Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would return to the contentious issue of race and college admissions. Three decades after the court first approved race-based affirmative action, many universities and businesses today view diversity as a competitive asset in a global marketplace. But they’re finding it takes more than admissions and hiring preferences to develop that asset. We explore evolving approaches to increasing diversity that go beyond old debates about “racial preferences.”


  • Howard Ross Author, "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose, and Performance" (Rowman & Littlefield); also Principal, Cook Ross
  • David Thomas Dean and William R. Berkley Chair, McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University; author "Breaking Through: The Making of Minority Executives in Corporate America" (Harvard Business Press) and "Leading for Equity: The Pursuit of Excellence in Montgomery County" (Harvard Education Press)


  • 13:06:43

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Howard Ross is here. Nine years ago, the Supreme Court narrowly upheld affirmative action at state colleges. This year diversity is back on trial and many expect the court to strike down the use of race in admissions. The University of Texas uses a complex formula for admissions. Any student who finishes in the top 10 percent of their class, gains automatic admission, accounting for about three-quarters of incoming students.

  • 13:07:25

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe other quarter is selected on a variety of factors, race being one of them. Later this session, the court will hear the case of a white student who says she was denied admission unfairly. The issue has a distinct culture war ring to it, but away from those headlines, a more nuance debate is underway within universities and businesses. How should colleges and corporations identify talent and potential?

  • 13:07:52

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIIs it possible to build a diverse campus or workplace without asking applicants to check a box? Joining us to discuss that is Howard Ross, he's a regular. He is the author of "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose, and Performance." He's also a principal in the firm Cook Ross. Howard, always a pleasure.

  • 13:08:13

    MR. HOWARD ROSSHi, Kojo, it's good to be back.

  • 13:08:14

    NNAMDIAnd joining us in studio for the first time is David Thomas. He is dean of the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business and author of "Breaking Through: The Making of Minority Executives in Corporate America" and "Leading for Equity: The Pursuit of Excellence in Montgomery County." David Thomas, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:08:34

    MR. DAVID THOMASThank you, Kojo, it's great to be here.

  • 13:08:36

    NNAMDIIn 2003, in the narrow five to four majority decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the University of Michigan Law School could use race as a factor for admissions, citing the interest in having a diverse student body this year, a more conservative Supreme Court will hear a case involving the University of Texas. David, you are Dean at one of the most selective universities in the country. But Georgetown is a private school so the court's decision won't affect you directly. Still, private universities and indeed private corporations are watching this case closely. How are you viewing it?

  • 13:09:13

    THOMASI'm viewing this as a very important case. I think it will shape public sentiment in lots of ways. And influence, quite frankly, the conversation inside of private institutions as well as public institutions. And I also think that it's important for us to begin to have a more open dialogue about the need for diversity in our institutions. My own view is that, in particular, public universities, the student population, should reflect the population of the constituents. And likewise, we're finding in business that it's important for businesses employee populations to reflect the populations of the communities where they're located as well as their consumers.

  • 13:10:09

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join this conversation. Have old systems for ensuring diversity in colleges become outdated in your view? 800-433-8850, you can send us email to or go to our website, join the conversation there. The Supreme Court first approved the use of affirmative action in college admissions back in 1978.

  • 13:10:34

    NNAMDIThose of us who were in journalism at that time remember the Bakke case, but a lot has changed over those three decades. Campuses are undeniably more diverse, so are companies in the private sector. The conversation about diversity has also become more nuanced. Howard, talk a little bit about how thinking about these issues has evolved.

  • 13:10:53

    ROSSWell, I think that, Kojo, that we've got, you know, in affirmative action maybe the biggest lightening rod in the entire diversity conversation. This is a conversation that people get very energized about on both sides. And as with all lightening rod conversations, it means that people are reacting more viscerally to it than in evidence-based ways. And I think that because of the fact that the early stages of affirmative action were mostly corrective or mostly trying to fix things in society that clearly had created an inequity for people, a lot of people continue to see it as only that way.

  • 13:11:26

    ROSSAnd there's a whole other way to look at affirmative action, as David was saying. And that is that if you've got an institution that's here serving the community, if we know that we have data that shows lots of studies and you and I have talked about some of these for years now. Studies that show that greater diversity leads to greater productivity in organizations, greater innovation, greater problem solving, you know, that in every way organizations get enhanced when they have more diversity and when that diversity reflects the internal organizational diversity reflects a societal diversity.

  • 13:11:56

    ROSSWe can see that this is actually a business issue for organizations to look at now. And that is that if I've got a market share that is now almost 40 percent people of color and that doesn't even include other white cultural groups, immigrants from countries who happen to be white that are also of different ethnicities, am I served by having a population in my organization that's dramatically less than that? And if I have that population in my organization, that's dramatically less than that, then we have to ask the question why?

