Governor Promises to Defend Georgia’s HBCUs
ATLANTA — Gov. Roy Barnes pledged last month to dedicate state resources to fighting a lawsuit that may threaten the existence of Georgia’s three historically Black universities. “We will not allow the small-minded and the mean-spirited elements of our society to close the doors on our Black colleges,” Barnes told alumni and officials of the schools at a meeting in Atlanta. “We will not turn the clock back on educational opportunities.” The suit, filed in federal court in Savannah by Atlanta attorney Lee Parks, alleges that the state has failed to desegregate its three traditionally Black public schools — Albany State University, Fort Valley State University, and Savannah State University. It proposes merging them with predominantly White schools nearby. “All three universities are attracting great students, winning scholarships and awards, and sending their students abroad,” Barnes says. “So let me make it clear … I as your governor intend to defend the position that exists with our traditionally Black colleges and universities because they’re doing a good job.” Parks has argued that Blacks are being shortchanged because the historically Black colleges (HBCUs) don’t have anywhere near the same undergraduate or graduate programs that the state’s flagship universities offer. Velma McCray-Duncan, president of Fort Valley State’s national alumni association, says Barnes’ remarks were encouraging given that Black public universities in other states have been dismantled. John Brown, president of the Savannah State alumni group, says, “It makes me know that when we went to the polls in November, that we all did the right thing.”Barnes was elected over Republican Guy Millner last fall with the help of Black voters. Parks’ suit also alleges reverse discrimination in admission policies at the University of Georgia.
NEW YORK — After much controversy, City University of New York trustees voted last month to reform remedial education at CUNY’s 11 four-year colleges.Under the new remedial policy, students who fail one or more of the university’s placement exams in reading, writing, and math would not be allowed to enroll at CUNY’s senior colleges. “Now, if you fail one of those tests, you’ll have to get that remedial education before admission to the four-year schools — either during intersession or summer session at a four-year school or at a community college,” says Anthony Coles, a senior adviser to New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Trustees voted 10 to 5 in favor of the reforms, which will be phased in from January 2000 through September 2001, Coles says. They first voted in favor of the reforms in a 9 to 6 vote in May. But critics of the plan, who filed a lawsuit against the university, said CUNY’s board of trustees had voted illegally to ban the courses by not allowing enough people into the hearing (see Black Issues, Dec. 24, 1998). Instead of waiting for a lengthy trial, the trustees decided to hold the vote again, this time in a room large enough to hold 1,000 people, Coles said. “I congratulate [the trustees] for this courageous vote,” Giuliani says. “The trustees should take great pride for defending their belief in fairness and excellence in education. “The reform will result in a more rewarding and valuable college education, and a college degree that will be of greater value when students seek jobs after graduation,” he adds. The reforms were proposed because more than 60 percent of students in the system’s four-year colleges failed at least one of the reading or writing or math tests to determine basic skills assessments for incoming freshmen, Coles says. Several politicians, including Giuliani, had long pushed to eliminate remediation at the four-year schools in what they said was an effort to raise standards. CUNY has a student body of about 202,000. About two-thirds are members of minority groups and about half are non-native English speakers.
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — State officials will again monitor the nursing program at Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) after students posted low passing rates on state exams.Ninety of 121 students at Winston-Salem State who took the test last year passed, giving the school a passing rate of 74 percent. That is the lowest rating among the nine schools in the University of North Carolina (UNC) system that offer bachelor’s degrees in nursing.It is also the lowest rating for the school since 1990, when the state threatened to close the program because of poor performance and low enrollment. That year, 14 of 20 students — or 70 percent — passed the competency exam used to license nurses in the state.The system typically monitors and offers advice to programs with passing rates lower than 85 percent, says Donna Benson, an associate vice president of academic affairs for the UNC system, which has recommended that the school reduce the number of students admitted to the program.Dr. Lee Hampton, the vice chancellor for university advancement and a spokesman for the university, says school administrators already had reduced enrollment to 188 students at the beginning of this academic year. Last year’s enrollment of 294 students was the largest in the school’s history and almost three times the 1990 enrollment. The increase was spurred by a need for nurses at Baptist Hospital and Forsyth Memorial Hospital, Hampton and Benson say.WSSU will consider adding faculty before it increases its enrollment again, Hampton says.
PRAIRIE VIEW, Texas — The president of Prairie View A&M says his school’s dispute with others in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) has been resolved and the sanctions stemming from the band’s fight with Southern University’s band have been satisfied. “We need to get on with the primary business of educating people,” says Prairie View’s president, Dr. Charles A. Hines. “There is an absolute need for a measure of closure to this.” The comments were Hines’ first about the controversy since the September brawl between the Prairie View A&M and Southern University bands at halftime of a game played at Lamar University in Beaumont (see Black Issues, Oct. 15, Oct. 29, Dec. 24, 1998; Jan. 7, 1999).SWAC commissioner Rudy Washington suspended both bands for two games, but Prairie View’s band sat out only half the suspension before performing in the Cotton Bowl during a game against Grambling State University. Hines says he does not regret any of his decisions since the band fight, including allowing the band to play at the Grambling game. Because of contract obligations, he says, Prairie View could have faced an $80,000 penalty and possible lawsuits from vendors had the band not performed. In December, the conference’s council of presidents approved fining Prairie View $31,000 for violating the suspension and ordered the school to take “appropriate action” to show its commitment to “the values and ideals” of the SWAC.Prairie View has paid the $31,000 fine.
