sealPurdue News

November 14, 2000

We must encourage minority graduate students

Purdue University President Martin C. Jischke delivered this address Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2000, at the annual meeting of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges in San Antonio, Texas. In his speech, Jischke announced Purdue would establish an annual fellowship to increase the numbers of minority graduate students preparing to be the faculty of the future. Jischke also challenged other NASULGC members to follow Purdue's lead. The fellowships, named for George Washington Carver, will be given to graduate students from historically black institutions, and Hispanic-serving or tribal colleges.

I'm doubly honored to be selected as the second George Washington Carver Lecturer.

First of all, it's an extraordinary privilege to have this opportunity to recognize one of the great land-grant alumni of all time, an alumnus of Iowa State -- an institution I had the honor of leading for more than nine years before becoming President of Purdue University last August.

I've carried my dedication to the principles that guided Dr. Carver's life to Purdue, where I've found more than 50 programs designed to enhance the diversity of our university, including:

  • programs to bring minority undergraduate students to campus for the summer before their freshmen year;
  • programs to recruit graduate students from Historically Black Institutions;
  • programs to retain and graduate more minority students -- the ultimate measure of our success.
  • And a spectacular Black Cultural Center building.

Dr. Carver would be amazed at all that has been accomplished since his days on university campuses. But -- it's also amazing for us today when we realize all that remains to be done.

The idea of recognizing Carver with a lecture in his honor was first suggested by me in 1997, the year I was privileged to served as chairman of the board of NASULGC.

It was, and remains, my hope that this lecture will serve as an ongoing reminder of the genius of this remarkable American, a tribute to the land-grant philosophy to which Carver was utterly devoted, a symbol of the inclusiveness to which this national association has been and remains totally committed, and an inspiration toward positive and concrete action to make access to success through higher education available to everyone in America.

Carver reminds us that human talent and the capacity for service through education know few boundaries -- and certainly not the boundary of race.

Secondly, I'm honored to follow my friend and colleague Ben Payton, president of Tuskegee University, whose first Carver lecture was so inspiring and beautifully delivered. Ben and I share several personal and professional connections through NASULGC and the Kellogg Commission; through the many exchanges of students and faculty between Tuskegee and Iowa State and Purdue University; and through the deep faith we share in education's power to transform people and societies.

Dr. Payton and I also share a connection through this truly remarkable individual, George Washington Carver.

Dr. Carver was educated at Iowa State, where he was that university's first African-American student and first African-American faculty member. He was an extraordinary student -- inside and outside the classroom. He was an honor student and as active and popular as anyone on campus.

He loved science; the study of plants in particular. To this day, you can visit the Iowa State Herbarium and study specimens Carver collected. But Carver did more at Iowa State than study plants.

He sang, he debated, he painted, he wrote poetry. He led the student ROTC, and was a trainer for the football team.

And, he was a gifted teacher at Iowa State. For example, his tutoring of the young Henry A. Wallace -- who later became vice president of the United States -- led to Wallace's lifelong interest in plant genetics and the founding of the largest seed corn company in the world -- Pioneer Hybrid.

From the beginning of his pioneering time as a student at Iowa State and through his half century of service at Tuskegee, Carver embodied the full promise of the land-grant university's commitment to both practical and liberal education, and its missions of teaching, research and service.

Dr. Carver was wooed away from Iowa State by Booker T. Washington to join the faculty at Tuskegee -- despite the fact that Iowa State tried to get him to stay by offering him a raise.

This is a good example of the intense competition for top faculty, even in those earlier days.

Tuskegee won that one, but not because of money -- because money never was important to Dr. Carver. Tuskegee won because of Dr. Carver's calling.

In his letter accepting Washington's offer, he wrote this now famous sentence: "It has always been the one great ideal of my life to be of the greatest good to the greatest number of people possible, and to this end I have been preparing my life for these many years, feeling as I do that this line of education is the key to unlock the golden doors of freedom to our people."

The people at Iowa State -- famous people in the early history of that institution; people who had taken this young black man under their wing when he showed up in 1891; people like Tama Jim Wilson, Louis Pammel and Charles Curtiss -- practiced a kind of Iowa style affirmative action.

For example, when Carver couldn't find a room in Ames because of his race, Tama Jim Wilson, the Dean of Agriculture -- who would later serve as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture -- gave Carver Wilson's office in Ag Hall to live in.

These mentors of Carver -- Wilson, Pammel and Curtiss -- all felt a great sense of loss when Carver told them he was leaving Iowa State for Tuskegee. However, they couldn't argue with his reasons. They wished him well and gave him his first microscope as a going away present. They maintained their close friendship and professional association with him throughout their lives.

As a result, Iowa State and Tuskegee have a special bond -- one that continues today.

Three years ago, Iowa State and Tuskegee joined in the unveiling of a U.S. Postal Service "Celebrate the Century" commemorative stamp honoring Dr. Carver as one of the most significant people of the 20th century.