  • 13:12:24

    ROSSTheoretically, if I'm doing everything to create equity in hiring, then I should have a relative balance of who's out there. And so people sometimes get lost in the conversation, well, because I'm not consciously excluding everybody, that means my organization isn't excluding people. And that's where, of course, all the studies of unconscious bias come in and teach us that we may be doing things systemically, unconsciously that are keeping people out. And so the need to do something affirmatively can help that.

  • 13:12:50

    NNAMDIA lot of the early work that you refer to was actually done by David Thomas in...

  • 13:12:54

    ROSSAbsolutely. I just said to Dean Thomas, when we met outside, I said, you know, he's kind of one of my heroes in this base because he's done such great research and great work over a period of time.

  • 13:13:04

    NNAMDIAnd in your first book, you did some interesting research, talking to racial minorities who made it to the top of corporate hierarchies.

  • 13:13:10


  • 13:13:10

    NNAMDIBut you saw some fascinating, really divergent pathways for doing this.

  • 13:13:15

    THOMASYes. One of the things that we observed is that African-American and Hispanic and Asians who made it to the top of the hierarchy followed different paths than did the White executives who made it to the top of the hierarchy. And it was mostly reflected in how fast they moved in their early career. Minorities who were going to make it to the executive level, moved at an average pace while Whites who made it to the executive level moved in a very much, a fast track pattern early in career.

  • 13:13:54

    THOMASAnd what became important for those executives of color, who made it to the executive suite, was that that early period while not extremely fast wasn't slow because it was at the average rate of movement but that it was developmentally rich in terms of access to mentoring, challenging assignments, the ability to build a social network and also that they were doing work that they felt intrinsically motivated by while they were in this period.

  • 13:14:26

    THOMASAnother thing that became important, too, is that the organizations that they were in, and these people who started their careers, most of them in their earlier 70s, over time, the organizations that they were in also became focused on making sure that they had a diverse pipeline of executives moving through the organization. So the context matters as well as the individual developmental pattern and experiences.

  • 13:14:57

    NNAMDIAnd I guess that's where college admissions becomes a part of the conversations. The University of Texas uses an interesting process for its admissions. If you finish in the top 10 percent of your graduating high school class, you're guaranteed admission. As we said earlier, that accounts for three-quarters of admissions to the University of Texas. The final quarter is admitted based on a variety of factors of which race is one.

  • 13:15:17

    NNAMDIThis course involves a white high school graduate who barely missed that 10 percent cutoff who insists that she was denied admission based on racial preferences that favor minorities. In, 2007, 26 percent of incoming freshman at the University of Texas were Black or Latino and that was a record high. Care to comment on this at all, Howard?

  • 13:15:38

    ROSSYeah, I mean, I think that we have lots of reasons. First of all, you know, let's put this in context. We know that we do admissions in Universities in ways that are affirmative all the time. We bring in 6'11 people who can dunk the ball really well, we call that sports recruiting. But it's affirmative action program. You know, if their SAT scores are a little lower, they're a little point off that, you know, we don't worry about that. We bring in students whose parents or grandparents give large amounts of money to the school or who went there before. We call it legacy admissions.

  • 13:16:06

    ROSSBut once again, it's affirmative admissions program. So the notion of bringing in students because they bring -- or for that matter, people in businesses because they bring special qualities is neither a part to us generally nor is it unusual for us. It shows up in the context of a historical tension around these issues, particularly of race which is where affirmative action mostly occurs, with people with resistance. And I think that when we look at things like the 10 percent rule that you're talking about, which a lot of colleges do similar kinds of things, what you see is students whose situation is different and so that 10 percent seems the same across the board, but it may not be.

  • 13:16:48

    ROSSSo, for example, if you go to a particular school in a community that's especially low income with low resources, what that 10 percent looks like is very different than if you go to a school where students have high a amount of resources and a high amount of support. If kids get SAT coaching and parents can afford to send them into SAT classes, they show up particularly well in terms of their resumes where kids whose parents can't afford that or don't even know that they exist, those kids suffer from that.

  • 13:17:16

    ROSSIf kids have to work to support their family, whereas other kids who don't have to work to support their family so all of these things are going on all the time. And so the notion that we can, you know, have a set rule and have it apply a blanket to everybody is just not sensible.

  • 13:17:29

    NNAMDIWhich brings...

  • 13:17:30

    THOMASI'd just...

  • 13:17:30

    NNAMDIGo ahead.

  • 13:17:30 to say something connected to this point. And that is, if we think about Howard's point that universities are often making affirmative decisions, you could say, is that legitimate? And I think it is legitimate from the vantage point of the university asking the question, what's going to make us a strong institution? It will make us a stronger institution if we have philanthropic support from people who are connected to the school. It'll make us a stronger institution if we have an attractive athletic program.

  • 13:18:05

    THOMASI think the same applies to thinking about diversity. What is the student composition that will make us a stronger institution? And it often times gets de-legitimated, this idea that diversity actually will make us a stronger institution then if we were essentially a homogeneous institution or if we reflect some very crude set of criteria as the only mechanisms for selection, like, graduating in the top 10 percent or grade point average or SAT scores. Those...

