The following is an outline of a presentation made by Richard Cherwitz at the Yale Bouchet Conference on Diversity in Graduate Education, April 24, 2004

Intellectual Entrepreneurship and Diversity: Capitalizing on Unintended Consequences

Richard A Cherwitz--Professor of Communication Studies and Rhetoric and Composition
Founder and Director of the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program (IE)

Thesis: To increase diversity in graduate education requires us to appreciate and capitalize on the unintended consequence--that taking measures to reform and improve graduate education affecting all students and disciplines may have a unique and perhaps more substantial impact on underrepresented minorities and first-generation students.

Let me be clear about my educational politics, however. My thesis should not be construed as an argument against affirmative action. To the contrary: Affirmative action in admission and financial aid is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for creating a diverse graduate school population. Unlike undergraduate education, though, the impact of affirmative action on diversity in graduate education may be less significant and may propel us to be less creative in searching for answers--practicing affirmative action results in a complacency, a belief that we are doing all we can.

My fear is that if we do not get beyond current political skirmishes over affirmative action, not only will progress be impeded, but we will remain embroiled in arguments that are potentially alienating and counterproductive.

To make the case, I want to come at the issue inductively--by telling you the story of how as a faculty member and administrator I came to these conclusions over the course of the past twenty-five years:

Faculty Member--who witnessed the vast majority of his best minority and first-generation students enter law, medicine and business.

Associate Dean of Graduate Studies (in charge of admission for seven years at one of the largest graduate institutions nationally)--who monitored the demographics of the graduate student population in the pre- and post Hopwood eras and who observed the absence of a substantially underrepresented minority applicant pool.

Director of the Graduate School Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program--one of the first of its kind programs to re-envision graduate education not just by providing professional development, but by changing the model and metaphor of education from one of "apprenticeship-certification-entitlement" to one of "discovery-ownership-accountability"--who discovered, quite by accident, the special and significant impact this initiative has for underrepresented minorities and first-generation students (and why, therefore, we may need to rethink how we approach the task of increasing diversity).

The convergence of these three sets of experiences is what led me a couple of years ago to the take the IE model into undergraduate education by developing the Pre-Graduate School Internship--the results of which now are forcing me to rethink our current models of recruitment and outreach and our less than effective approaches to increasing diversity in graduate education.

Faculty Member

A. I have taught for 25 years an upper-division, undergraduate Argumentation and Advocacy course

  • Interdisciplinary population--students from Communication, Education, Business, Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences
  • High GPA--almost three tenths of a point higher than the average UT class
  • A large percentage pursue graduate and professional education
  • A substantial number of underrepresented minorities and first-generation students

B. Only a small percentage of underrepresented minorities in this class enter graduate school. A few enter professional programs such as law, business and medicine; many take jobs.

C. Why?

  • The most common reason given for not pursuing graduate education: the desire to make a difference (this is more than a reference to the obvious issues of money and prestige)--to give something of value to society.
  • The perception is that, unless you want to be a professor (an academic, someone not in the "real world"), why pursue graduate studies?

Whether this perception held by students is accurate or not, it might explain why many talented first generation and underrepresented minority undergraduates do not pursue advanced study. It was this anecdotal, but important, data and first-hand experience that I took with me to my position as an academic administrator.

Associate Dean of Graduate Studies (1995-2003)

One of the items in my portfolio was overseeing admissions for all 100-plus graduate programs on campus.

A. UT: one of the largest graduate schools nationally--over 11,000 graduate students (no medical or dental school and excluding law headcounts); each year one of the top three institutions in doctoral degrees awarded; almost 20,000 applications annually.

B. During my tenure as associated dean, UT was forced to abandon its affirmative action policies in admission and financial aid--a race blind policy was enacted following the Fifth Circuit's Hopwood Ruling: UT thus became one of the only major graduate programs in the nation not to practice affirmative action. I wrote an Op-Ed, "Hopwood--Curse or Blessing?" arguing that, as unfortunate as this court ruling was, it provided UT an opportunity to find real solutions to the lack of diversity.

