careers, and pointed out that what has never been accomplished is unlikely to be accomplished, except by methods that have never been tried. The latter proposition is of course correct in itself, but it seems tragic for policyrnaking that so little has been generally known about educational methods which have been successful in teaching generations of black youngsters the skills they need—and most of these methods have been "traditional" rather than "innovative." The schools in which this has been accomplished have been run by blacks, by whites, by clergy, by public school officials, etc.—in short, by all kinds of "role models." Within walking distance of where we were talking, there was a school which for 85 years (1870-1955) continuously turned out highly trained black youngsters who (1) as a group scored above the national average on IQ tests more than thirty years ago, (2) who were graduating with honors from Ivy League colleges more than half a century ago, (3) who have produced a disproportionate share of all the black pioneers in the whole country, in fields ranging from the military to the academic to the United States Senate. There are similar black schools in New Orleans, in Brooklyn, and in Atlanta, and—unlike the one in Washington—they continue to be successful institutions till this day. After all this, it is by no means a foregone conclusion that either educational "innovations" or amateur psychology are necessary to teach black kids math and science, much less that some particular colleges and universities have the inside track on performing this feat.
     A second point that deserves emphasis is the use of "representation" data as a basis for inferences. Implicit in this is the assumption that there would be some approximation of randomness in the distribution of people, in the absence of institutional barriers or social problems, and that such data provide a valid measure of progress in these respects. I happen to believe that there are institutional barriers and social problems for entirely different reasons, but the "representation" data is wholly unpersuasive as evidence, and potentially disastrous as an index for monitoring policy effects. People are not randomly or proportionally distributed, even in activities wholly within their own individual control, such as their choice of card games or television programs. For example, bid whist players are not a random sample of the American population, or even of the black population, within which they are concentrated today, for reasons that go far back into social history Almost everything that people do depends on a whole mosaic of values and traditions, which differs with the groups to which they belong. Equal opportunities must be created, and that is still a large, unfinished task. But neither logic nor evidence leads to an expectation of statistical proportionality, and reliance on the "body count" approach to policy has great potential for harm, both at the stage of implementing policy and judging the results.
     I am taking the liberty of enclosing Xerox copies of some material that bears on the issues in the pending legislation. Both are from my book Black Education: Myths and Tragedies. The material from pages 130-31 deals with the pitfalls in special programs for black students on white campuses, and pages 256-59 deal with the black institutions, whose quality and inspiration were promoted at the hearings. My purpose is not to try to convert you to my conclusion on these matters, but to point out why it is hazardous to allow anyone to build his assumptions into the structure of financial incentives, and why individual college students should be supported, so that they can choose their own best options among the educational institutions for which they qualify. This may not be feasible for pre-college education—which is where the problem is concentrated, for mathematical inadequacies here eliminate the bulk of minority and female individuals from scientific fields before they ever set foot on a college campus. The problem is not trying to inspire the 10 percent who still have such an option at that point, but in trying to create such an option for some of the other 90 percent. Some form of results monitoring is clearly needed if the money spent is to lead to educational skills, and math and science are areas where such monitoring should be most feasible, given the standardized content of basic courses and the possibility of objective testing.
     On one point I would like to agree with the other witnesses. There is not enough money being proposed to do the full job that needs doing, though it is clearly too much money to let go to waste, or to pay out in exchange for rhetoric and hopes. But the real issue is not whether the proposed sum for planning grants may be wasted, but whether an opportunity will be wasted to confront the very real educational problems of minorities, female and others in scientific areas, and the corresponding waste of the nation's human resources.

Thomas Sowell

Enclosures (From Black Education: Myths and Tragedies )

(first enclosure, pp. 130-31)
     Official reports on special programs for black students not only do not tell the whole story, they are themselves a major camouflage effort in many cases. Almost invariably, they are written by people who are involved in the very programs they are evaluating. At the same colleges where official reports paint a glowing picture of success, private discussions among faculty members and administrators often paint a picture of desperate efforts to prevent widespread failure from becoming total disaster. For example, Cornell's special program has been a great success according to its administrators and according to well-planted stories in the press, but a statistical study showed that one-half of the black students in it had grade averages so low as to be on some form of academic probation. An internal memorandum of this program in January 1971 refers to the "phenomenal attrition rate" among students and proposed a number of substantial changes to cope with it. Similarly, a statistical study at the University of Chicago also found that one-half of the black undergraduates were on some form of academic probation. At the Wayne State University Law School 90 percent of the entering black students either failed or were "not in good standing" at the end of their first year. At most institutions college officials manage to keep such data under lock and key, and confine their public statements on the subject to inspiring generalities.
     Does this mean that top quality schools of this sort cannot find black young people who are capable of handling their demanding work? No. That is the primary myth that needs to be exposed. The tragic irony is that current recruiting and admission practices overlook, bypass, and even reject outright very capable black students in favor of less-qualified black students who fit a more fashionable stereotype. It is this policy and philosophy which leads to the educational failures which are either covered up or attributed to "cultural deprivation."
     There are many ways in which academic failures can be disguised: (1) students may be steered away from tough courses, instructors, or majors, to easy courses, instructors, or majors; (2) "incompletes" may be handed out instead of failing grades; and/or (3) a student who would otherwise be flunked out of college may be given "another chance." He may even be allowed to "voluntarily" take a leave of absence from the school "temporarily" and never return. In this way, official attrition rates are kept low on paper, regardless of how many students waste years of their lives and leave with lasting scars. At one Big Ten university, a black graduate student was "passed" on his doctoral exams with the "understanding" that he would leave the graduate school and never attempt to write a dissertation for the degree.

