Commit To Milwaukee's Phase II If You Don't Value Your Education

Here's my article from the January 26th edition of the UWM Times:

Commit to Milwaukee’s Phase II If You Don’t Value Your Education

Many of you may have received an email in October from the UWM Coalition for Diversity and Access that called for the implementation of the Milwaukee Commitment’s Phase II Plan. For those of you who do not know what this plan entails, here is the basic rundown of the program:

The Phase II Plan has several goals – the most important is to close the achievement gap through retention and graduation. Phase II is a follow-up proposal to the original Phase I initiative. Phase II strives to create more diversity at the UWM campus by enacting several proposals. Mainly, these proposals include accepting not only more students of color, but also professors that resemble the racial composition of the Milwaukee community.

This is a noble cause. At first glance, one could hardly find fault with its earnest attempts at diversifying this campus. However, the proposals in this initiative would raise tuition significantly – thereby undermining its own attempts at creating a “diverse” campus. The proposed initiative does more damage than good.

It is logical for a university to accept students based on their accomplishments during high school. I would rather have students accepted based on their merits and achievements – not their race/ethnicity. What does it say to a student when you accept them because they fell into a category? "Oh, you're important - your grades don'tmatter, but you're important - we let you enter into school because you makeour university look more diverse".

This sort of thinking hurts not only the university, but the student who was accepted. True concern for minority students is not there. Rather, Phase II makes UWM look more concerned about their ethnic composition rather than their dedication to the success of all its students.

I know what most people are thinking by now. This kid is a bigot – he doesn’t care about the diversity of his university. Instead, he would rather let his university become a “cookie-cutter” institution of no racial make-up. Wrong. Is UWM really not diverse? Most people would beg to differ. In fact, statistics from the Milwaukee Commitment show how diverse our campus is compared to other schools within the UW system.

According to its own numbers, in the 2003-04 academic year, while UWM enrolled 16% of all students in the UW system, our proportion of enrollment of students of color in the system is twice that at the undergraduate level (32% of all undergraduate students of color in the UW System) and more than twice at the graduate level (37% of all graduate students of color in the system). Additionally, to the graduating class of 2002-03, UWM awarded one third (33%) of all bachelor’s degrees and more than one half (52%) of all master’s degrees awarded by the UW System to African American students.

These statistics certainly show our campus as the leader in diversity among the other UW institutions. Professors and Teacher’s Aids also resemble a very diverse racial makeup. Just sit in one of your classes and you can agree that our educators do not fit into one racial category.

Going back to the admission of ethnic students, I would love to see minority students accepted into UWM. However, I do not want them accepted with the stigma of being labeled as a "Phase II" student and seen as one who has been successful in his/her academic pursuits. It is vital to respecting the student and the university. We need fairness in university admissions. Do you not see where I am coming from?

Many people think that I might be talking about standardized testing as the yardstick. Many statistics have been thrown out there trying to prove why standardized testing does not work (i.e. timed tests). However, this is not what I mean at all when I call for fairness in university admissions. To clarify, my "fair" strategy is not taking a pre-entry test such as the ACT to determine access to the university. Rather, how you perform in high school gives a good sign of how you will perform in higher education.

Even after examining this statistical data, it is hard for me to look at these figures when other statistics glaringly stick out. For example, truancy rates in the state of Wisconsin are appalling and ridiculous. MPS habitual truancy numbers show an increase from each school period - elementary, middle school, high school - to the point that in 2003, the MPS high school average rate of habitual truancy was 73%! Add in the fact that MPS enroll about 11% of the students in the state, and report more than 50% of all the habitual truants in the state – a large percentage being minorities.

The yardstick I am calling for is not standardized testing. It is the willingness to be successful in high school. These would include activities mentioned by the UWM Coalition for Diversity and Access: community involvement, blue-collar work ethic, etc. It is this dedication that brings about academic success. The responsibility to a student’s success does not fall under one category.

More importantly, parents must be aware and involved in their child’s academic life. Truancy rates would severely decline if parents would accept the responsibility of their child, not pass it off to the government or schools. After all, who has the ultimate responsibility for their child? The obvious answer is the parent. Mark my words: academic achievement and success would skyrocket if parents assume their natural and inherent responsibility.

On a side note, I would be interested in seeing the racial composition of applicants to UWM. This, broken down into locale, would also help to see if minorities are beingunfairly treated in admissions. Are the people we are trying to help evenbothering to apply? At the very least, the people who are serious about attendinguniversity – not those who failed in high school due to lack of interest in education (seenin truancy rates, grades, etc.) – are those who should be studied.

A big concern is the cost of the Phase II initiative. This will most certainlyraise the cost of education. Does this not hurt the same people we are tryingto bring into UWM? Or are we placing the burden of cost on others? Where is themoney coming from to fund this unproven program? These are serious questions that need to be addressed.

One final thing, there is the proposal within Phase II that calls for professors to match the racial composition of UWM's community. This is a very disturbing suggestion. What does this mean? Quite possibly, we could be denying qualified professors positions at our university because they don't pass the litmus test of race! Here is the point: I don't care if you are black, white, yellow, orange or purple. The professors at UWM should be the most qualified people in their field – regardless of race. This remains the responsibility of any university. The denial of qualified professors is the denial of a student’s right to the best education possible.

These are the issues that need to be addressed before we commit to a programthat could damage the university more than preserve it. Committing to this program devalues a student’s education for the sake of outward appearance.

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