School Wants Diversity, But Kind That Pays—Suit

Chrisena Coleman, New York Daily News, September 13, 2006

An African-American educator hired to promote diversity at the tony Riverdale Country School contends he was told to avoid the children of black celebrities and find more “full-paying Asians and non-Jews,” the Daily News has learned.

In a lawsuit set to be filed today in Bronx Supreme Court, Shereem Herndon-Brown says he was hired as admissions director to increase diversity at the $31,200-a-year Riverdale Country School’s middle and upper schools.

But he alleges his efforts were thwarted by Headmaster John Johnson.

Johnson persuaded Herndon-Brown to avoid recruiting children of African-American celebrities, like Sean (Diddy) Combs and Spike Lee, because such parents “would not be a good addition to the parent body,” according to the lawsuit.

“I thought I was going to make a huge impact in bringing diversity to the Riverdale Country School,” Herndon-Brown, 32, told The News. “I went to fairs and promoted the school, but I was not valued.”

Herndon-Brown, who landed the position on May 3, 2005, after working as a seventh-grade English teacher at the school for three years, alleges Johnson refused to offer sufficient financial aid to needy minorities who met academic requirements.

Johnson told Herndon-Brown the school’s scholarship budget was too small to increase minority enrollment, the suit contends.

The admissions director said Johnson told him to recruit more “full-paying Asians and non-Jews”—an apparent reference to the school’s “large percentage of Jewish students,” according to the suit.

The suit contends that black enrollment at the school decreased over the last decade while the number of Asian and Hispanic students rose.

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On its Web site, the school says it does not discriminate. The school also says for the 2006-2007 school year, more than $4.3 million in financial aid has been awarded to approximately 20% of the 1,060-member student body.

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Austin—A powerful advocate of the state’s top 10 percent university admissions law signaled Thursday that he may be willing to consider lifting the requirement for a few years to let schools prove they can build a diverse student body without it.

State Sen. Royce West said a two- to three-year moratorium on the law could give its top critic, the University of Texas at Austin, the flexibility it seeks in the admissions process.

Preliminary data shows 71 percent of this year’s UT-Austin freshmen who are from Texas were admitted under the law, university President William Powers told the Senate subcommittee on higher education. That ties the hands of admissions officials who would like to consider students who aren’t at the top of their class but have special talents or unique personalities, he said.

Under West’s proposal, the moratoriuom would be extended if university officials can show they’ve made a good faith effort to improve the racial, socioeconomic and geographic diversity of their student bodies. If they can’t, the top 10 percent law would go back into effect. Universities would be evaluated individually, he said.

The idea is a big departure from West’s usually unwavering support of the law that guarantees all students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class admission to the public university of their choice. He and other supporters have championed it as a means of increasing minority enrollment at state universities.

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The top 10 percent law was adopted after a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision made affirmative action illegal in Texas college admissions. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed that decision.

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