Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Welcome to the world of diminished expectations. Campuses keep records of admission and retention of students by protected class status. (Here are ours.) What is the message getting to faculty when these records are shown to them?
More than 25 years ago, when I was dean of boys at a high school in northern Queens, we received a letter from a federal agency pointing out that we had suspended black students far out of proportion to their numbers in our student population. Though it carried no explicit or even implicit threats, the letter was enough to set the alarm bells ringing in all the first-floor administrative offices.
When my supervisor, the assistant principal, showed me the letter, she merely shook her head and looked downcast. She said nothing, but her body language told me that it was probably time to mend our errant ways.
...What this meant in practice was an unarticulated modification of our disciplinary standards. For example, obscenities directed at a teacher would mean, in cases involving minority students, a rebuke from the dean and a notation on the record or a letter home rather than a suspension. For cases in which white students had committed infractions, it meant zero tolerance. Unofficially, we began to enforce dual systems of justice. Inevitably, where the numbers ruled, some kids would wind up punished more severely than others for the same offense.