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‘Separate but equal’ separate, never equal

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Richard Tapia

Richard Tapia: “We depend too much on minority-serving institutions to solve the underrepresentation problem."

Photo: Joshua Clark

Richard Tapia started out with some odd statistics.

Delivering the inaugural Presidential Lecture on Diversity Monday, he noted that the white population is decreasing by 4 percent a year while Hispanics are going up 4 percent.

At that rate, “in 160 years there will be no whites, and Hispanics will be at 80 percent,” said Tapia, professor of computational and applied mathematics at Rice University.

“So you’d better start speaking Spanish.”

Then Tapia, recently awarded a National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama, got serious.

With the warning that “underrepresentation endangers the health of the nation,” he noted that in 2007, blacks made up 1.5 percent of math majors, Hispanics 1.7, and Asians 16.6.

Meanwhile, blacks were .9 percent of computer science majors, Hispanics 1.8, and Asians 28.4.

In electrical engineering, it was blacks and Hispanics 1.7 percent each, and Asians 28.4 percent.

Turning to policy questions, Tapia declared, “‘Separate but equal’ is always separate, but never equal.”

He told the story of African American student Heman Sweatt, who filed suit in 1946 after the University of Texas law school denied him admission.

Texas took over a community college in Houston, named it Texas State University for Negroes and built a law school. It later became Texas Southern University.

“They built him his own school,” Tapia said.

Not that it was a great school. Texas Southern’s budget provides only $9,000 per student, compared with Rice’s $84,000 and Stanford’s $185,000, he added.

“We depend too much on minority-serving institutions to solve the underrepresentation problem,” he said. “[Those schools] can’t do it alone.”

Tapia, director of the Center for Excellence and Equity in Education at Rice, was introduced by University of Illinois President Michael Hogan.

“Diversity in our faculty and staff remains considerably shy of where it should be and could be,” Hogan said. “Our students need to learn in a setting that mirrors our world.”

Hogan was introduced in turn by Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares.

“Diversity continues to be among our top priorities,” she said.

“Among our 27,500 students, no racial or ethnic majority exists.”


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