November 9, 2000

C.U. Leads in African-American Trustees

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A recent study published in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education found that Cornell has the greatest number of black trustees among the nation’s 25 top-ranked universities, with seven African-American members.

But the news was not all good, as Cornell’s 5.4 percent black student population in the freshman class ranked last among Ivy League institutions, despite the fact that the University made large strides in minority enrollment this year, increasing the number from 4.3 percent in 1999.

The study stated that In the 1970s, “Black trustees at institutions of higher education were held up as evidence that a college or university was serious about promoting racial diversity when in fact most were doing very little to achieve higher levels of black students, administrators or faculty.”

Today, however, “Black trustees of major colleges and universities are no longer treated as tokens.”

Seven of Cornell’s 64 trustees are black, unlike institutions such as Harvard — which appointed its first black trustee in the spring — Cornell has a long history of having minorities serve on the Board, dating back until at least the 1960s, according to Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations.

There are currently three Board-elected black trustees, two student-elected trustees and two alumni elected trustees.

“Trustees are committed as a whole Board,” Dullea said. “They’re constantly looking for the best qualified members.”

The same goes for the admissions process, he noted.

While Cornell has the greatest raw number of black students among its Ivy League peers, this is not reflected in the overall percentage because of the sheer size of the freshman class, according to Dullea.

“We’ve been very aggressive,” said Ann Rivera ’83, associate director of undergraduate admissions. “We recruit nationally.”

In the Spring of 1998, then-Provost Don M. Randel, who is now President of the University of Chicago, appropriated $90,000 to increase minority recruitment efforts.

The grant was used to fund fly-in weekends in the fall and spring, phonathons and receptions for guidance counselors to specifically target black and Native American students.

There has also been a greater focus on recruiting black students from the New York metropolitan area, Chicago and Atlanta — focusing on the northeast, southeast and midwest regions, according to Angela Griffin, current director of multicultural admissions.

“Sometimes it’s an exposure issue; there are some students who just don’t know about Cornell,” said Latarsha Williams ’99, assistant director of undergraduate admissions. “For some students who are looking for a large multicultural community, Cornell isn’t bad. [However] we are ‘centrally isolated.'”

The University is also trying to increase the yield, or the number of admitted black students who accept their offers. However, Rivera said, this is challenging considering the tough competition among Ivy League schools for top-ranking students.

“We all have the same students in our pool,” she said.

Archived article by Beth Herskovits