Two years ago, when Iowa State held a year-long celebration of Dr. Carver's life and legacy, we were very pleased to involve Dr. Payton and others from Tuskegee in many of the celebration events.

And last year -- shortly before Dr. Payton's inaugural Carver Lecture -- several people from Iowa State were pleased to join with our Tuskegee colleagues in the dedication of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Beltsville campus, renamed in Dr. Carver's honor.

It is difficult to imagine a person, other than Carver, whose life better illustrates the values we share at state universities and land-grant colleges. Access and opportunity, practical and liberal education, basic and applied research, and a commitment to service and engagement with the larger community. Carver lived those values with an intensity and excellence that is as amazing as it is inspiring. Born a slave, Carver remains today a symbol of hope and the promise of education.

I learned a lot about George Washington Carver after I became president of Iowa State.

One of the things I learned was how important and precious education was to him.

This was a man who literally thirsted after knowledge -- and his was a thirst that was unquenchable.

Iowa State was not the first college Dr. Carver attended. He first enrolled in Simpson College, a very fine private institution located just south of Iowa State in Indianola, Iowa.

One of the Simpson faculty described him this way: "George Carver comes to us with a satchel full of poverty and a burning zeal to know everything."

Carver abhorred ignorance, saying, "Ignorance is one of the worst sins of the world; ignorance, that is, that shuts its eyes to the facts of life and revelations."

He also said, "Ye shall know science and it shall set you free" -- referring specifically to the economic slavery suffered by African-Americans in the South.

However, as important as knowledge was to Dr. Carver, one thing was even more important -- and that was the opportunity to obtain knowledge. For without that opportunity, knowledge itself is unattainable.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is our challenge: to continue the legacy of opportunity embodied by George Washington Carver. Someone whose remarkable life of contributions to the betterment of our nation and our world was made possible because of an opportunity he received as a young man -- an opportunity that a generation before, would not have been there.

Think of the difference this one opportunity made. Try to imagine Iowa State, Tuskegee, our nation without George Washington Carver. We would all surely be diminished had Carver not had his opportunity.

As the president of, now, two land-grant universities -- institutions created to expand the opportunity to obtain knowledge to people like George Carver, to many of us -- I take this challenge very seriously.

And I'm not alone.

My colleagues on the Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities agree, identifying "opportunity" as one of the five key issues that will shape our collective future and determine the role our institutions will play in the future of this nation.

How do we meet this challenge?

I have some thoughts I'd like to share on what we can do -- what we should do.

And then I challenge everyone here, and every one of our colleagues in higher education and government -- for it was government that started the land-grant movement -- to come up with even more ways.

First, we need a sincere commitment to expand opportunities for young people to attend our institutions. How do we do this?

First and foremost, it takes money -- lots of money. But we're raising money -- lots of money.

Our development programs set records every year. It's time -- putting it bluntly -- to put our money where our mouth is.

At Iowa State, for example, we created a new kind of opportunity program for needy young people called the Hixson Opportunity Awards Program, funded primarily by the Lied Foundation Trust of Las Vegas, Nevada, and named for its sole trustee, native Iowan Christina Hixson. The program provides a full-tuition scholarship -- renewable for four years -- to 100 students each year -- at least one from each of Iowa's counties. And it provides special nurturing and mentoring in the pivotal freshman year.

These are students who, because of personal or family financial difficulty, would not be able to afford to go to college. Indeed, these are students for whom college is a very unlikely prospect.

That program was started five years ago, and do you know what?

These students, while being average in nearly every academic measure except the risk that grows out of personal adversity and high financial need, achieve better than average grade points; return at higher than average rates; and graduate at a rate much higher than the university average.

It's as though they were telling us, "Just give me an opportunity and I will prove to you I can do it."

Like Carver, they are making the most of their educational opportunity -- their opportunity to obtain knowledge.

Why did Ms. Hixson establish this uniquely land-grant program?

Three reasons: Because she never had that kind of opportunity when she was young; because she believes young people need a chance; and because she knows that, given the opportunity, these young people will be the George Carvers of the future -- incredibly industrious, and incredibly giving.

Nothing in my 32 years in higher education has given me as much personal and professional satisfaction as meeting and working with these students and watching them succeed. They are the new George Carvers, and they are continuing proof that opportunity is key.

Opportunity works. And it's up to us to provide more opportunities. We have the capabilities, if we choose to do so, to increase opportunity on a massive scale.

Nationally, the Gates Foundation is investing $1 billion to expand opportunities for minority students and other foundations can follow this lead. And in each of our states, we can create even more opportunities with programs like the Hixson Program in Iowa.

We need to think big -- because, while the cost is big, the payoff is even bigger.

The other issue I would raise with you is this: Don't stop with undergraduate opportunities.

We need to think of ways to expand graduate study opportunities for students as well, and for two reasons.

