What Can Happen When You Don’t Grade on a Curve….

The title of a recent Inside Higher Ed article asked, “Who’s doing the heavy lifting in terms of diversity and inclusion work?”  The unsurprising answer is that faculty members who engage the most in this arena are likely to be non-white, non-male, or first-generation college attendees. 

Some schools are now attempting to distribute the lifting more evenly.  Unfortunately, not everyone is equally prepared to hoist.

Consider what happened at the University of Maine at Presque Isle (UMPI), which is located in northern Maine near the Canadian border. 

According to a UMPI administrator who wishes to remain anonymous, the University wanted to establish a cadre of white professors who could serve as mentors to the small number of black students on campus.  A multiple-choice test was developed to assess the professors’ fundamental knowledge of black history.  Of the 52 faculty members who took the test, only 3 passed, and 2 of those individuals were later found to have cheated.  

Here is the test in its entirety:

1.  Who founded Motown Records?

A.  Berry Gordy

B.  Halle Berry

C.  Boysen Berry

2.  Which of the following does not belong?

A.  Count Basie

B.  Duke Ellington

C.  King Tut

3.  A seminal jazz album recorded by Miles Davis is:

A.  Kind of Blue

B.  Sort of Green

C.  Somewhere between Teal and Turquoise

4.  James Baldwin and Alec Baldwin are:

A.  brothers.

B.  father and son.

C.  probably not related.  

5.  Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech was written and delivered by:

A.  Carol King

B.  Martin Luther King

C.  Martin Luther

6.  Harriet Tubman is best known for her work with:

A.  the Underground Railroad.

B.  the Velvet Underground, an iconic 1960’s rock band.

C.  Amtrak, which she founded. 

7.  Toni Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel:

A.  Fifty Shades of Grey.

B.  Beloved.

C.  Star Wars.

8.  Neil deGrasse Tyson is:

A.  an astrophysicist.

B.  a point guard for the Miami Heat.

C.  Trick question:  There is no person named Neil deGrasse Tyson

“What is particularly embarrassing is that you only needed to get five questions right to pass the test and become a mentor,” says the UMPI source.  “This result is simply unacceptable.  These are the same professors who can identify an L. L. Bean Duck Boot from over 200 yards away…at night…in the fog!  Give me a break!”

On a more positive note, in May 2019 the UMPI Martial Arts Squad (nicknamed The Wakandans, although 6 of its 7 members are white) defeated student teams from Bryn Mawr College and Oberlin College in the Aroostook County Moose-Wrestling Invitational, an annual competition between the three schools.  UMPI has won this event for the past 12 years.  During that time, no moose has ever been successfully pinned by a Bryn Mawr or Oberlin team member.  

Moral of the Story?  Play to your strengths, UMPI, play to your strengths.