Minority Centers of Excellence
Minority Centers of Excellence
Jun 07, 2021

Before starting the online tutoring business 24HourAnswers.com, where college students are given expert homework help, I had several jobs in academia, either in teaching at the college level or in scientific research. One of the research positions was at City College of New York (CCNY) in a laser spectroscopy laboratory designated by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as a "Minority Center of Excellence." As a scientific branch of Affirmative Action, the program gave the NSF an opportunity to provide minority faculty with funding to conduct research in science without those faculty having to compete against the many talented and deserving researchers who fight annually for a share of the NSF's precious budget. The money flowed into this particular center, year after year, with little oversight or scrutiny.


There were two things about this facility that were true with certainty; the first was that the director was a minority, along with some of the staff; the second was that there was nothing excellent about the work being done there - and I had become a pretty good judge by that time. I had spent the previous six years at NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering in Brooklyn working on a Ph.D. under the guidance of some very bright people - two of my committee members were from MIT, a third was from Harvard. While I clearly didn't belong in such esteemed company, I did develop the ability to recognize high-quality scientific research being performed by others, and I can assure you that no such work was being done at the Minority Center of Excellence at CCNY.


It was clear that the director knew not what to do with the money being given to him each year, which I estimated to be between one-half million to one million dollars, an estimate based on the price tags of the equipment being purchased and the salaries he was paying. The money, however, had to be spent, so each year after the windfall was delivered, he would go shopping for expensive, exotic equipment that would consume the NSF's contributions with ease. As an example, one such purchase was an FT Raman spectrometer designed and built by a Canadian company - after its arrival and installation, no one in the lab knew what to do with it, as it had been purchased with no clear objectives in mind.


The sad thing about such a Minority Center of Excellence is that the money being thrown away each year in this facility could have been given to talented researchers who might have done some wonderful and important things with the money. Instead, the NSF chose to use the money for a program designed to make people feel good in a senseless and superficial way, targeting individuals based on race and skin color.


There may have been other Minority Centers of Excellence that were worthy of the money being given to them by the NSF, and perhaps the one I was in was the exception that proves the rule.  But the CCNY center was the only one I had intimate knowledge of, and it remains a sad thought that in the hopes of doing some good for minorities, this center operated in such an inept and unworthy manner.  Blame for this shameful waste of funding lies squarely on the NSF.

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