First, the more education, the greater the opportunity for individual success, and the greater the opportunity for even more significant contributions to society.

George Carver was supported by his friends at Iowa State in pursuing a master's degree in botany. That led to his becoming a member of the faculty, which led to the opportunity to join the faculty at Tuskegee, which led to a lifetime of productive service.

Second, our institutions need more gifted professors like Carver.

Universities today are facing a shortage of faculty, including at 1890, land-grant universities. We are not preparing enough people to fill the positions that will be vacated by retirement over the next 10 years.

Our graduate programs also need more top quality domestic students. And our nation needs more persons of color on our faculties if we are to create the educational environment ALL of our students need.

We need to create new partnerships and exchanges with institutions like the 1890 land-grants to encourage more people to pursue advanced degrees and consider academia as a career.

We are working on this at Purdue. Purdue's Historically Black Institution Visitation Program provides the opportunity for outstanding, undergraduate minority students interested in pursuing graduate studies to visit Purdue.

During the three-day visit they meet with faculty, administrators and students, tour facilities and consider their opportunities -- both their opportunities for study and their opportunities for a better job with an advanced degree.

It is working. There are currently 62 students from Historically Black Institutions enrolled in graduate programs at Purdue and 129 have graduated in the past 12 years.

Purdue also offers numerous mentoring and outreach programs to attract minority students and retain them and graduate them.

One of Purdue's most spectacular achievements, due to the leadership of my predecessor, Steve Beering, is its Black Cultural Center, a building that houses programs that exemplify the best in African-American culture. It was one of the first Purdue buildings I visited.

Designed by Walter Blackburn, a distinguished African-American architect, it incorporates elements of African tradition into a highly functional facility that sits at the center of campus. I can't do it justice with words, but when people visit it for the first time, they are just astonished and blown away.

It literally takes your breath away.

It not only provides a home worthy of the university's excellent cultural programs, but it also truly brings different cultures together because all kinds of people want to be there for meetings and receptions, lectures and performances. And it is a visible, concrete demonstration of Purdue's commitment to inclusion and our recognition of the richness of our diversity.

Minority students in this country represent a tremendous potential for advanced education because they have been largely untapped.

They are a human resource we need to develop -- for our institutions' benefit, as well as our nation's benefit -- and most especially for theirs.

I would challenge my fellow 1862 land-grant institutions to create partnerships with the 1890 institutions to support Ph.D. fellowships.

One fellowship costs $15,000 per year, lasting about four years -- give or take. After four years of offering these fellowships, that's a total of $60,000 per year. A very small price to pay for something that is so badly needed by all of our institutions and so very important to a generation of young people.

If each of the members of NASULGC were to fund one such fellowship and focus it in areas such as science, engineering and mathematics where persons of color are severely underrepresented, we could nearly double the number of Ph.D.s earned annually in these areas by persons of color, and thereby ensure that the contributions of the George Washington Carvers of the 21st century are not lost.

I am pleased to let you know that Purdue University is creating such a fellowship in honor of Dr. Carver.

It will be awarded annually to an outstanding graduate of an 1890 land-grant, Hispanic-serving, or tribal college whose aspiration is to become a faculty member.

In 1890 Iowa State acted affirmatively to find a way to support one very talented African-American whose subsequent contributions helped make Tuskegee University one of America's treasured educational institutions.

Think of the impact that 200 21st century Carvers every year would have on the future of our universities and nation.

I challenge each of you to make a commitment to these kinds of programs -- to re-commit to the ideal of opportunity. If we did, there would be more Ph.D.s produced in the U.S. in fields we all desperately need. And, it would help ensure the continued vitality of our minority-serving colleges and universities.

Let us all be clear about the essential role that our 1890 member institutions -- and the Hispanic-serving and tribal colleges of NASULGC -- play in our diverse system of higher education.

These institutions are national treasures, that our nation desperately needs, and that deserve our continued support. And we need to step forward in our time -- as Wilson, Pammel, and Curtiss did a century ago to nurture Carver -- and help ensure our collective vitality and capacity to contribute.

It's part of Carver's unfinished business, as Dr. Payton pointed out last year.

There is much good happening in our county today -- progress that Carver hoped and worked for all his life, and never lived to see. But there is so much more that Carver hoped and worked for -- that remains to be accomplished; goals we still haven't reached as we enter the 21st century, 136 years after this great man was born.

We've been too long getting to the place we need to go.

The time is now.

I want to close with a quote from Dr. Carver:

"No individual has any right to come into this world and go out of it without leaving behind distinct and legitimate reasons for having passed through it."

Those are words with which we can all agree. But we all need to do more than agree.

We need to live by them and take action, the kind of action Dr. Carver would have liked to have seen in his lifetime.

We owe this to Carver.

And to the future of the society we serve.

Thank you.

* To the Purdue News and Photos Page