PITTSBURGH — The University of Pittsburgh is putting its money where its goals are. School deans must boost graduation rates of minority students or risk losing a portion of their budget. Trustees last month approved a program where the deans of the university’s schools must develop plans to make graduation rates and grade-point averages of Black, Hispanic, and Asian students more nearly equal to the achievements of White students. If minority graduate rates and grade averages don’t improve, the deans could lose money for their schools.Pitt’s graduation program may be the most concrete effort in the country to boost minority graduation rates, Provost James Maher says. “If you look at the young people of this country, they are very diverse,” Maher says. “The educational system has to educate that diverse workforce of the future. I see this as a major national challenge. We can’t afford to fail to educate them.” The deans’ plans are due March 1 and must include an assessment of what minority graduation rates are in their schools, as well as a plan to improve them. At Pitt’s main campus in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood, the most recent figures indicate that 63 percent of White students graduate in six years, compared with 43 percent of Black students, 60 percent of Asian students, and 53 percent of Hispanic students. The national graduation rate for Black students is 40 percent. Of 25,000 students enrolled at Pitt’s main campus, 8 percent are Black. Maher says he’d like to see minority graduation rates equal that of White students within six years. He acknowledges that goal may be over-reaching, but says it gives the schools something to shoot for. “It’s aggressive and I think even more important than being aggressive is it’s concrete. Once your goal is concrete, you can create benchmarks along the way to assess whether you are getting there,” Maher says.
LEXINGTON, Ky. — The University of Louisville (UL) isn’t meeting state-assigned objectives for enrolling, retaining, and graduating Black students from Kentucky. A report to the Council on Postsecondary Education indicates the university showed progress in 1997-98 on only four of eight state measures of success in educating and employing Blacks. The university must convince a state committee it is making good-faith efforts to reach the goals, or it will not be able to request new degree programs in 1999. Any university that meets fewer than six of the measures must request a waiver to ask for new programs. Western Kentucky University and Northern Kentucky University also must obtain waivers to get new degree programs. Both made progress on only four of the eight measures. Universities that meet five of the eight goals can get waivers at their trustees’ request. Schools that meet fewer goals also must appeal to the council’s Committee on Equal Opportunities. Ralph Fitzpatrick, who advises UL President John Shumaker on minority affairs, told the council the university had “always considered ourselves to be at the forefront of this movement” for recruiting and retaining Blacks. However, the university has fallen short of state standards in that area for two consecutive years. Fitzpatrick says the institution will ask for a waiver partly based on its increase in Black enrollment as a percentage of total undergraduate enrollment. UL’s count of Black undergraduates decreased by 16. But because overall enrollment shrank, the percentage reached 16.2, up two-tenths of a percentage point from the previous year.Fitzpatrick says the university probably sacrificed some Black enrollment because it transferred remedial education to Jefferson Community College. And he said UL faces stiff competition from other Kentucky schools for Louisville’s Black high school graduates. “We’ve got every institution in the state of Kentucky at our back door recruiting,” he says. In the 17 years since the Kentucky higher-education system began holding schools accountable for their success in attracting Black students and employees, no school that has asked for a waiver has been denied it. Under somewhat relaxed standards approved in July 1997, a university can meet the standard for enrolling Black undergraduates from the state if its numbers increase by as few as one student from year to year. However, that standard remains in force only if the enrollment of Black Kentuckians at all the schools remains collectively at 7.3 percent of their total enrollment or higher — a figure matching the percentage of Blacks in the state’s population. Community colleges are evaluated on only four standards. The council was told that five of the 14 state community colleges must seek waivers if they desire degree-program approval. Four other community colleges are ineligible for new programs because no school can obtain waivers for two years in a row if it sought a new program in the first of those years.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — A former basketball coach who sued Spartanburg Methodist College (SMC) over his team’s racial makeup has been inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame as part of a settlement. Scott Rigot was head coach from 1990-96 and compiled a 158-35 record, the highest winning percentage of any coach in the school’s history. But despite the success, the private junior college fired Rigot in June 1996. Rigot, who is White, argued in his federal lawsuit that SMC fired him because he opposed a new school policy that required him to recruit White basketball players for his all-Black team. College officials denied the allegations, saying Rigot was fired because he did not recruit enough and spent too much time in his office. In the spring of 1996, the school adopted an objective to recruit with a diversity makeup that represented the overall student body. SMC is a two-year college with about 1,600 students — most of them White. Rigot, now an assistant coach at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, sued SMC’s president, Dr. George D. Fields; vice president for advancement, Dr. C. Sterling Case; and vice president for academic affairs, Dr. John W. Anderson. Fields and Anderson have since left the school. In his suit, Rigot said the college president and vice president called the basketball team “too Black” and came up with a policy change that required him to recruit and sign more White players regardless of ability. According to the suit, the policy required Rigot to recruit players based solely on race to keep a quota of 60 percent White players. Rigot sued for compensatory damages, back pay with interest, lost benefits, front pay, attorney’s fees and costs, and other actual damages. Complete terms of the settlement have not been disclosed.In announcing the Hall of Fame induction, the college’s new president, Dr. Charles P. Teague, praised Rigot for his accomplishments at SMC and wished him future coaching success. “The school offered to put Scott into its Hall of Fame, something Scott richly deserves,” Duncan says. “The school had discussed it with Scott before implementing its new racial policy because they knew they couldn’t keep Scott forever and wanted to honor him.