Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Oxford U Press Takes Aim at Bias in Reporting and Research on HBCUs

January 31st, 2008 by Ajuan Mance

When it comes to mainstream reporting and research on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, it seems that the rules are the same as for mainstream reporting on Black people: take anecdotal accounts of failure and incompetence, and extrapolate to the rest of the group.

OUPblog, maintained by Oxford University Press USA, points this out in “Historically Black Colleges: Anecdote Doesn’t Equal Evidence,” an entry published on January 29, 2008. Written by Dr. Marybeth Gasman, an Assistant Professor of Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania, this entry explores some of the history of selective reporting and research on Black colleges, tracing the phenomenon to Christopher Jencks and David Riesman’s “The American Negro College,” a tragic masterpiece of faulty and anecdotal research that appeared in 1967, in the Harvard Educational Review:

Having taken on a variety of social ills before, the two Harvard University scholars [Christopher Jencks and David Riesman] decided to embark on an exposé of America’s colleges. When it came to Black institutions, though, the pair didn’t bother to check facts. Based largely on anecdote and hearsay, they presented a scathing document that has been a blight on Black colleges’ reputations—and fundraising efforts—ever since.

OUPblog highlights the reality that all Black bloggers know — indeed, the very reality that compelled many of us to begin blogging in the first place — that mainstream coverage of Black topics has little investment in presenting any perspective on our communities, cultures, institutions, and issues that challenges prevailing notions of race and power in the U.S. OUPblog reaches beyond many treatments of anti-Black media bias by highlighting its relationship to similar issues within academic research.

A lot has changed in the 40 years since Jencks and Riesman’s poorly researched smear of Black colleges and universities, but not so much that OUPblogs’ take home message is rendered irrelevant. OUPblog reminds us that a bias against both Black involvement in education and even the very existence of Black colleges and universities is woven inextricably into the fabric of both media reporting and academic practice. As critical readers and thinks we must remember this truth integrate it into our engagement with all mainstream reporting and research on HBCUs and other aspects of Black life and Black community in the U.S.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Posted in Black Colleges, Current Events, Higher Education, race, racism

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  1. Rebecca

    Just wanted to point out that article you are discussing is by Dr. Marybeth Gasman, an Assistant Professor of Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania!

  2. twilightandreason

    Thanks Rebecca! I’ll at that to my blog post.