Prepared at the direction of the Executive Council of the University of Chicago Student Government by Ron Dorfman
(Note: This proposal was presented to the Dean of the College of the University of Chicago on July 21, 1961. It may still be lying in his successor's desk drawer.)
The 1961 Summer Executive Council of the University of Chicago Student Government has taken upon itself the task of determining the advisability and feasibility of establishing here a long-range program of education for leadership in the American Indian community. Our interest in such a program grew out of our experience with the American Indian Chicago Conference (June 13-20, 1961) and our conversations then with Indian students and adult leaders, and with the anthropologists, social workers, and clergymen attending the conference. Since then we have conducted an extensive correspondence with individuals and organizations interested in Indian education, and the report which follows is a crystallization of the drift of this interchange.
THE PRESENT SITUATION
Of the more than 800,000 Indians now living in the United States, approximately 4,000 are enrolled in colleges, universities, and technical schools. This proportion of one-half of one percent compares unfavorably with the national figure of almost three percent.
Moreover, the schools of higher learning, so-called, to which Indian students tend to gravitate are by and large provincial, isolated state colleges and their branches and subdivisions. In those few cases where major institutions do have Indian scholarship programs, such programs are of very limited utility. The University of Michigan, for instance, in return for an 1817 gift of land to the then College of Detroit, grants a maximum of five tuition scholarships in any given year to Indians.
Worse still, most of the institutions which Indians attend seem to be unable to cope with the linguistic and cultural differences with which Indian students enter the white man's world. The very common result of this situation is either (1) failure on the part of the student to meet the requirements of the institution, or (2) the development of a "cultural schizophrenia" within the individual, his eventual "assimilation" into the white community and a virtual end to usefulness to his tribe.
Lack of funds has been a source of much difficulty for Indian students in the past. This is no longer a problem for a few tribes, since the discovery of minerals of great value on tribal lands has led to the creation of tribal scholarship funds, the most notable of these being the Navajo fund of $10,000,000. However, most tribes are still impoverished and the organizations which have in the past concerned themselves with Indian education (various Protestant churches, American Friends Service Committee, Daughters of the American [Revolution], John Hay Whitney Foundation, and several others) have not as yet been able to organize a frontal attack on Indian ignorance and illiteracy.
The problem, therefore, is acute and pressing. Congress has decided to end Federal trusteeship over tribal lands and resources. Even if Congress, at the urging of the American Indian Chicago Conference and the Kennedy Administration, should reverse that policy ("Termination") the problem remains of developing those resources in order to improve the economic status of the Indians. The Government's trusteeship has always been static in that regard.
The adage that what the people cannot do for themselves must be done by the Government here deserves a new twist. What the Government will not do must be done by the people themselves. And since what is involved here is not only the development of economic resources but also the preservation of the cultural integrity of the Indian peoples, it is only natural to assume that, if the social and economic position of the Indians is to be improved it is the Indian who will have to engineer that improvement. To accomplish this requires the recruitment of a corps of Indian leaders versed in the ways of the dominant white society but faithful to their Indian and tribal identity.
A MODEST PROPOSAL
The Southwestern Podunk State College of Animal Husbandry, and its intellectual counterparts across the nation, cannot supply the deficiency in Indian education. They are committed to taking Twentieth-century American civilization for granted; their primary purpose has been to train the hands of students, leaving their minds as pristine upon commencement as they were at matriculation. The hallmark of social success, moreover, is one's ability to enter gracefully into the Saturday-night-with-Dad's-car syndrome. Cross-cultural education can never succeed in such an environment; what is necessary is an institution cosmopolitan in character and dedicated to the investigation of the fundamental principles underlying the natural and social orders. Only in such an institution can there be real communication between representatives of differing cultures.
