State Rep. Jason Overstreet calls for WWU president's resignation over 'less white' comment

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 22, 2014 

BELLINGHAM - State Rep. Jason Overstreet has called for the resignation of Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard, after a question and blog post about making WWU less "white" in the future drew negative attention to the school.

The question that created the controversy was one of six questions included in a Western Today online newsletter in mid-March: "How do we make sure that in future years 'we are not as white as we are today?'"

It's a question that Shepard posed in his opening convocation speech to students in September 2013 and a topic that Shepard also addressed in a January blog post. In that post, Shepard wrote "In the decades ahead, should we be as white as we are today, we will be relentlessly driven toward mediocrity; or, become a sad shadow of our current self."

It's a quote that has been picked up by some conservative talks shows and websites and one that Overstreet, R-Lynden, referenced when he called for Shepard to apologize and resign. He described Shepard's language as "incredibly divisive" and "unbecoming of a WWU president."

"He's made it clear that he holds unflinchingly to this archaic ideology of assessing people by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character," Overstreet said in a phone interview Tuesday, April 22.

Shepard has no plans to resign.

He said he doesn't regret the question or the blog post. What he wanted was a frank discussion about how to make sure that the university population reflects the changing demographics of high school graduates in Washington state, where WWU draws 90 percent of its students. High school graduation rates are projected to be flat, and the percentage of high school graduates from diverse ethnic and racial groups is increasing. WWU's student body will have to reflect those changes for the school to thrive, according to the blog post.

"These are challenges being faced by universities across the country," Shepard said in a phone interview Tuesday. "We've had this conversation in polite and euphemistic terms for decades, with some progress, but not at the pace that is required if we're going to be successful as a state and as a nation."

Shepard believes his comments have been mischaracterized by media that have equated what he said with calling a white student body a failure. While he's been at WWU, the college has never used race in its admissions decisions, and he said it never will. Instead, he talked about reaching out to populations that traditionally haven't gone to college and families with parents who haven't gone to college, no matter their race.

"It's about demographics," he said. "Demographics are destiny, not ideology. What our future is going to be is what we're responding to."

MORE INFORMATION

Click on the links below for more on WWU President Bruce Shepard's comments:

-- Bruce Shepard's Jan. 28 blog post.

-- Western Today's March 18 questionnaire about WWU's future.

-- Rep. Jason Overstreet's call for Shepard's resignation.

Reach Zoe Fraley at 360-756-2803 or zoe.fraley@bellinghamherald.com.

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