(second enclosure, pp. 256-59)

Myth No. 1—There are "good" Negro colleges at the same level as various nationally respected white colleges.
     The absence of any objective indices might permit this assertion to sneak by, but using such indices as exist: (1) there is not one black college in which the students' College Board scores average within 100 points of the average at Lehigh, Harpur, Hobart, Manhattanville, or Drew—deliberately picking schools that are not in the Harvard-Yale- MIT category, where scores would average at least 200 points above those at any black college; (2) there is not a black college or university in the country whose library contains one-third as many volumes as the library at Wisconsin, Virginia, NYU, or Texas, or one-tenth as many as at Harvard; (3) there is not a black economics department whose entire staff publishes as many scholarly articles in a year as outstanding individuals publish each year in a number of good departments; (4) there is not one black department anywhere in the country which is ranked among the top twenty in anthropology, biology, chemistry, economics, engineering, English, history, mathematics, physics, political science, psychology, sociology, or zoology. The two black medical schools (Meharry and Howard) have been found to be "among the worst in the nation" and most of the black law schools are "only one jump ahead of the accrediting agencies," while the graduate programs in the arts and sciences at the Negro universities are not even "adequate" by national standards.
     There is simply no point talking nonsense about the quality of Negro colleges. None of them ranks with a decent state university, and it is a farce to talk of them in the same breath with any of the schools we normally think of as among the leading academic institutions. No pious phrases from the Carnegie Commission about the "high academic standards" at some Negro colleges or unctuous characterizations of "able and heroic teachers and administrators" by the United Negro College Fund can change the brutal facts. These facts themselves need to be changed—not described in pretty words.
Myth No. 2—The educational shortcomings of the black colleges are an inevitable consequence of the academic deficiencies of their entering black students.
     This myth is widely accepted even by many who see right through the first myth. Since it is undeniable that most students in the black colleges have substandard educational backgrounds, this carefully cultivated myth enables colleges to excuse all their own errors, misdirected and counter-productive practices. Despite low proportions of academically capable students, many black colleges have substantial absolute numbers of such students—and do a miserable job of developing their potential. The Jencks and Riesman study found what any informed observer knows, that the black colleges "fail to challenge their ablest students." Often it is precisely these top-level students who are most likely to have a mutually antagonistic relationship with the faculty and the administration—in some cases, even flunking out or dropping out of school. Anyone familiar with the black colleges will have examples come immediately to mind. The bright students are a threat to the whole stultifying process of rote learning, textbook memorization, and similar features of inferior education, and their desire to analyze, criticize, or explore further is a very direct threat to the inadequate faculty members typically found in such institutions. Such students are repeatedly silenced by faculty members unable to cope with their inquiries and insights—too often permanently silenced, as far as intellectual development is concerned. It would be a very worthwhile project to trace the academic fate of black entering freshmen with outstanding qualifications as a test of the apologetic theory that the poor end-product is due to poor raw material. It is significant that this apology has been repeated for generations without ever being tested. In part it is a consequence of the remoteness of white trustees, donors, and legislators from the realities of the black colleges. Nor are these schools simply concentrating their efforts on the less able students. The study by Jencks and Riesman concluded that "these colleges do even less than comparable white colleges to remedy their students' academic inadequacies." In short, they fail both the inadequately prepared and the adequately prepared.
Myth No. 3—The shortcomings of the faculty members at Negro colleges are an inevitable consequence of inadequate financial resources to attract better-qualified scholars.
     Here again the attempt is made to blame failure on factors beyond the college's control, rather than on things very clearly within their control. The real failure of the black colleges is not a failure to attract good people, but a failure to keep good people. The faculty turnover rate is phenomenal in the black colleges—with the best-trained and most conscientious teachers often being precisely the ones most likely to leave after one or two years. When people accept a faculty appointment, they know in advance what the salary will be, what the teaching load will be, whether there are research facilities or not, etc. In short, those things which are beyond the college's control are already known and are accepted. What is not known in advance are precisely those things which are within the college's control—the authoritarian administration, the lack of standards, and the demoralizing atmosphere of petty intrigue and favoritism. None of these things is unique to black colleges. But the degree to which they exist there is more than many good people will accept.