Campus diversity still lacking

In this Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012 photo, students walk through the University of Texas at Austin campus in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

A recent report from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania sheds important and disturbing new light on racial and gender inequality in higher education.

Pretending to be students, Professor Katherine Milkman and her colleagues emailed 6,500 professors at 259 of the nation's top colleges and universities requesting a meeting to discuss research opportunities before applying to a doctoral program.

Each message was identical. The only variables were the senders' names, deliberately chosen to suggest an ethnicity and gender (e.g. Brad Anderson, Lamar Washington, Latoya Brown, Sonali Desai, Mei Chen).

Here are results in Dr. Milkman's own words: professors "ignored requests from women and minorities at a higher rate than requests from white males ... We see a 25 percentage point gap in the response rate to Caucasian males versus women and minorities."

The results of this experiment are deeply disturbing not only in and of themselves but because they appear to be a case of "do as I say, not as I do."

In recent years, higher education has made a very public show of embracing equal opportunity.

Case in point: In response to a recent court case on admissions, last year 37 higher education associations took out a full-page ad in The New York Times trumpeting their support for campus diversity. It stated, in part, the following.

"Our nation's higher education institutions ... stand committed to furthering the goals of equal opportunity and diversity in education ... We remain dedicated to the mission of discovering and disseminating knowledge, including the knowledge gained through direct experiences with diverse colleagues - a resource for achieving a stronger democracy and nation."

Unfortunately, the Milkman data tell a different story about their own institutions. And, sadly, her report supports other troubling facts about race and gender in higher education.

According to the American Council on Education, in 2011 only 26 percent of college presidents were women and only 13 percent were minorities.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, in 2011 only 26 percent of full-time teachers in higher education were minorities and 44 percent were women.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, of those students who entered four year colleges in 2005, 62 percent of whites received a degree within six years, versus 40 percent of blacks and 51 percent of Hispanics.

Higher education plays a critical role in America. It helps shape the economic futures, character, civic responses and ideals of more than 20 million enrolled students.

Higher education is also a thought and moral leader.

However, as with all of us, actions speak more loudly than words.

Racism and sexism, or prejudice of any kind, should never be acceptable. But in a nation that is 51 percent female and is expected to be majority-minority by 2043, these behaviors are not only morally wrong, they are just plain dumb.

The bad news from the Milkman study is that, when it comes to championing diversity, colleges and universities require substantial reform.

The good news is that, if they take this opportunity to correct their deficiencies, they can serve as an example for all of us.

Gene Budig is past president/chancellor of Illinois State University, West Virginia University and the University of Kansas and of Major League Baseball's American League. Alan Heaps is a former vice president of the College Board in New York City.