  • 13:18:42

    NNAMDIWhich brings me to this, you sit on the board of an interesting non-profit called The Posse Foundation, which tries to identify non-traditional predictors of success.

  • 13:18:53

    THOMASYeah, exactly. And what we do is we focus on trajectory. So if you take a student's grade point average and you just use that as a crude measure, it doesn't tell you whether or not their trajectory is up. Where you find kids who might've started out at C students who today are A students, but if you just did grade point average, you know, they'd be a B student. When really, they've reached the point where their goals, their abilities to perform are actually at the highest level.

  • 13:19:23

    THOMASThe other thing that we look at is leadership. And we use an alternative assessment mechanism where these students come in to a group setting. We have assessors who look at how they engage others. And the result is that at some of the most selective institutions in the country, we have graduation rates of Posse Foundation Scholars that are in the neighborhood of 90 percent. As a group, they have a higher graduation rate than almost any other demographic, higher than white middle class, higher than, you know, people who are national merit scholars.

  • 13:20:09

    THOMASAnd one of the things we may want to do in this case, as a result of this case, is start to ask the question about how do we assess talent. And I think that there are some ways of assessing talent that would deliver a diverse and successful group of students beyond just this crude measures of grades and SATs scores.

  • 13:20:32

    NNAMDI800-433-8850. How do you think colleges need to be assessing talent? 800-433-8850. Howard Ross, hold that thought. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation about diversity beyond the culture wars. Conversation you can join by also sending us a tweet @kojoshow or email to I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:22:42

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on diversity. We're calling it "Diversity, Beyond the Culture Wars." We're talking with David Thomas. He is dean of the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business. And Howard Ross is the author of "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose and Performance." He's also a principal of the firm Cook Ross.

  • 13:23:02

    NNAMDIDavid Thomas is the author of "Breaking Through: The Making of Minority Executives in Corporate America" and "Leading for Equity: The Pursuit of Excellence in Montgomery County." We got a tweet from Enzon1 who says, "Why should the proportion of minorities in higher ed match the state levels, when the levels of high school graduates don't match?" Howard?

  • 13:23:23

    ROSSWell, I think that, you know, numbers do matter. And if we look at the numbers of students who are successful from particular groups and we see that those students, those numbers are less than other numbers, we have to ask ourselves a question. Why is that happening? And either it's happening because people are inherently not capable, which means that you start to believe in eugenics and this notion that, you know, inherently, biologically people aren't capable, which, by the way, at this point we're not even legally supposed to believe.

  • 13:23:50

    ROSSAnd whether we may socially or emotionally believe it or not or there's something systemically that's denying people access. And that doesn't mean that it's conscious. And I think this is really important. We've got, you know, dozens and dozens of studies over the last few years that show us things like that the name on a resume impacts how people access that resume. That girls are called on less often when they raise their hand in class from the time they're in elementary school than boys are.

  • 13:24:15

    ROSSThat even a new study from The Netherlands even shows that if somebody happens to be sitting to your right rather than your left, and you're right handed, they'll be more inclined to choose them. So, we got all of these things that indicate that aspects of the unconscious mind are impacting these decisions. And that includes institutionalized racism, institutionalized sexism and the like.

  • 13:24:32

    ROSSSo, given that's the case, if you look at these numbers and we find that they're so out of balanced as they are across the country, then the question, I think, that leads us to is what can we do as institutions to correct that so that we get the kind of mix that David was talking about, so that we have a community within the institution that helps prepare students for a global environment, that helps prepare students for an environment in which they're going to be working with people from different racial cultural ethnic groups every single day and that they've got to be able to develop that ability, that cultural flexibility, that cultural intelligence.

  • 13:25:04

    NNAMDIDavid Thomas, here's the challenge for colleges, and it gets back, I guess, to what you were doing with the Posse Foundation because, in a sense, race-based considerations are pretty blunt tools for admissions, especially since race does not necessarily equate with disadvantage. For example, President Obama has said that he doesn't think his daughters deserve affirmative action in college admissions.

  • 13:25:26

    NNAMDIBut then again, pretty much all criteria come with flaws because GPR test scores don't always tell you very much about who a person is or whether that person is likely to succeed. But that's what makes it a really difficult challenge for colleges, doesn't it?

  • 13:25:40

    THOMASI think it makes it a difficult challenge for colleges. I think, though, that we do have the ability to look at other factors that tell us whether or not a student can provide some distinctive contribution to the community. We also can think about how composition matters in terms of people being able to learn from differences in experience and have different kinds of conversations depending upon who's in the room.

  • 13:26:11

    THOMASThat, in my view, makes it important for us to look at ways to create a diverse class and ways that look beyond the blunt measures. Yeah, I'll give you personal example, and that is to ask the question, in 2012, how will we find the David Thomases of tomorrow? And what I mean by that is, I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri in what pretty much the court said was an inferior school system. But I didn't know it was inferior.

