Willie E. May, Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

WASHINGTON – In his controversial remarks on affirmative action, Justice Antonin Scalia got it only half right when he said most Black scientists attended so-called lesser schools than the University of Texas – more than 80 percent of all scientists attended top-rank research universities.

During the oral arguments Dec. 9 in Fisher v. University of Texas-Austin, Scalia said, “…One of the briefs pointed out that – that most of the – most of the Black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas.”
He added, “They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re – that they’re being pushed ahead in – in classes that are too – too fast for them.”
In fact-checking Scalia’s assertion, PolitiFact noted, “On the raw numbers, the claim is ‘likely to be true, but not for the reasons Scalia thinks it is,’ said Benjamin Backes, an affirmative action expert with the American Institutes for Research. Most Black scientists likely did not go to schools like the University of Texas at Austin – that is to say, selective research universities.
“Why? Because the vast majority of students and science majors do not go to these elite institutions.”
The fact-checking site explained, “For reference, the American Association of Universities represents 62 leading research universities, which together house just 20 percent of all undergraduate science, math and engineering majors in the United States and Canada.
“‘Because the typical student, both Black and non-black, does not attend a selective university, the typical scientist likely did not graduate from a selective institution,’ [Backes] said.”
In thinking typical of the pre-Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, Justice Scalia also said, “There are – there are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to – to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a less – a slower-track school where they do well.”
In an article on NBCNews.com, Ivory A. Toldson, a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation senior research analyst, observed, “Based on the graduation rates, there is no support for Justice Scalia’s claim that the nation’s highest ranked institutions are ‘too fast’ for Black students. In fact, the opposite is true.
“Black students actually have the lowest graduation rates at noncompetitive community colleges and for-profit colleges and the highest graduation rates at more selective institutions, irrespective of affirmative action policies.”
Toldson added, “According to The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) the three universities that have the highest graduation rates for Black students are Yale (98 percent), Harvard (97 percent) and Princeton (97 percent). Stanford University, a private university with an affirmative action policy, has a 91 percent graduation rate for Black students; yet the University of California – Berkeley, a state university that follows a statewide ban on affirmative action, has a 77 percent graduation for Black students.”
It’s easy to infer that Scalia was lumping Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) into this group of “lesser” institutions.
Again, he is off the mark.
According to the National Science Foundation, although HBCUs make up only 3 percent of the nation’s colleges, “In 2011, 24% of Black S&E [science and engineering] doctorate recipients received their bachelor’s degree from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), the second most common type of baccalaureate-origin institution next to research universities with very high research activity (29%) for these doctorate recipients.”
In fact, 21 of the top 50 institutions that produce graduates who go on to earn their doctorates in science and engineering are HBCUs. The top 10 are all HBCUs: 1) Howard 2) Spelman 3) Florida A&M 4) Hampton 5) Xavier 6) Morehouse 7) Morgan State 8) North Carolina A&T 9) Southern and 10) Tuskegee.
Each produced more Black doctorates than Harvard (#15) or Yale (#21).
Other HBCUs in the top 50 are Jackson State, Tennessee State, Alabama A&M, Clark Atlanta, Prairie View A&M, Tougaloo, Norfolk State, North Carolina Central, Grambling, Dillard and Fisk.
Typically, they follow the path similar to Willie E. May, director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which has 3,000 employees and an annual budget of  $864 million. May earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Knoxville College, an HBCU in Tennessee, and a Ph.D.  in analytical chemistry from the University of Maryland, one of the nation’s top research institutions.
Toldson wrote, “Among the HBCUs, none have a Carnegie classification of ‘Very High Research Activity’ and only two have a classification of ‘High.’ In total, among the top 50 institutions, HBCUs collectively produced 1,819 Black graduates who earned a doctorate in S&E, PWIs [Predominantly White Institutions] produced 1,600, and foreign institutions produced 798.”


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