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February 19, 1998

Black faculty, student, staff groups reply to Daniel Report

Provost James Maher should launch an annual planning process aimed at improving African American student retention and graduation rates. The process should involve the directors of Pitt academic support programs for minority students such as the University Challenge for Excellence Programs (UCEP), who have been excluded from strategic planning in the units to which they report.

That's one of the recommendations in a report submitted Feb. 3 to Provost Maher by three committees of black students, faculty and staff.

Maher convened the African American Student, Faculty and Staff Strategic Thinking Groups to respond to a report written by Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Jack L. Daniel, "A 21st Century African American Student Agenda: A Matter of Higher Expectations." Rather than respond point-by-point to the Daniel Report, the strategic thinking groups' joint report — called "Leading the Way By Building on Our Success" — presents an alternative view of black student retention and graduation issues. The 18-page document describes case studies of black students who have been high and low achievers at the University (regardless of their SAT scores and high school grades) and concludes that a dozen factors appear to be linked to academic success among African Americans: among them, stable financial aid, peer support and institutional incentives.

Most Pitt schools and departments aren't rewarded for developing successful plans to recruit and graduate minority students, nor are they penalized for failing to implement such plans, according to the report.

The documents also states that:

* Many black students at Pitt perceive that their interests and concerns are not valued or addressed here.

* Relying too much on standardized test scores and high school class rank will result in a dramatic decline in the enrollment of African American freshmen at Pitt. According to the document, the University's admissions process should take into account other variables such as motivation, leadership and community service.

* Among UCEP students who leave Pitt before earning degrees, only a small percentage cite academic failure as the reason. More often, the students say, they withdrew because they were dissatisfied with the University, couldn't afford to continue, were unable to enroll in the majors they wanted, or needed to relocate.

The strategic thinking groups' report hailed the Daniel Report as a good starting point for a University-wide discussion of African American student issues. And it echoed Daniel's calls for more faculty mentoring of black students and for an affirmative action component in the University's capital campaign.

But the report criticizes Daniel for not mentioning the external funding that UCEP and the engineering school's Impact Program generate to support their student services. Since 1968, UCEP has brought in an average of $200,000 annually, the document states.

Also, the document takes issue with a Daniel Report chart that includes athletic scholarships among the total financial aid and scholarships awarded to African Americans. "Athletes were not recruited to enhance campus diversity or access," the strategic thinking groups wrote. "When the athletes are removed, a more accurate picture of the scholarship allocation to African Americans is presented. In 1996-97, there were 195 African American students who received $310,792 in scholarships." The chart in the Daniel Report includes a prominent note detailing the number of black students who received athletic scholarships and the amount of aid they received. But athletes should be left out of such charts entirely, according to the strategic thinking groups.

— Bruce Steele

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