Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

University of Maryland Sidesteps the Slavery Issue

March 11th, 2007 by Ajuan Mance

from a 3/07/01 editorial in the U of M-College Park Diamondback:

As state legislators moved closer to passing a joint resolution “expressing regret” for the state’s role in slavery yesterday, it remained unclear whether the university would ever take a similar step.

Although it has been widely known that the founder of the Maryland Agricultural College – later renamed the University of Maryland – owned slaves, university officials made little mention of the deeper role slavery played here during the 150th anniversary last year. Several founding contributors in 1856 donated money made from the use of slaves, and some believe slaves were likely used on the campus, according to two university researchers.

The only formal recognition the university has made beyond founder Charles Calvert’s ownership of slaves since The Diamondback reported on the sparse mention of slavery during the anniversary was a statement on the university’s press release website written by university archivist Anne Turkos.

“The role of African Americans in the early history of the Maryland Agricultural College is particularly unclear,” Turkos wrote, “Many people believe that Calvert lent his slaves to the college to help erect the first buildings, but we have not been able to confirm this to date.”

In an e-mail, Turkos said an assistant archivist has been researching slavery’s role in the university’s history “when she has time,” but noted the resources for such research are “somewhat complex and widely scattered.”

If the bill heard yesterday passes as expected, Maryland will be the nation’s second state to express regret for slavery. Virginia was the first state to do so last month. But if the university ever announces any plans to even begin exploring the issue more deeply, it will hardly be the first university to do so.

As evidence of slavery’s role at other universities has surfaced over the last several years, some have commissioned committees to investigate and make recommendations on how to make amends. The faculty at the University of Alabama voted to formally apologize after it became clear professors had once whipped slaves on the campus, The New York Times reported.

When Ivy League member Brown University confirmed slave holding founders had donated money early in the university’s history, and the brother of a founder profited from the slave trade, a committee recommended in a report that the university “tell the truth in all its complexity.” The committee went on to say the university should “include discussion of the university’s historical relationship to slavery as a normal part of freshmen orientation,” and “create a center for continuing research on slavery and justice.”

It’s unclear whether university President Dan Mote has considered taking similar steps at this university. His office did not grant a request for an interview regarding this story made on Wednesday, and a secretary recommended reporters call University System Chancellor Brit Kirwan for comment yesterday. Kirwan did not return calls, but told a reporter last year that “It seems a very appropriate topic to explore.”

– Nathan Cohen

Equality and — more importantly — equity in higher education begins with full disclosure. I am not only calling for U.S. colleges and universities to fully disclose the role of slavery and other forms of discrimination in their institutions’ histories, but also to disclose the following information about current race-relations on campus. College should research and disclose their finds on:

  • The ways that they are currently favoring economically privileged (mostly white) students in their admissions programs through preferences for wealthy students and the children of alumni.
  • The number and nature of reported incidents of racial harrassment on campus.
  • The number and nature of reported incidents of racist remarks, racist grading practices, and other forms of bias in the classroom.
  • The percentage of African American students (broken down by gender) who are recruited athletes.

and, finally,

  • For each faculty and/or administrative search, the number of applicants for faculty and administrative positions who are people of color and the percentage applicants of color who are hired.

Equality and — more importantly — equity in higher education begins with full disclosure. I am not only calling for U.S. colleges and universities to fully disclose the role of slavery and other forms of discrimination in their institutions’ histories, but also to disclose the following information about current race-related practices:

  • The ways that they are currently favoring economically privileged (mostly white) students in their admissions programs, most often through preferences for wealthy students and the children of alumni.
  • The number and nature of reported incidents of racial harrassment on campus.
  • The number and nature of reported incidents of racist remarks, racist grading practices, and other forms of bias in the classroom.
  • The percentage of African American students (broken down by gender) who are recruited athletes.
  • The number of applicants for faculty and administrative positions who are people of color and the percentage applicants of color who are hired.

U.S. colleges and universities have played an important role in developing and disseminating many of the key ideas and strategies that have advanced equality and diversity at all levels of education. Still, for most of the history of this country, higher ed was focused on serving needs of a fairly narrow demographic, affluent white men; and although most college students today are neither wealthy nor male, and although a growing proportion of students on U.S. campuses are people of color, most academic institutions retain many of the structures and practices that are best suited to insuring the success of those who enjoy class, gender, and race privilege.

It is my hope that as colleges begin to examine the role of slavery in the founding and sustenance of their institutions, they will also turn their thoughts to the other ways that they participated in, embraced, or established particular procedures, belief systems, and structures that marginalized people of color and/or privileged their white male constituents, some of which — unlike slavery — might still be a part of the fabric of the academic, administrative, and residential life of the campus.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

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Posted in African Americans, Higher Education, race, Slavery, University of Maryland

One Response

  1. tolikimer

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