Among other accomplishments, he was the president of Michigan State University and chancellor of the 64-campus State University of New York, and he’s just published his autobiography. In this interview with Inside Higher Ed today, I liked this exchange:
Q: At Michigan State, you created a commission to study the composition of the student body. As you look at higher education today, affirmative action is under legal attack. Can higher education achieve diversity without affirmative action?
A: My personal experience has ranged from attending higher education when there was no such thing as affirmative action — at Harvard my class in the 1940s had only four blacks, who were admitted on intellectual merit, not affirmative action — to the University of Chicago, where I was the first black to receive their economics degree. At MSU in the 1970s, I created a commission on admission which recommended a then radical program rooted in the need to provide enhanced activities that improved the ability of economically disadvantaged students — black and white — to succeed. We did not have any numeric diversity admission goals or affirmative action quotas. The result was that when fully operative, the graduation rates for economically disadvantaged minority and white students were the same as their classmates. And the numbers of such students increased steadily.