October 13, 2019

Race Relations on Campus—the Universities’ View

Last week this “>2016 Inside Higher Ed Survey of College and University Presidents that race relations on campus are not as portrayed in the media. 84% of college presidents view race relations on their campus as either “excellent” or “good” despite recent protests across the country. Only 16% of the presidents view their campuses as having “fair” or “poor” race relation.

These data are essentially unchanged from 2015 in how the presidents assess race relations on their campuses—headlines and Black Lives Matter protests notwithstanding.

The presidents' evidenced surprise (42%) at the intensity and number of campus protests on racial issues on campuses across the country. Thirty eight percent of the campus heads thought that the protests weren't reasonable. Additionally, nearly 50% of the presidents thought that some of the students' demands violated free speech and academic freedom.
The vast majority of the presidents (74%) believed that their campuses have done “a good job of serving minority students.”

The picture painted by this Gallup survey is worlds away from that portrayed by the protestors who cited “micro” and macro-aggressions as the reasons for their upset. There seems to be a huge perception gap.

One can dismiss the Gallup survey by discounting its accuracy—university presidents, despite the anonymity of the process, are unlikely to offer a negative assessment of the institution they are heading because it might come back to haunt them—the Gallup organization is not the National Security Agency when it comes to security and confidentiality. That's certainly a possibility.

One might also ascribe it to the notion of cognitive dissonance—the presidents have no interest in acknowledging facts that would contradict what they have striven to achieve on their campus—an absence of racial strife.

But were those the reasons for their views, it is less likely that they would have been as glum as they were in assessing the state of race relations on other college campuses. When the presidents were asked to assess “the state of race relations on college and university campuses in this country” 75% rated them as “fair or poor”. That contrasts with the 17% who rate their own college's race relations as “fair or poor.”

I suspect that the presidents were honest in their assessment of their campus environment. Many polls on race relations betray the same phenomenon—-people tend to view race relations in their lives and communities as positive yet when they are asked their “meta-analysis” of the larger scope of race relations—how the rest of the country is getting along—-the negatives flourish.

Opinions about what goes on outside one's ambit of activity tend to mirror whatever narrative dominates the news cycle. When respondents are asked to assess the national tenor of inter-group relations they absorb the news from across the country in their evaluation; when asked about their community, what happened in Ferguson or on CNN play a lesser role.

In the wake of the Ferguson tragedy, a December, 2014 “>December, 2014)—66% of Blacks assessed their local race relations as “good.” At the same time 80% of whites assessed local race relations as “good.”

The university presidents' assessments give some support to those of us arguing that the “sky isn't falling” and that the