A new California compact has to mobilize the entire postsecondary education system to advance racial justice in the teaching mission.
California demands a new compact for higher education – one that is based on Black people thriving.
The recent failure of Proposition 16 underscores the urgency of racial justice in our state’s postsecondary system of education, spanning from community colleges to four-year comprehensive and research universities. This plan must be grounded in confronting anti-Blackness wherever teaching and learning, discovery and creativity, and healing and service take place.
Sixty years ago, University of California president Clark Kerr led the development of the master plan which was enacted by the state Legislature. The plan created a postsecondary system that connected broad access colleges to selective four-year universities for a growing population. As the individual segments of the system expanded to accommodate the hopes of young people and the needs of the state, the master plan became a national model and a point of pride for California’s leaders and public alike.
The master plan did not make a single reference to Black people. In fact, there has never been a golden age for Black people in higher education in California. Even before voters approved Proposition 209 in 1996, which prohibited any consideration of race, sex or ethnicity in admissions and hiring, the participation of Black men and women did not match their share of the state population. Nor has it changed in almost 25 years.
For many, it is hard to believe that in 2020 the majority of departments across the three systems do not have any Black faculty. Black undergraduates and graduate students attend colleges and universities where they must navigate being hyper-visible and invisible at the same time.
Daily unconscious and conscious acts of bias, prejudice and bigotry in classrooms, laboratories, studios and public spaces aggravate the experience of under-representation. Together these conditions question the credibility of the state’s celebrated commitment to diversity in higher education in the 21st century.
A new California compact must recognize and respond to anti-Blackness as an existential threat to the mission of public higher education. The plan has to mobilize the entire postsecondary system to advance racial justice in the campus culture, research and teaching mission, and service to Black communities.
The plan must promote personal accountability for confronting anti-Blackness by expanding opportunities for understanding its meanings and manifestations. This burden cannot fall on the shoulders of Black people. This has to be an expectation for all members of the campus community.
The state colleges and universities must simultaneously leverage their combined research and teaching capacity to advance understanding about the Black experience and drivers of well-being. These mission-driven activities must impact the academic enterprise – STEM and non-STEM fields alike.
Linking the future of California to the success of Black people will require direct investment for the total costs of education as well as augmented student success and support resources.
In the wake of the national reckoning on systemic racism, last August I announced UC Irvine’s compact to Black communities in the state and in the country. The purpose of the Black Thriving Initiative is to establish UC Irvine as the nation’s leading destination for talented Black people to thrive as undergraduates and graduate students as well as faculty and staff employees.
Knowing that anti-Blackness robs Black men and women of full participation in our society and the university, this initiative mobilizes the whole university to build a culture where Black people are at the center, rather than margins, of our mission as a public research university.
After 60 years of the state’s master plan, the time has come for California’s postsecondary system to join with us in creating a new compact for higher education for Black people to thrive.