  • 13:26:46

    THOMASWhen I came out of high school, even though I graduated from high school in three years and was number six in my class, my SAT scores put me in the 50th percentile. Now, if Yale University hadn't been looking beyond SAT scores, I would have never gotten there. Ultimately become a -- got my PhD from there, been a person who got distinction in the thesis. Today, I write award-winning books.

  • 13:27:17

    THOMASI was a full professor at Harvard and now I'm dean at the McDonough School. And so what are the ways in which we're going to make sure that those David Thomases who are out there now can also be identified and selected? I think assessment is like what we do at the Posse Foundation, where we look beyond grades and ask, does the record indicate that they could be successful doing college work that we start there?

  • 13:27:44

    THOMASBut where we end is, you know, what are the other ways that this individual might contribute to the school environment? Do they show the kind of resilience that leads to success in higher education, variety of other kinds of factors?

  • 13:27:59

    NNAMDIBack to the telephones now. Here we go to Anna in Silver Spring, MD. Anna, you're on the air, go ahead please.

  • 13:28:08

    ANNAYes. Thank you for doing the show. Yes, I wondered, too, whether we should not be pandering the question around too and ask him about these institutions that are charging so much to minorities as well as other students, whether these students are getting their money's worth. Now, I point to the example of UMBC, which chooses a lot of outliers to a success and has one of the highest rates of students going on to graduates program and an otherwise successful career to the point that all these Ivy League institutions and other people have tried to get Dean Hrabowski over to them. But maybe you can comment on that, because I think a lot of these colleges are failing students rather than the other way around.

  • 13:28:53

    NNAMDIYes, Freeman Hrawbowski, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County has developed quite a reputation for this. I don't know if either of you gentlemen could comment.

  • 13:29:00

    THOMASI would love to comment. I think what Freeman is doing is an example for the nation. And what he does is, he and his colleagues there, they go about identifying kids that they think show evidence that they can be successful, competing at the highest levels of education. They don't stop with grades. And they bring them in and very early create for them high expectations across the entire population of students that they have, regardless of where they came from, work with them in intensive ways to bring them up to those high levels of performance.

  • 13:29:37

    THOMASAnd today, they probably produce more future scientists and doctors who are kids of color and kids from disadvantaged backgrounds than any place else in the nation.

  • 13:29:52


  • 13:29:53

    ROSSActually, you know, I'm very interested in honest question about the quality of schools today, whether you're getting your money's worth since my youngest son just got accepted to go to college. And the college that he's going to is going to cost a lot of money. But it really brings up, I think, one issue that I think points to why this is maybe more important now than ever, because we are in this place where this income gap is growing and colleges are getting, you know, incredibly expensive.

  • 13:30:18

    ROSSAnd, you know, you've got a certain number of people who are going to get scholarships and they're going to be going in. But there are going to be an awful lot of people who are in that mid-range, who are students who are going to get lost between the cracks here. They're not going to be able to go to those high-quality schools because they may not be able to get into that diminishing scholarship pool that a lot of schools are having to tighten up on.

  • 13:30:40

    ROSSThey're good enough academically or maybe they may be the kind of kids who might eventually get there, but they're not going to be able to afford it. And it think that's going to especially fall in lower middle class homes and places like that. And when we look at the juxtaposition of race, for example, and socioeconomic status in our country, there's no question that is there -- we look at just unemployment, for example, which is twice as high right now in the African-American community.

  • 13:31:06

    ROSSAnd so, I think, we're looking at a problem that is going to continue to be a exacerbated more over the years if we don't do something affirmatively to deal with it. And the net result of that is kids going to schools in which they don't have access to a lot of other people. I mean, when David talks about looking for the next David Thomas, you're talking about relative, David, to your own performance. But there's the other quality, which is who got to be with him at school? Who got to learn from him at school?

  • 13:31:29

    ROSSWho got to share the experience of somebody from Kansas City, who grew up in the environment and the background that he did? And therefore broaden their outlook on life, broaden their outlook on the world. And I think that's the thing that we need to look at continually where affirmative action is concerned is that it's not just about serving the students who get put in through affirmative action, it's also about serving the rest of the community who gets the opportunity to interact with and learn from those students and to broaden their world expertise as a result of that.

  • 13:31:54

    NNAMDIAnd for the person who sent us the tweet about high school, David, you've also written a book on the Montgomery County high schools, "Leading for Equity: The Pursuit of Excellence in Montgomery County." How important is high school in this discussion?

  • 13:32:06

    THOMASI think high school is incredibly important. It's the gateway into post-secondary education. And there I think what Montgomery County has been an example of is a system that very systematically, year-over-year, has done two things that some people think are impossible to do at the same time, close the racial achievement gap and raise overall achievement, which means the good kids continue to get good and we're raising the rate of the kids who have difficulty performing at a faster rate than we are the good kids.