C. What does the data from UT Grad Admissions reveal?

  1. Hopwood had little if no impact on selectivity; UT continued to admit approximately the same percentage of Hispanic and African American applicants that it did prior to the race-blind admissions policy.
  2. While Hopwood caused a slight decline in yield rates (because of the elimination of GOP fellowships), the overall decline in the minority percentage of the total graduate student population cannot predominantly be explained by the loss of targeted money.
  3. The real culprit in the Hopwood years (especially the first year following the decision) was a dramatic decline in applications from underrepresented minorities--which in part is a rhetorical phenomena (UT got bad press nationally, Hopwood was used by other schools against UT during recruitment, and Hopwood reinforced the long-held stereotype that UT was not a friendly environment for minorities--especially African Americans).
  4. Following Hopwood (coincidentally) there also was a decrease in minority applicants at many other schools (some of whom still practiced affirmative action).
  5. The question we had to face was: Why does the percentage of minority graduate students at UT hover at around 9-10%--and why has it never been much higher (even in the pre-Hopwood era)?

The Answer: An insufficient minority applicant pool (pre- and post-Hopwood)

  • 6.3% of applicants to UT's grad programs are Native American, African American or Hispanic.
  • Over 60% of these applicants are in less than 20% of available degree programs.
  • With the exception of helping and professional disciplines (Business, Social Work, Communication and Education), most of the traditional arts, sciences, social sciences and humanities fields have a shockingly small number of minority applicants.
  • The 6.3% figure has remained relatively constant. Never in the last ten years--including prior to Hopwood--has this percentage risen to double digits.

What I learned as an associate dean is that we play a numbers game, talking about percentage increases as though they are truly significant and as if they reflect a major effect of changed admissions policies.

Bottom line: I began to sense that graduate schools around the US. are in the business of merely redistributing an existing population, rather than substantially growing the applicant pool. This perhaps accounts, at least partially, for the continued plight and frustration of educational institutions who seem not to be able to substantially increase the number of minority faculty--which, in turn, feeds the problem of recruiting undergraduate and graduate students of color.

Thus, the question I first raised as a faculty member lingered: Why do so few minorities seek graduate education, regardless of admissions policies, financial aid and the direction of the political winds?

This leads me to an entirely separate set of experiences and duties I had as an Associate Dean--that took me away from matters of admissions to the larger issue of graduate student welfare: The creator and director of a program designed to improve graduate education.

Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program (1996)

A. Like many graduate schools in the mid 90's, we at UT began to look closely at our practices, particularly in doctoral education (narrowness of training, job market issues especially in the humanities, insufficient preparation in pedagogy and other skills, lack of interdisciplinary initiatives, etc.)

B. This led us to be part of the first round of institutions to participate in Preparing Future Faculty (PFF)

C. I became concerned both nationally and locally about the negative theme, premise and tone of the PFF movement and its tendency to reinforce a teaching versus research dichotomy--which in the end would only keep elite programs and top-notch students from being involved.

D. This led to my decision to build on PFF--to move UT in a somewhat different philosophical direction. Rather than thinking about what is insufficient and wrong with graduate education (which alienates faculty), we need to explore the enormous and untapped value of graduate education (something that often isn't discerned or disseminated) and find ways to maximize that value for students and society at large.

E. This was the birth of the IE Program--the goal of which was to empower students to discern their personal and professional identity and to amass the intellectual and professional skills and knowledge needed to bring their visions to fruition: "To Educate Citizen-Scholars"

  1. Professional development language, I suggested, is misguided and less effective--assumes that PFF and other efforts are "after the fact," that professional development is categorically separate from intellectual development and that it is something one undertakes following the acquisition of disciplinary knowledge.
  2. Professional development and PFF buy into existing cultural metaphors and models of graduate education--all of which are oriented to "helping" and "giving" (thoroughly paternalistic) and view the process of graduate education as one of "Apprenticeship-Certification-Entitlement" [One studies at the feet of a master, passes certain tests and performs specific rituals to obtain official certification which, in turn, entitles one (if they figure out the game, survive and are the best) to a job.].

IE: 16 courses centrally administered through the Graduate School (e.g., writing, communication, ethics, consulting, technology, pedagogy, entrepreneurship, multiculturalism, etc.), PFF, Internships (Academic, K-12 Teacher Leader, Professional), Community Synergy Groups, Cross-Disciplinary Doctoral and Master's Portfolio Programs and Professional Development Workshops.

IE is based on the idea that intellectual activity is not owned by the academy and that entrepreneurship is not owned by the business community; intellectual entrepreneurship involves more than the creation of material wealth--it is about cultural innovation and change. IE concerns anything from building products out of ideas, to engaging in social or political activism based on one's knowledge and convictions, to building an academic program of knowledge and ideas, to producing music and art. Successful academic professionals are intellectual entrepreneurs:

  1. They are willing to take risks.
  2. They place a value on discovery.
  3. They understand the importance of teamwork and collaboration (people as intellectual capital, not just ideas).
  4. They know how essential it is to have integrative knowledge--that solving complex problems requires multiple perspectives, experiences and institutions.
  5. They own their identity and are able to invent and re-invent themselves.

