Luke Visconti, CEO: Crisis in Higher Education a Long Time Coming

Unchanged for 25 years — 93 percent white presidents: stale and out of touch.

Luke Visconti is the founder and CEO of DiversityInc. Although the title of his column is meant to be humorous, the issues he addresses and the answers he gives to questions are serious — and based on his 17 years of experience publishing DiversityInc. Click here to send your own question to Luke.

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Mass protests are occurring across the nation on college campuses. Non-majority students feel disenfranchised and underrepresented. Their perceptions are not incorrect.

Excluding minority serving institutions, 93 percent of university presidents are white — demographics that have not changed in 25 years. 84 percent of (full-time) professors are white. There is slightly more diversity among assistant and associate professors but much less among all professors at private schools in comparison to public schools.

The demographics of students, and of our nation, have changed dramatically: only 58 percent of college students are white (59 percent of high school graduates are white), and more than half of bachelor’s degrees are earned by women.

From “Mexican bandit” themed parties at the University of Louisville president’s house, to slow and tone deaf communications from the president of Mizzou (leading to his ouster), university leadership is being exposed as mostly being out of step, out of touch and of poor quality. Social media and the BLM movement have connected the dots, leading to nationwide unease and unrest from what used to be considered isolated incidents.

Demographics alone do not make a leadership body incompetent or out of touch, but in my combined 24 years of higher education board experience, including being invited to speak at two recent college board events and dozens of universities, I think most university diversity efforts are paternalistic, toothless, lacking in vigor — in essence, not taken seriously as a part of performance management.

You reap what you sow.

There are some bright spots, though. President Sue Henderson at New Jersey City University is implementing programs modeled after the amazing success at Georgia Tech, where they closed the gap between white and nonwhite graduation rates through timely mentoring, attention to the whole student body and real-time academic advice. The Rutgers Future Scholars program continues its astonishing success in shepherding eighth graders through high school and into/through college, achieving dramatically improved results over peer groups not in the program — with 1,600 students in the pipeline.

Talent is a leaky bucket. You may be very proud of your current corporate culture, and in the case of DiversityInc Top 10 companies, it is demonstrably better than the Top 50 and an order of magnitude better than the Fortune 500. The problem, especially for the best companies, is that you’re hiring from a talent pool that is not well prepared. In the case of schools like SUNY Plattsburgh and University of Louisville, the student body is dramatically less diverse than the state, and a xenophobic, anti-intellectual attitude prevails on campus. You should be very careful about hiring students from the hundreds of mediocre campuses — and some isolated “elite” Ivy and almost-Ivy schools, which have vestigial programs to introduce their privileged students to the real world and have cynically small social service efforts. The students at these schools are shortchanged by their institutions and not ready to work in a diverse workforce and a global marketplace.

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  • But the problem is just those dang universities, right? Not anywhere else, surely. And the title of this column is meant to be humorous. Years ago I asked the white male northeastern urban academic/government connected liberal if we were ever going to be allowed to Ask the Black Gal, or Ask the White Gay, or … So now about a decade later, are we? Ever? Or do you still feel it better if you and your column instead stand in for and represent those you call the “disenfranchised and under-represented non-majority”?

  • Greg Thrasher


    Thank You for your principles and integrity on a number of issues not just the BLM saga.


    Ps..You will be the first to get my book:-)

    Greg Thrasher
    Plane Ideas
    Alternative Think Tank

  • Academia is another institution run by shall we say, “liberals of pallor” that is shown to be heavily racist.

    Of particular irony is that in those institutions professors with 6-figure salaries are telling students with 6-figure debt that “capitalism is the problem.” Self-awareness failure!

    Also ironic is that this article, from a site that claims to be interested and invested in diversity still throws in racist canards of its own. And the occasional ableist canard: “tone deaf” is very insulting to the deaf community. (Note: Let me inform that ‘deaf community’ is an approved term, before you try to beat me with my own stick.)

    • “Tone deaf” is inability to distinguish notes, it has nothing to do with the deaf community.

      I’ve served on college/university boards through 9 presidents, 25 years of experience. Your blanket description, in my experience, is tone deaf.

  • I was a department chair at a HCBU. The pres. and most of the administration were black and were hired based on race, not qualifications. The Univ was suffering from loss of students, faculty, grants, and everything a Univ. needs. Finally a faculty vote of no confidence forced a change for the pres. No job should ever be filled based on race, only qualifications.

    • I was a trustee of an HBCU for 10 years (Bennett College), the board was almost all Black, as were the faculty, staff and presidents. We had good people and great people, and a couple of people who didn’t do too well, and they were almost all Black.

      My point is that there are plenty of qualified Black people. And for an HBCU, I think a primary consideration of qualification is being Black.

      When I received my honorary PhD, my commencement speech included the fact that Bennett college existed because the black people of that era, emancipated enslaved people, knew that white people were not going to educate their children. Evidence shows this is still true in many school districts and many public universities were a failure rate for Black students that is higher than white students is accepted. There are plenty of schools who do not have a differential, so we know it is possible to have almost exactly the same success rate. The only reason failure is acceptable when it comes to Black people is racism. Plain and simple. That’s why a Black faculty and administration at an HBCU is critical for the successful education of the students.

      The occasional incompetent that rises to a leadership position at an HBCU is not the issue. Our society makes no note of the race of the many failures in leadership positions at “mainstream” (white) schools. When white people fail it’s an accident or anomaly, when Black people fail it’s an indictment on the entire race. That too, is racism.

    • THANK YOU DOC! It amazes me how racist people like this are, who cry racism about everything. The double standard in this country is disgusting. When boards, companies, schools, etc are mostly black, thats just fine. But when ANYTHING (not including Hockey, Golf, Tennis) is majority white, people lose their minds. How about people earn their way, just like I have and every other white guy I know did. This whole privilege thing is an absolute farce. Diversity = means phase out white men no matter the results.

      • Rediculous. Companies exist to make a profit. Diversity is profitable, that’s the only reason it’s a matter for business discussion.

        Your own attitude holds you back, not Black people.

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