By John D. Stobo
This June, in Grutter v. Bollinger, one of two race-related cases that came before the justices from the University of Michigan, the United States Supreme Court made its first rulings in twenty-five years on the use of affirmative action in higher education admissions. Although narrowly divided, the court ruled that universities can consider race in admission decisions.
Specifically, the court recognized the legitimacy of the University of Michigan's efforts to "enroll a 'critical mass' of minority students.defined by reference to educational benefits that diversity is designed to produce." It also said that "the Law School's educational judgment that such diversity is essential to its educational mission is one to which we defer." The court's decision nullified the 1996 Hopwood v. Texas ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that had prohibited considering race in admission, recruitment, and scholarship decisions at public institutions in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.
Support for diversity from our nation's highest court is good news for academic health institutions like UTMB that want to educate and employ a health care work force whose diversity reflects that of our society at large. A diverse health care work force is necessary for us to address the health needs of an increasingly diverse society.
UTMB has made significant progress in this area. It began in the 1970s, when Dr. William Levin, then president of UTMB, asked a group of minority physician alumni to help him understand why the School of Medicine had only two minority students out of a class of 160. The group pointed out that the environment at UTMB was neither inviting nor supportive for minority students. Their suggestions resulted in changes that dramatically increased diversity among UTMB's medical students and also positively affected other areas of the university.
UTMB's student body is much more diverse today than it was a few decades ago. According to this year's Black Issues in Higher Education Top 100 Degree Producers issue, UTMB's School of Medicine ranked first in the nation in the number of Hispanic physicians it graduated and seventh in the number of African American physician graduates. For all professional degrees combined, UTMB ranked tenth in the number of Hispanic graduates and sixtieth in the number of African American graduates.
While we have been successful in increasing diversity in our four schools, we have done less well in other parts of the institution. Under-represented minorities account for only 10 percent of our administrative and professional staff and only 11 percent of our faculty. This is not simply a "pipeline" issue. Nationwide, the percentage of Hispanics and African Americans who apply to medical schools is declining. However, if 25 to 30 percent of UTMB's medical school graduates for the past decade have been underrepresented minorities, why aren't there more minorities among our medical school faculty? And if 37 percent of our classified staff are minorities, why is the number of minorities at the administrative and professional level so low? The pipeline may be part of the issue, but it is not, I submit, the limiting factor. We must look beyond this and ask tough questions about why we do not have a more diverse faculty and administrative staff.
In the Grutter v. Bollinger decision, the court recognized that in order to have a diverse organization (such as the U.S. Armed Services), you need diversity at the top. This underscores UTMB's own need to have a diverse faculty and staff. To that end, we have formed a UTMB Diversity Council composed of individuals from throughout the institution. Their charge is to address the lack of diversity among faculty and staff. It is by addressing the underlying obstacles to diversity head on that we can develop strategies that will enable us to achieve it at every level and in every area of the institution.
John D. Stobo, M.D., is president of UTMB.