IE data:

In addition to what we expected, namely, IE students obtained more and better jobs, created better products (e.g., writing--dissertations, grants--teaching, etc.), we discovered other major effects of IE:

1. Students told us that, for the first time, they were beginning to understand who they were (self) and to discover the value of their disciplines. "I am a better Engineer." We observed increased ownership and accountability because IE students now suddenly had to confront assumptions abut their disciplines in front of people from other fields IE became, in part, a "philosophy of" curriculum, exposing for analysis disciplinary and methodological assumptions.

2. Valued the interdisciplinary graduate experience--could see how to integrate and put their knowledge into perspective. Departments and methodologies became for IE students marked by more than the usual political boundary lines.

3. Students began to think about jobs not as positions culminating a graduate education, but as careers and possibilities--something created rather than given and something based on one's passion and vision and plans to bring those visions to fruition.

4. Saw their IE experience as integral to their intellectual development--all IE courses and experiences began with what student were working on (teaching/research). For many this changed their direction, led to reinvigorated study, and I would predict less time to degree--precisely because they now had vision and direction, allowing them to put up with the rigors and rituals of graduate education

5. Most important, self-esteem increased: "I have value." "I won't and shouldn't have to apologize for being a scholar." "I can make a profound difference whether in academe and/or the community."

6. In short, these students began to reflect a new metaphor of graduate education to replace apprenticeship/certification/entitlement: discovery/ownership/accountability.

So, what does all of this have to do with diversity? My boss, a demographer, asked me if I knew who took IE classes and participated in IE initiatives. Other than what I thought was important, namely, that IE attracted students from all disciplines and that there was no significant difference in academic credentials for those who did and didn't participate in IE (i.e., IE was for more than those with remedial problems), I didn't know much else about the population. What I discovered:

  • 20% of those who took part in IE were underrepresented minorities
  • Yet only 9% of UT's entire graduate students were underrepresented minorities

Why? I wrote an e-mail message, asking African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans why they participated in IE.

  1. Demystification--"I am smart enough to be here and to earn a degree, but don't know the rules of the game." "IE demystifies the academic-professional culture."
  2. IE is the only place on campus to figure out the value of disciplines and how to make a difference; many IE minority students indicated that they want to give back to the community and perceived their disciplines to "beat that tendency out of them" or at least to show little commitment to addressing the issue.
  3. The IE language and concept resonated with this population, being more in tune with their personal and professional philosophies than the condescending and paternalistic "helping" language of professional development and outreach.

Having learned this, the epiphany for me was the realization that I now had some answers to the questions I was raising in my two other roles: Faculty (wondering why many of my best minority students weren't continuing their education in traditional fields) and Administrator (wondering how to increase the applicant pool and do more than play the redistribution game).

So, I took the precepts of IE (since we already were using it selfishly to recruit graduate students) to the undergraduate experience.

IE Pre-Grad Internship (pilot in Grad School in 2002 via PFF and now available to all UT undergraduates)

The idea was this: Could we, analogous to what was done for graduate students in IE, devise a space, an opportunity, an experience that allowed undergrads to discover self and discipline--something very difficult in light of the fact that undergrad education is so compartmentalized and deductive?

A. Model: pair undergrads with "faculty mentors" and "grad student buddies" in a field about which they might wish to do grad study--a no strings attached proposition.

B. Focus on sophomores and juniors--many of whom don't yet know what they wish to do after graduating.

C. Make the experience open-ended and anthropological--more than simply "doing" research; stand back and examine self and culture, discern what makes one happy. In short, ask lots of questions and reflect and write--as a way to discover.

D. Avoid a logistical orientation--(e.g., how do I get into grad school, take GREs, etc.).

E. Bring all students together--electronically at least, to share experience.

  • Almost 40 students to date (fall 2003 and spring 2004)
  • From science, liberal arts, communication, fine arts, engineering and many other fields
  • Almost 40% are first-generation
  • Approximately 25% are underrepresented minorities

What are we learning?