  • 13:32:46

    THOMASThat's why the gap is closing, but overall performance is going up. And I think Montgomery County is an example as well where both the political system there as well as the leadership within the school show some courage to be able to pursue the strategy they did that continues to make them a very strong, very diverse school district.

  • 13:33:11

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join the conversation. What do you think? How do you think colleges should select students, colleges and universities? 800-433-8850. You can send email to or simply go to our website, and join the conversation there. I'd like to read this fairly large email.

  • 13:33:34

    NNAMDI"If looking like the population is the main value of measure, why is there little or no granting of preferential treatment to whites to enter professions where they are grossly underrepresented? We do not extend affirmative action to males who wish to teach in our public schools, nor to whites who might, for example, seek employment as a Metro Bus driver, both preferably respectable callings."

  • 13:33:56

    NNAMDI"When various preferences are layered, the injustice can become so apparent, it's absurd. For example, at the University of Maryland College Park, blacks get preferential treatment over whites and there's also a cap on the number of percent of admissions for some counties like Prince George's. So white kids who graduate from the top of their class often, but not always from an outstanding parochial school, they have effectively no chance of admission."

  • 13:34:19

    NNAMDI"Came the layers of artificially imposed disadvantages placed upon them in the name of diversity. How is this remotely fair and how does it really lead to the most qualified and capable students obtaining an education that, by the way, has been preemptively subsidized by their tax-paying parents?" Steve's assumption, and I guess is the assumption of a lot of people who weigh in on this issue, is that if you get good grades, you're the smartest and therefore probably the best equipped to lead.

  • 13:34:49

    ROSSI think that, Kojo, that, first of all, there's no question that there are times when affirmative action isn't done well. So I think we have to acknowledge that that's the case, people have done it sloppily. They've done it lazily. They've done it too much with a big chisel as opposed to a small one. I mean, there are times when we just, you know, it hasn't been done well. And partially, I have to say, some of that reason is because rather than putting our heads together and saying what's the best way to do this and to make it work?

  • 13:35:14

    ROSSWe're fighting over whether or not we should have it and rather than figure out what's the best way to do it. But some of the points that he makes are not quite accurate. For example, there are literally hundreds of school systems around the country who actively go out to recruit male teachers. It's very common in school systems, whether they have it as a formalized affirmative action program or an informal one, there are many, many school systems.

  • 13:35:33

    ROSSIn fact, my guess is most school systems, when you look at the primary and secondary grades who are saying we need more men. If we have all things being equal, we're going to hire men rather than a woman with similar qualifications. And so now whether that gets down to being a bus driver or not, I'm not sure. But there's no question that when you have a particular group that's universally across the board getting less access to jobs, getting less access to education, you're going to be more focused on what's the value of this breaking that down.

  • 13:36:04

    ROSSIf you have an occasional job, as Steve is suggesting, where certain people have access to that, more likely have access based on race, for example, if you have more African-Americans driving the bus, that doesn't necessarily mean that there's less access to people applying or getting those jobs. It may be a factor what the pipeline measurements are and the people getting in. But nonetheless, on the broader scale, there's still a lot more white people getting jobs than black people.

  • 13:36:28

    ROSSSo, if that one particular job is an anomaly to it, that doesn't mean necessarily that you change the overall rule.

  • 13:36:34

    NNAMDIA couple of questions I'd like to deal with before I go to the phones, and we will get back to the phones. So if you have called, stay on the line. The Texas case, as it's being framed in the courts, involves competing ideas of what constitutes fairness. And many analysts expect that the current system will be struck down if that is indeed the case if that happens. And competitive public universities are no longer allowed to use race as a considering factor. What would happen?

  • 13:37:01

    THOMASWell, I think if they couldn't use race as a considering factor, we would probably see the numbers of, as we've seen in California, for example, the numbers of students of color in those universities go down, in particular if what we stuck with were the crude measures of grade point average and test scores as the only arbiters of quality and preparation. I think we'd be doing ourselves a disservice.

  • 13:37:34

    THOMASWhat I would push us toward and where the opportunity may lie, again, is in this idea of developing alternative kinds of assessments to simply grade point averages and test scores that also allow us to choose well-prepared, highly motivated population of students that would also, my guess is, be much more diverse than if we simply relied on what I think of these very crude measures.

  • 13:38:02

    NNAMDIWhat about economic disadvantage? Some would argue that the most compelling arguments of fairness and opportunity are actually class arguments. Where does class fit into this?

  • 13:38:12

    THOMASWell, it's an interesting factor, Kojo. It's sort of like a Venn diagram. You know, they cross over. They're not necessarily the same. They cross over. There's no question that will mean that the class and the society relative to ethnicity that especially where African-Americans and Latinos are concerned that they tend to earn less money. They tend to have access to less money financially for lots of different reasons.

  • 13:38:33

    THOMASBut it also speaks to the fact that when -- I remember I had a conversation once with Clarence Thomas actually. We were at the Supreme Court bringing one of our student groups there and we got into this -- he and I got into this conversation. He was saying, well, you know, it gets back to the president's statement about his daughters, you could say that people who are raised with money but who happened to be black, one could say, well, they shouldn't have a disadvantage.

