History course's enrollment requirements to change

Changes designed to 'counter the perception' of racial difference in course's admit policy

Zac Farber

Friday, December 7, 2007

The enrollment policy for History professor Peter Rachleff's 300-level history course, "Advanced Studies: Historians and Critical Race Theory," has been changed for the spring 2008 semester in order to "counter the perception of a difference" in eligibility standards between white students and students of color, Provost Diane Michelfelder said Wednesday.Up until this semester, Rachleff's signature was required of students who wanted to register for the course. Now, Michelfelder said, prospective students will undergo review by the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program screening committee, of which Rachleff is a member.


The initial decision to review the course's admissions policy came after a senior complained to Michelfelder, saying Rachleff denied her entrance to the class because she is not a student of color.


"I was in essence told [by Rachleff] that the course was to be kept a 'safe place for students of color,'" the senior wrote in an October e-mail to Michelfelder and History Department Chair Peter Weisensel.


As The Mac Weekly reported on Oct. 19, Rachleff said that his course is not limited to students of color, but to students who have a strong background in critical race theory.


Rachleff could not be reached for comment before this edition went to press on Wednesday.


The MMUF, a national fellowship whose mission is to mentor students of color and encourage them to seek Ph.D.s and join college faculties, is a central component of the class. Macalester has partnered with the fellowship since 2000, each year providing five juniors and five seniors the opportunity to pursue individual projects. In 2003, the fellowship revised its mission and began allowing white students.


All Macalester Mellon fellows are required to enroll in the course, but, in recent years, the majority of the students enrolled in the course have not been Mellon fellows. This semester, 16 of the course's 26 students are not Mellon fellows.


Under the new program, Michelfelder said, the application form for the Mellon Mays fellowship asks applicants if they would be interested in taking the course even if they are not accepted for the fellowship. If students are interested, she said, they are asked to explain their reasons for wanting to take the course and to write about their "academic preparation" for the course. Only students who apply for the fellowship and meet the fellowship screening committee's approval will be allowed to enroll in the course.

Other students, who are "not yet eligible" to apply for the fellowship, can audit the class, Michelfelder said, with the approval of the fellowship's faculty coordinator (currently Rachleff).


After The Mac Weekly ran a story on the course, Michelfelder met in late October with the senior who voiced the complaint, the student, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said.


"[Michelfelder] expressed a lot of concern and shock to my side of the story," the senior said. "She said she would be meeting with [President] Brian Rosenberg and Rachleff the following week to see what needed to be done to rectify the situation."


After meeting with the senior, Michelfelder met with Rachleff and Dean of Academic Programs Ellen Guyer, the fellowship's staff coordinator.


"We had a good, collegial discussion," Michelfelder said, "out of which emerged some changes to the process by which students would be identified for the class.