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No apologies from college head for asking how to be "not as white"

Danielle Nottingham reports on the backlash the school's president has received
College diversity questionnaire sparks controversy 02:05

A controversial questionnaire is making the rounds on a university campus north of Seattle. It comes from the school's president. He is making no apologies, despite the backlash.

Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard said, "My role as a leader is to ask questions that take people outside of their zones of comfort."

There's one uncomfortable message about WWU that its president has been giving to incoming students ever since he took office six years ago. He said at the school's opening convocation in 2012, "If in the decades ahead we are as white as we are today, we will have failed as a university."

Three-quarters of the university's students is white. And, now, the school is putting the question directly to students in a questionnaire: "How do we make sure that in future years we are not as white as we are today?"

Shepard said, "I needed to provoke attention to the changing demography of our state, and when you use words like 'white,' that does get people's attention."

Not all the attention has been positive.

Lars Larson, a conservative talk radio host, said, "I'm not surprised when liberal universities take these kind of ridiculous, bigoted, racist positions."

Campus police are providing enhanced security to Shepard after he received threats. But university students see their president's point.

WWU student Alexis Burton said, "One of the first weeks that I was here on campus, I was just walking through Red Square, and I was kind of just noticing that it felt white. Like, there were people missing."

Shepard said his university does not use race as a factor in admissions but it's still an issue that higher education must face. He said, "How do we respond to the changing character and nature of our nation, the enormous potential that's there that we have not tapped? That's really the issue we face."

Only about 20 percent of WWU's enrollment is students of color. And Shepard faces the challenge of not only increasing that percentage but increasing minority graduation rates - often lower than the rates for whites.

Matthew Chingos, a fellow in the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy, said, "So it's not just about getting people who look a certain way to show up on campus. It's serving them well once they're there and ensuring they have a successful experience."

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