San Antonio Express News

Carlos Guerra: Here is one approach for making more minority scholars
Web Posted: 09/28/2004 12:00 AM CDT

San Antonio Express-News

Carlos GuerraAfter the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1996 that Texas' public universities couldn't consider race in admissions decisions and then-Attorney General Dan Morales expanded the prohibition to financial aid, minority enrollment at the University of Texas plummeted.

The decline alarmed policy makers because Texas' changing demographics make minority enrollment critical to the state's future.

University administrators stepped up undergraduate minority recruitment, some enlightened alumni developed financial aid outside the institution to help UT keep talented Texas students at home, and the Legislature implemented the top 10 percent law.

That law automatically admits any student that finishes in the top tenth of their high school classes to any state university, including the University of Texas.

Slowly, minority enrollment started climbing again, but progress was slow until 2003, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 5th Circuit's decision with a ruling on two University of Michigan affirmative action cases.

With both affirmative action and the 10 percent law to lure qualified minority students, UT had a 2003 freshman class that was the most diverse in the institution's history.

But such diversity isn't mirrored in UT's graduate enrollment, and Richard Cherwitz, a communication professor and a former dean of graduate studies, worries that this will result in anemic percentages of minority faculty members, which will only perpetuate the lack of diversity overall and force Texas to revisit the issue within a decade.

The percentage of minority grad students has never been stellar.

"It hovers around 9 and 10 percent," Cherwitz says, adding that it didn't change much with or without affirmative action.

"And there is no equivalent in graduate education to the top 10 percent law," he says, so other approaches must be developed to improve minority grad student enrollment. One approach he developed, the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program, offers great hope, he says.

"IE," as he calls the pre-graduate internship program, was developed in the mid-1990s to make graduate studies more appealing to potential first-generation grad students by teaching them required skills, such as communicating effectively outside one's discipline and navigating the rigors of graduate school.

But when Cherwitz was asked about the composition of his charges, he realized that a fifth of them were minority students, an unexpected overrepresentation.

"They get academic credit and work with a faculty mentor and a graduate student buddy," he says of the college sophomores and juniors who take part in the program.

"They interact with me and other students from across the disciplines who are also doing the internships, and that's the real key that makes this work."

Universities, he says, are too often mired in 19th century models that overspecialize academic disciplines into "esoterica" and perpetuate an "apprenticeship-certification-entitlement" model that turns many, especially minorities, away from academia and funnels them into professional fields like medicine and law that seem more relevant and more rewarding.

"About three weeks into their internships, I start asking, 'Tell me what you are learning about yourself, the culture of your discipline, the people in it and what your interests are,' and this is when they
experience the epiphany," he says.

Stay tuned for more about IE, why it works and why it's needed.

To leave a message for Carlos Guerra, call (210) 250-3545 or e-mail