The University of Chicago is such an institution. It has been the chief objective of the College of the University to develop in its students some appreciation of and insight into the history, structure, values, and achievements of Western civilization. It attempts to do this by asking fundamental questions: fundamental in the sense that the same questions might be asked about Indian, Chinese, Russian or Mayan culture without any loss of relevance. American Indians coming to the University of Chicago would enter a community in which cultural and philosophical diversity are taken for granted, and in which the primary areas of concern and discussion are those which have enlisted the energies of the great minds of every civilized culture.
Nevertheless, the primary and secondary education of Indians is not generally such as would be conducive to academic success at the University of Chicago. Therefore, it would probably be wise, in embarking upon a program of Indian education, to abandon altogether the concept of "success and failure" in terms of grades received on examinations, and to substitute, at least in the initial stages of a given student's career at the University, the idea of an intellectual encounter which would be evaluated in terms of the individual's ability to understand that with which he is confronted without finding the cultural shock traumatic. Compromises and conversions (in terms of "acculturation" and "assimilation") are to be expected; they should not, however, become the object of the program.
Students would be provisionally selected, upon reference by the tribes or sympathetic organizations, on the basis of native intelligence, interests, personal recommendations, and interviews. During the summer preceding entrance to the University, they would take part in the Workshop on Indian Affairs sponsored by American Indian Development, Inc., in which they would examine the fundamental assumptions of Indian life, the history of the Indian peoples of North America, the present-day problems confronting Indians, and the understanding of the social sciences relevant to those problems.
The Directors of the Workshop, all of whom to date have been graduates of the University of Chicago, would at the conclusion of the session make recommendations to the University on the basis of which students would be selected for admission.
The students thus selected would be enrolled in the University for one year as students-at-large. Sympathetic counseling would help them to formulate a program of courses in line with their interests and their capabilities. English composition and Social Science 121-122-123 (Culture and Freedom) would very likely be two of the staples.
During this year the student would be largely an observer of the conditions under which education is given and received. He would partake of the social and intellectual life of the University community but would not be subject to the pressures and demands of time and energy made upon "ordinary" first-year students.
At the end of this year, should the student so elect, he may take the course examination and register for the following year in one or another of the University's standard degree programs, at which time he will be officially considered without special reference to his being an Indian.
Throughout his stay at the University of Chicago, the Indian student will have the benefit of the advice and counsel of many sympathetic and understanding persons, among them the staff and students of the Department of Anthropology, the personnel of the Chicago American Indian Center, and many of the thousands of American Indians now resident in Chicago.
It is estimated that such a program will cost approximately five to seven hundred thousand dollars over a period of ten years, taking into consideration increases in the cost of tuition and living, and figuring on the basis of enrolling ten new Indian students per year. In addition to the scholarship funds now available to Indians, some two-thirds of the cost of the program would have to be met and provided for in the form of gifts to the University due to the general limitations upon the amount of money available to individual Indian students; one year at the University of Chicago currently costs about $2,500, all expenses included. The program could be scaled up or down depending upon the amount of money it is able to attract to the University. Educational foundations, the Federal Government, the tribes, and private associations are the most likely sources of funds. In order to do the actual fund-raising, a committee should be formed including representatives of both the University and the Indian community.
This paper has been prepared to serve as the basis for a general discussion of higher education for Indians. It suggests one way of coping with the difficulties of cross-cultural education in the context of "the Indian problem" but at the same time it raises many questions. It makes no provision for ensuring the acceptance of the student when -- and if -- he elects to return, for leadership positions in most Indian communities are the perquisites of age and wisdom, and not of a B.A. The young man or woman impatient to do good works is likely to become frustrated if his knowledge and abilities are not accepted by the tribe.
What are the characteristics which would indicate to a selection committee that an applicant will make the effort, in the first year of such a program, to enable him to make rationally the major decision of whether or not to continue in the University? The experience of small liberal arts colleges that have worked with "gradeless" systems should be helpful here.
There are many other problems, not the least of which is financing, presented by the above proposal. It is our hope that readers of this paper will give serious consideration to our suggestion, ponder the problems involved, and contribute their ideas for inclusion in future drafts.
-- Chicago, July 21, 1961