  • 13:38:58

    THOMASAnd, you know, they shouldn't have an advantage in terms of affirmative action. And there's compelling statement to be made there. Well, let's not kid ourselves, Kojo. If you and I have the same income bases and we go out on the street wearing jeans and a t-shirt, we're treated completely differently, you know, because you're black and I'm white. And this is what -- there's a fabulous book a number of years ago that Ellis Cose from the New York Times wrote called "The Rage of the Privileged Class" when he talked about this.

  • 13:39:24

    THOMASThat even when people achieved that economic equity, they're still dealing with social and personal and psychological issues...

  • 13:39:32

    NNAMDIQuestions of perception.

  • 13:39:33

    THOMASExactly right, questions of perceptions, but also stress that's been related to health issues. You know, all of these things that other people are dealing with. So, the fact that somebody has the same money doesn't mean they're treated the same way in society.

  • 13:39:43

    ROSSAnd the other thing we know is that the gap in test scores persists regardless of class and in health equity and all kinds of other things as well.

  • 13:39:56

    THOMASExactly. So if we don't have other ways of assessing merit and preparation, we know that we will continue to create a very imbalanced population in our universities and colleges.

  • 13:40:14

    NNAMDIOnto the phones. Here is John in Gainesville, Va. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:40:31

    JOHNYes. My question concerned -- I think it was basically very slightly touched on, but my concern is this female student said that her -- is suing over the fact that her potential slot was taken by somebody of a different race. How does she know that? I mean, why is she making this a race issue as opposed to the other factors of diversity that the University of Texas looks for, and like you were talking earlier about they recruit from certain disadvantaged areas, or they recruit for athletes that had that score below that threshold that she failed to score as well.

  • 13:40:57

    JOHNSo why is she focusing on that the position that she could have had was a race based, and I'll take my answer off the air.

  • 13:41:03

    NNAMDIJohn, we're gonna be examining this case more closely when it actually comes before the Supreme Court, but I don't know if there's anybody who has looked at it -- who has scrutinized it that closely as yet who can answer the question.

  • 13:41:13

    ROSSWell, I can't answer specifically to that -- this particular case, but a lot of times what comes up in these kinds of cases, John, is that people look at the students who have been accepted and they make the assertion that, you know, that I was better than those students, and then they go back and do -- obviously the do their examinations and assessment, and if they can prove that in fact students who were accepted had an average SAT score of, you know, 1800, and my SAT score was 1850, then one could say you're taking a less qualified student.

  • 13:41:43

    ROSSWhat it doesn't take into account is the difference between people who are qualified for a particular position, whether it's in school or a business, versus comparative qualifications. So let's say for example that Dave as a business school -- David, excuse me, as a business school dean says, we can pretty much be sure that a student who's coming out of high school, or out of college with a 3.5 grade point average, has got a, you know, sufficient amount of performance in school to be successful in our business school.

  • 13:42:14

    ROSSAnd then we've got two students, one who's got a 3.6 and the other one's got a 3.7, and I determine what are the other factors. Well, both of them have exceeded the qualifications for what our standards are acceptable. One of them has got a tenth of a point higher grade point average, but maybe the other has better extracurricular activities, or they've participated in something in college in a business entrepreneurship program that makes them a better business school student.

  • 13:42:38

    ROSSOr maybe they bring a different perspective because they come from a different country and we want to globalize our program. Or maybe they come from a different perspective because they grew up in an environment where they had to conquer some other things that other people didn't bring. Or maybe they bring a benefit to us because they will diversify our student body and, therefore, serve all the reasons I talked before. And so it's important for people to understand that we're not always comparing people to each other. We're comparing them against this baseline standard to make sure that they meet that baseline standard.

  • 13:43:06

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. David, you wanted to make a point?

  • 13:43:10

    THOMASYeah. I just wanted to make a point to the caller's question because I think it's a very good one. Why does one choose race as opposed to these other factors? I think we can't get away from the fact that there's also a political discussion going on here. We can't get away from the fact that, you know, there's an organization that's supporting and driving this suit on behalf of this individual and I think it's part of, you know, the perhaps devise discussions that's we're having in this country as opposed to trying to start with the idea that we do want diverse institutions and what are the best way to get there.

  • 13:43:56

    NNAMDIAnd idea that apparently a lot of people do not necessarily find acceptable. We're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation on diversity beyond the culture war. If you have called, stay on the line, we'll try to get to your call. If the lines are busy, send us an email to, or go to our website and join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:46:03

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation we're called Diversity Beyond the Culture War with David Thomas. He's dean of the Georgetown University, McDonough School of Business, and author of the books "Breaking Through: The Making of Minority Executives in Corporate America," and "Leading for Equity: The Pursuit of Excellence in Montgomery County." Howard Ross is author of the book "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose, and Performance." He's also a principal in the firm Cook Ross.