  1. How difficult it is for students to stand back and reflect.
  2. For almost all it is eye-opening--they suddenly realize what disciplines are and how graduate education is entirely different than the undergraduate experience.
  3. Students are beginning to develop professional visions--to see relationship between passion, professional goals and academic field.
  4. For a few, it represents a shift in thinking--instead of taking a job or going to into business, law or medicine, they now see the value of a master's or doctoral degree, that one can do something of real value with a graduate degree.


Hispanic student from the Texas Valley who now wants to earn a Ph.D. in order to change the world; she wants to build community healthcare facilities and use academic knowledge to solve complex problems.

African American Student--instead of politics/law, she now views a Ph.D. and a career in teaching and research as a way to influence future generations.

For some--"I now know I don't want the discipline that I started in (default)." For others--"I don't want graduate school." "I have observed the culture and do not wish to be a part of it." This realization, I submit, is important since universities do not want or need students who do not understand and value the culture. This realization is also significant in as much as it might cause us as faculty and administrators to reflect upon and change our outdated and perhaps broken educational practices; a more educated and aware applicant pool will make graduate education more market driven and accountable--which might lead to real reform done from the inside and for the right reasons, viz., in the interest of preserving disciplines and continuing to produce knowledge.

Lessons of IE Pre-Grad School Internship:

(1) Don't start outreach and recruitment with logistical issues (identifying the obstacles and offering ways to clear them)--begin with motives and passion (WHY), the stuff of IE.

(2) Target a different and new population so that we don't simply compete for and redistribute an existing population (e.g., those who have self-selected--who took the GRE, express an interest in grad education). Get beyond the tendency to ask current minority graduate students why they chose to purse advanced studies; instead, we must ask those who don't pursue graduate education why they have made that choice.

(3) Think less mechanistically about recruitment programs and strategies and more about creating experiences and opportunities for discovery--the key problem with undergrad education is there are few opportunities to self-examine.

(4) Place ownership and accountability at the heart of graduate education and recruitment--from how applicants envision themselves to how they construct themselves as students and future academic professionals. Avoid the "helping" and paternalistic professional development language and model.

(5) Encourage undergraduates to move beyond the mindset of graduate school as a default. Remember the unintended consequence. There is a population in school that shouldn't be there and a large population not in graduate school that should enroll.

(6) Find ways for students to discern the enormous and diverse values of grad education; not only does it enable them to answer intellectual questions, but it can empower them to fulfill their ethical and professional commitments.

(7) Improve our product: Recruitment is more than a matter of persuasion and money separate from the product we deliver. Faculty in disciplines should think more broadly about what we can do to open up graduate education, to view our job as more than cloning ourselves and training future professors. We must see ourselves as "intellectual entrepreneurs" who are in the business of educating "Citizen-Scholars"--people who will make choices for themselves about what and how to contribute.

In short, the time has come to think about the unintended consequence--that whatever we do to improve graduate education and grow the applicant pool will in the end bode well for solving the problem of a lack of diversity.


Cherwitz, Richard and Daniel Sharan. "Rhetoric as Professional Development and Vice Versa." JAC: A Quarterly Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Rhetoric, Culture, Literacy, and Politics 22 (2003), 795-814.

Cherwitz Richard and Alvarado-Boyd, Susan. "Intellectual Entrepreneurship: Educational Vision and Recruitment Strategy." Journal for Higher Education Strategists 2:1 (Spring, 2004).

Cherwitz Richard and Alvarado-Boyd, Susan. "Intellectual Entrepreneurship: A New Approach to Increasing Diversity in Graduate School." College & University Journal 79:3 (2004), 37-39.

Cherwitz Richard and Alvarado-Boyd, Susan. "Intellectual Entrepreneurship: Successfully Engaging Hearts, Minds in Graduate Education." Black Issues in Higher Education, October 9, 2003.

Cherwitz, Richard. "The Real Problem With Diversity in Graduate Education." The Austin American- Statesman, July 22, 2003.

Cherwitz, Richard and Sullivan, Charlotte. "Intellectual Entrepreneurship: A Vision for Graduate Education." Change (November/December, 2002).

Cherwitz, Richard, Sullivan, Charlotte and Stewart, Theresa. "Intellectual Entrepreneurship and Outreach: Uniting Expertise and Passion." The Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement 7 (Spring/Summer, 2002), 123-33.

Cherwitz, Richard and Sanford, Stefanie. "The Impact of Hopwood on Graduate Education--Curse and Blessing?" The Austin American-Statesman, May, 24, 1999.