Though Brown has a higher rate than most universities of both African-American tenured faculty and graduation of African-American students, the University ranked a modest 41st on Black Enterprise Magazine's list of the best colleges and universities for African-Americans.
Although Brown moves up one spot from the previous year, this places Brown below Columbia University, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Cornell and Yale universities. Dartmouth College and Princeton University did not make the list.
The ranking system was devised by Thomas LaVeist, professor of health policy, management and sociology at Johns Hopkins University. According to LaVeist, the primary variable in ranking the colleges was the African-American graduation rate at each respective institution.
Also included in the ranking calculation was a survey sent to 1,855 African-American college administrators nationwide. The survey asked administrators to rate their respective schools and peer institutions on the perceived quality of each school's social and academic environment for African-American students. African-American students at these schools were not given the survey, LaVeist said, because students would have limited information about the social and academic environments at schools other than the ones they were attending.
LaVeist said the primary intention of the ranking was to develop a diverse list of 50 schools that effectively reach out to African-American students. He said the enormous heterogeneity of the schools included in the list - which incorporates schools large and small, public and private, historically black and mostly white - underscores the fact that what is best for one student may not necessarily be best for another.
"The point of the list is not to say that school number three is better than school number 14. ... (The point is that) here are 50 schools that do a good job of educating African-American students," LaVeist said. He said a lot of schools get caught up in the "horse race" aspect of the list, and while this feature of the ranking system may create healthy competition among schools, the utility of such comparisons is limited.
The strict applicability of the Black Enterprise survey indeed appears limited when compared with other published lists that also attempt to rank the top schools for African-Americans.
A 2002 survey published in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education entitled "Ranking America's Leading Universities on Their Success in Integrating African Americans" came up with markedly different results. This publication named Brown as the 10th best university on its success at integrating African-Americans, behind only Princeton and Harvard among Ivy League universities. Princeton, which failed to make the top 50 Black Enterprise Magazine list, was ranked third in the JBHE ranking. The JBHE survey used 13 variables in calculating the rankings, while the Black Enterprise Magazine survey only used four.
According to the 2002 survey, more than 4 percent of Brown's tenured faculty are black, the second-highest percentage among the academically top rated universities. The JBHE article, however, says Brown's 5.9 percent African-American percentage of the student body is "no better than middle of the road."
Annie Cappuccino, senior associate director of college admission, said Brown has recently made a number of strides in reaching out to African-American students. She mentioned the move to need-blind admission that began with the class of 2007 and the $100 million Sidney Frank donation for financial aid this year as factors that should make Brown more accessible to students of color.
She added, however, that Brown administrators see areas for further improvement. "We tend to feel that there are always ways for us to improve and expand our reach to communities that may not be thinking about us automatically but have really talented students," she said.
Cappuccino said Brown is doing "many of the same things as the other Ivy League schools" in terms of minority recruitment and creating a comfortable atmosphere for students of color.
She warned prospective students against placing too much emphasis on the results of one survey. "I think that there's always going to be some usefulness for a survey, but it's important for students not to rely on one survey for choosing a group of colleges that are going to be good for them," she said.
Eldridge Gilbert '05, a Third World Center student coordinator who acted as co-chair of the Organization of United African Peoples his sophomore and junior years, said Brown provides a number of resources for African-American students. He said the Third World Center has been an invaluable social and academic resource throughout his time at Brown. The office of the Dean of the College also offers a number of beneficial services to students of color at Brown, he said.
"There are a number of administrators, deans, staff and faculty alike who are open to being resources for black students - black students who take advantage (of these resources) get to make the most of their Brown experience in a lot of different ways," he said.
But Gilbert said that despite Brown's reputation as a beacon of progressive values and diversity, Brown is no utopia for students of color. "I've had some very jolting experiences with diversity that are reasons to question what Brown claims to be," he said. He said Brown has a long way to go in terms of black student enrollment, percentage of black faculty and staff, and socioeconomic diversity.
Gilbert said the enormous amount of independence Brown gives its students can create problems for those needing support. "For as many resources as Brown has, sometimes the resources aren't as centralized as they should be," he said.
Furthermore, Gilbert said many of the best resources for students of color in the administration are overstretched. "Even though there are many deans and administrators who make themselves resources, certain individuals within the administration get heavily relied upon by students, which makes it difficult for them to help everyone who has a need," he said.