Back in 2011, Cossatot Community College, a branch of the University of Arkansas system, set out to reach its top priority: not to improve the education of its students, but to fill student slots with the currently politically correct quota of students who identify as Hispanic.
After all, Americans of Hispanic origin constitute a majority of the population in De Queen, home to the primary campus of this college that sprawls out over three towns. Therefore, according to the chancellor of the school, Steve Cole, its student body should mirror the ethnic composition of the whole region.
"We want to make sure," says Chancellor Cole, "that our student populations look like our communities. It matters to us because if it's not matching what the community looks like, someone is being left out and they do not have access to education. We're a community college, so we're about the community, which includes building our workforce. We want to impact economic development, and the way to do that is through education." Even though, to an outside observer, the major product of this balancing act would seem to be only more bureaucrats, not educated minds. Plus an accumulation of student debt it's going to take these kids years to repay.
By now, a program of grants and subsidies that began under Title III of the fed's Higher Education Act of 1992 has a title of its own in the U.S. Code. It's no longer Title III but Title IV. Then there are Title V funds that can be used in various ways to encourage academic success, which is not to be confused with what used to be known as education pure and simple. Real education has proven too much to hope for in this brave new jargon-filled world.
Back in 2011, according to Chancellor Cole, "We decided let's do this thing the right way. We put all those resources and things in place," whatever he means by the hazy fogspeak that he seems to confuse with an intelligible language.
"Well," he adds, "I think the first thing in recruiting is that if you're going to try to impact a certain group of peoples, it makes sense if you can speak the language, address their cultures because they're different. If you can do those things and experience those things, then you're going to be more successful because you can talk to the students and their families." What the chancellor may need most to communicate effectively is some kind of simultaneous translation into a known tongue.
Whatever the chancellor has done or failed to do, he sounds mighty proud of it--and of himself. The college set out to remake its staff ethnically so that it too resembles the composition of the community. "That has made a tremendous difference," he claims. "Instead of saying, 'we want to be' and 'we're going to be,' we put our money where our mouth was."
So in January of last year, the college officially changed its application form to show whether a student is of Hispanic origin. The watchword of its new policy would seem to be "from out of one, many." How achieve it? By acting as if divided we stand and united we fall. New students at Cossatot Community College are obliged to choose their ethnic tribes. After all these conniptions, it'll be something to see if all the king's horses and all the king's men can put this school back together again.
"I suspect we'll be the only Hispanic-serving institution in the state for many, many years," Chancellor Cole predicts. Which makes sense, for what other college would want to go through all the ethnic-based hoops that Cossatot Community College has set up?
Yet Donald Bobbitt, the head of the University of Arkansas system, has joined in the applause for Cossatot College's great leap backward to a divided nation. The well-forgotten era of the hyphenated American seems to be back with us and--strangely enough--is welcomed instead of being shunned. As President Bobbitt put it: "As the state's largest higher education system, we are proud that UA Cossatot has earned this distinction by serving a growing Hispanic population that has much to offer this state, first as students and then as future graduates."
So does mediocrity, not to mention atrocious grammar, perpetuate itself. R.I.P., education.
Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer and columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Editorial on 03/11/2018
Print Headline: Identity politics