In news that will be surprising to no one, a follow-up look to last week's examination of women's role in Virginia higher ed leadership reveals that when it comes to racial diversity in higher education leadership, Virginia's record has been dismal.
There really isn't any other way to look at it. As in my last post, I looked at Virginia's 13 four-year public universities (Christopher Newport University, the College of William & Mary, George Mason University, James Madison University, Longwood University, Norfolk State University, Old Dominion University, Radford University, the University of Mary Washington, the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University), but now I examined whether they have ever had a black president.
What I found is that of those 13 institutions of higher education, only three have ever had an African American president—and two of those, Norfolk State and Virginia State, are historically black colleges or universities (HBCUs). The only non-HBCU university in Virginia that has had a president who is African American is Radford University, which appointed Brian O. Hemphill its president in 2016. Every other president, with the exception of VCU's Michael Rao, the child of Indian emigrants, has been white.
(As a note, yes, racial diversity is more than a black–white issue—but I think it's also somewhat disingenuous to not use that as a starting point in Virginia. Blacks are the largest minority group in the commonwealth, comprising just shy of 20 percent of the population according to 2016 U.S. Census estimates. And without overlooking the struggles that other racial minorities have faced in Virginia, none have been more systematically or sweepingly targeted for exclusion by means legal, legislative, or social than blacks. But then again, even if I had looked at other races, I wouldn't have found much else: the presidencies outside the HBCUs are essentially a sea of white.)
Surely linked is the fact that Virginia's public universities—again with the exception of the HBCUs—refused to admit black undergraduates until the 1950s and 1960s. Virginia Tech admitted its first black undergrad, Irving L. Peddrew III, in 1953; UVA its first three black undergrads, Robert Bland, George Harris, and Theodore Thomas, in 1955; the University of Mary Washington (then the women's branch of UVA) its first black undergrad, Jacquelyn Pulliam, in 1962; and the College of William and Mary its first black undergrad, Oscar Blayton, in 1963.
While some schools openly resisted the admission of African Americans, others were more passive. George Mason University, established in 1949 as a branch of UVA, offered an interesting defense of its lack of diversity (link to source here):
For as long as it existed, George Mason had never considered itself “segregated”. In fact, in 1963 George Mason College Director, John Norville Gibson Finley chided an official from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights when he wrote Finley for confirmation as to whether or not George Mason was segregated. Finley replied that Mason was not, and while it was true that it had “never had a Negro student . . . no Negro ha[d] ever applied for admission.”
According to the Lemon Project, when the editor of W&M's student newspaper, The Flat Hat, published a column entitled "Lincoln's Job Half-Done" advocating for the admission of African Americans to the College in 1945, she was fired and publication of the newspaper was temporarily halted.
Several schools did admit graduate students earlier, but the rarity of such events is revealed in the fact that William & Mary's admission of Hulon Willis into a graduate program in physical education in 1951 sparked the publication of a brief by the Associated Press under the heading "Negro Admitted."