  • 13:46:31

    NNAMDIDirectly back to the telephones. Here now is Andrew in Washington D.C. Andrew, your turn.

  • 13:46:39

    ANDREWYou guys kind of already touched on my question, but the question I was going to ask is when issues like this come up, why does no one actually ask the genuine question of why aren't minority students being able to perform at acceptable levels where race isn't an issue.

  • 13:46:58

    NNAMDIDavid Thomas?

  • 13:47:01

    THOMASWell, I think there we often don't want to talk about some of the other ways -- some of the ways in which we create these inequities. For example, what's the quality of the school system, the ability to access high quality schools. What are the expectations that we bring into the classroom when we're working in school districts that are majority students of color, in particular black and Hispanic students. That a hard conversation I think ever for us to have in this society.

  • 13:47:37

    THOMASThat we do things that produce inequities, and therefore, efforts like affirmative action are remedial rather than being progressive solutions to the problems that create those conditions.

  • 13:47:53

    ROSSIf I could add something to that, Kojo.

  • 13:47:54

    NNAMDIPlease go ahead, Howard.

  • 13:47:55

    ROSSI think first of all, we have to recognize that in this society, race is never not an issue. That doesn't mean for every individual, but it means broadly archetypically. So while a particular individual child may somehow manage to skirt race as an issue, if we can look at it from the standpoint of societal numbers, we can see that every significant measure through which we measure performance in our society, whether it's economic performance, academic performance, or health inequity, in every single measure, for example, African American kids underperform where -- versus Caucasian kids.

  • 13:48:31

    ROSSNow, when I say underperform, I don't mean that -- I don't want that to sound like it's putting the burden on the student, I'm saying the results that get produced. Now, David spoke to some of the very clear relationships to kids in school, you know, there are also factors that are less subtle. You know, we know for example that how many books you have in your home influences children's academic performance.

  • 13:48:52

    ROSSAnd if your parents didn't have academic equity, if they weren't allowed to go to school, then they're not likely to be more oriented in that direction. We know that health issues are significant. If you don't get a chance to get your health care taken care of in a quality way when you're younger, if your food -- what's the word, I'm sorry, nutrition uncertain, what's the terminology they're using these days, but, you know, food insecurity, excuse me.

  • 13:49:17


  • 13:49:17

    ROSSIf you go into a home where you're not sure where you're gonna get a meal every day, that impacts your academics. If you've got to contribute to your family income by having a part-time job, or even two part-time jobs, rather than somebody who doesn't have to do that also indicates -- or impacts equity in terms of performance in school. So we're dealing with an entire societal structure that still today treats one group differently than it treats another group or treats multiple groups in different ways. And so it's virtually impossible for us to say that there's a place where race is not an issue.

  • 13:49:48

    NNAMDIWell, it brings me back to the question of why is diversity important? Social justice or the bottom line, you have both written about the bottom line, dollars and cents rationale behind the focus on campus and workplace diversity, but I guess I'd like you to reiterate, David Thomas, why is diversity important?

  • 13:50:04

    THOMASWell, I think diversity is important for universities for a few reasons. One, we know that disproportionately, the future leaders of our society are gonna be college-educated people, and what will that leadership look like? One of things that was interesting when the Michigan case was decided, one of the friend of the court briefs came from the military that said it's important that we have a diverse pipeline of leaders for the military because of the composition of the military, and because of our need to understand to world that we operate in.

  • 13:50:48

    THOMASLikewise, a friend of court brief was put out by -- joined by a number of corporations talking about the need to have a diverse pipeline of leadership because these universities are going to produce the next wave of leaders, and that consumer base, employee base that they have to address and manage is going to be diverse. And I think it's also important because we can learn from other's differences.

  • 13:51:19

    THOMASSo Howard can -- you know, Howard will never be a black person, buy by being engaged in conversation where there are black people present, he might become much better management a racially diverse workforce himself because he comes to understand some things that weren't in his awareness based on his experience. And what, you know...

  • 13:51:40

    NNAMDII think that's the basis of his entire professional career, but go ahead.

  • 13:51:45

    THOMASOne of the terms that we've started using at McDonough School of Business is this notion of global at home. We talk about needing to be global, but what global at home has us focused on is the fact that within our institution, we have significant diversity, and how do we use that diversity right here in Washington D.C. on our campus on that hilltop in Georgetown to really understand and experience that global nature of the world. We don't have to get on a plane and go to another country, it's right here in our midst, and how do we leverage it.

  • 13:52:20

    NNAMDIHoward, you've done some interesting work with healthcare providers, and it turns out that hospitals and clinics like the military are some of the most enthusiastic adopters of these frameworks.

  • 13:52:31

    ROSSYeah, absolutely. You got, well, I was talking with the CEO of Providence Hospital right over here in Northeast a couple of years ago, and she was telling me that that year they had people who came into their hospital from something like 114 different countries in one year. We've got, you know, every kind of step in the -- or at every step in the healthcare continuum we know the culture shows up differently, whether it's the way we greet people or how they react to medicines based on genetic polymorphisms, all these kinds of things.

  • 13:53:04

    ROSSAnd so all of a sudden, doctors and nurses are finding that the same treatment, the same way of interacting with one patient doesn't work on another patient. This really relates to the globalism issue that David was talking about. I mean, I think, you know, when you ask about social justice versus business case, I think we're at a place in history where the two are really completely aligned with each other. We might call it enlightened self interest for an organization who says that, you know, I'm gonna do this work of diversity or maybe saying it more colloquial, we got to do well by doing going, you know.

  • 13:53:32

    ROSSYou get to be more successful as an organization when you focus on these kinds of issues because we now have 12 percent of our residential population with people born outside of the United States. That's the highest since the 19th century. We've got close to 40 percent of our people who are different racial minority -- what we might call historically racial minority groups. You know, how can you possibly prepare somebody to deal with that environment if they're dealing in an environment where they've only got 10 percent let's say minority population, or when they've only got a handful of people from other countries. We're just simply not preparing our students properly unless we take this into account.

  • 13:54:07

    NNAMDIHere's -- go ahead, please.

  • 13:54:08

    THOMASWell, you know, to Howard's point here, one of the things that we are continually seeing in our work to educate global business leaders at the McDonough School is that cultural competence is a competency that leaders need to acquire, and part of the way that you acquire it in educational settings is be coming in contact with people who are culturally different from you, and that's in both visible ways as well as ways that aren't necessarily visible but expressed in visible as in skin or gender, but visible in terms of how it's expressed in people's behavior patterns, norms, different expectations.

  • 13:54:50

    NNAMDIHere is Greg in Silver Spring, Md. Greg, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:54:55

    GREGThanks very much for taking my call. I graduated recently from an elite, you might say liberal arts institution up in New York state, and one of the most satisfying things for me was in fact meeting people of all different kinds of backgrounds, whether it be different countries, different languages, socioeconomic backgrounds, races, you name it. It was extremely fulfilling and I feel like I really gained a lot from having that kind of an exposure to all different kinds of people.

  • 13:55:27

    GREGThe issue that I have with the whole concept of diversity though is, as much as I like the student body to be diverse, I think the use of the word and the term diversity is a bit problematic because we aren't necessarily looking for people from every single kind of background, otherwise schools might ask about things like whether or not someone is overtly homophobic, or if someone is overtly racist, or is someone is a member of a cult that is doing that typical institutions aren't really looking for. So I think that using the word diversity might be a little be disingenuous, because we aren't really looking for true diversity, we're looking more for a selected diversity that we think will, you know, better prepare our students to go out into the world that is increasingly more global every day.

  • 13:56:17

    NNAMDIGreg says the term diversity is too all inclusive, it's forced to include people whose opinions and behavior might be considered so far outside of the mainstream of society that we really don't want to include them at all.

  • 13:56:31

    ROSSWell, I think, you know, we're getting -- you said at the very beginning of the show, Kojo, we're getting more and more nuanced with this, and I think that in the early days we saw, you know, we all remember -- all three of us are old enough to remember the time when we talked about whites and women and minorities like LMNOP in the alphabet, you know, women minorities one group, and then it became women and minorities, and then it became and women and blacks for African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, and we're now getting even more refined.

  • 13:56:56

    ROSSWe're noticing that that there are big differences between African-Americans versus Caribbean-born or African-born blacks for example, et cetera. So we're gonna get more and more nuanced and more refined in this. I wanted to make one last point, Kojo, before I know we're getting close to ending, and that is, I think it's also important for us to recognize the topic we're talking about in the face of the anti-intellectual elitism issue that's going on. Rick Santorum's comment about the idea of people being able to go to college are snobs.

  • 13:57:23

    ROSSWe're looking at economic data which tells us that college graduates have an unemployment rate of less than five percent whereas other people it's dramatically higher than that. When we're talking about whether or not people have access to college, we're also talking about are they gonna have access to jobs more frequently, are they going to have access to money for their families, and then are they going to have access to create an environment where their children get access to those things. So these are critically important issues today more than ever.

  • 13:57:46

    THOMASYeah. I'd just like to say one more thing to the caller...

  • 13:57:48

    NNAMDIWe've got about 15 seconds.

  • 13:57:49

    THOMASOkay. Callers point about diversity. I think the problem with it is that we've lost our ability to also talk about issues like race, and so that's why we hear diversity as a kind of code word, as opposed to really being genuine in our discussion of diversity.

  • 13:58:09

    NNAMDIDavid Thomas is dean of the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business. Howard Ross is a principal with the firm Cook Ross. Howard Ross, always a pleasure.

  • 13:58:18

    ROSSGreat to see you, Kojo.

  • 13:58:19

    NNAMDIDavid Thomas, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:58:21

    THOMASThank you. It's as pleasure to be here.

  • 13:58:22

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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