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Students at historically Black Tennessee State University (TSU) are trying to organize a local chapter of a mostly White fraternity.Sigma Pi would be the first predominantly White fraternity at TSU, where 16.4 percent of undergraduates are White.The school is striving for an equal balance of Black and White students by the year 2000, and school officials say the addition of a predominantly White social group could bring that goal within reach.“Though some worry that TSU’s identity as a historically Black college may be compromised, fraternities like Sigma Pi may help TSU recruit and retain more White students,” Sara E. Curp, director of minority student affairs, told The Tennessean.That’s not the driving issue for the 25 students — seven of them Black — interested in starting up a chapter of the national fraternity.Eric Parker, a White TSU freshman, said he and his friends decided in August to start a fraternity that anyone could join.“I don’t want to change TSU,” Parker said. “But I want every student to have the opportunity to join a historically Black or historically White fraternity and pick which one is best for them.”The group will need about 50 members with 2.5 grade-point averages to gain a charter next year.
WILBERFORCE, Ohio — The dream of a college education for several dozen Central State University students who couldn’t pay their bills remains alive after churches and civic groups pulled out their checkbooks. “It just clearly indicated that there is a tremendous reservoir of good will in the state of Ohio for Central State University,” Dr. Tedd Miller, the school’s vice president for enrollment management, says. Central State, Ohio’s only public historically Black university, recently emerged from years of financial troubles. The state took over its finances in 1997, and a new school administration was later installed. Last fall, university officials said more than 50 of the school’s 975 students would have to leave because they had failed to pay their tuition and room and board. Many of the affected students were juniors and seniors (see Black Issues, Dec. 24, 1998). Then Rev. Earl Harris, senior pastor of Greater Allen AME Church in Dayton spearheaded a drive to raise money to keep the students in school, appealing to churches, civic groups, businesses and others. Officials at the school 15 miles east of Dayton had said it would take about $111,000 to pay off the students’ bills. A donor, who wants to remain anonymous, offered to match every dollar raised, reaching the fund raisers’ goal of about $55,000. However, Miller said some of the students did not return for winter quarter and others were able to come up with their own funding. The rest used the money from the fund-raising campaign as it came in, he said.The campaign ended last month, with Harris presenting Central State President John Garland a check for $6,000 before Harris’ congregation to bring the total raised to nearly $48,000. Miller said that all of the affected students are currently paid in full and that the matching funds and any additional money will be placed in an emergency student aid fund for future use. “There are always going to be students who for financial reasons are going to come up short,” he said.
JERUSALEM — Presidents of five historically Black American universities toured Israel last month to meet with Israeli educators and examine political and social issues in the country.The president of Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C., Dr. Dorothy Yancy, says she was exploring the possibility of setting up an exchange program during the eight-day tour.William Gray, president of the United Negro College Fund, a tour sponsor, said the organization backs exchange programs because students entering the next century “must be totally familiar with the world.”The presidents spent a day in Israel’s southern desert city of Beersheba, visiting Ben Gurion University. And, they visited Tel Hai College, near the Lebanon border.They also met with former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to achieve peace with the Palestinians.
JACKSON, Miss. — More underrepresented students of color are studying science and technology at Mississippi colleges and universities.The Mississippi Alliance for Minority Participation revealed its findings for legislators last month. The seven-year-old minority participation program has received $7 million from the National Science Foundation.When the state’s program began in 1991, there were 288 minority students majoring in science and technology fields at Mississippi’s eight colleges and universities. The number has more than doubled with 581 participating in 1998.Graduates have landed high-tech jobs as chemists, lab technicians, and computer scientists, said Bettye Ward Fletcher, vice president for research and development at Jackson State University.Educators are still urging the legislature, Congress, and private foundations to invest more money in a wide range of campus research projects.Campus research is a good investment, lawmakers say. “Not only will the universities help themselves, they help the state of Mississippi,” Rep. Ferr Smith (D-Carthage) says.
BERKELEY, Calif. — While most schools in the University of California system saw an increase in minority in-state applicants for the fall semester, UC-Berkeley watched its numbers plummet.UC-Berkeley had noticeable decreases among Black, Chicano, American Indian, and Latino applicants, the biggest drop among all eight UC schools.“The numbers leave us unequivocally dissatisfied,” the university’s vice chancellor, Dr. Genaro Padilla, says.The UC system recorded a 2.6 percent decrease in applicants from American Indians living in California, the only overall, systemwide decrease among minority students.UC-Berkeley officials said they were discouraged by the low number of applications from “underrepresented minorities,” although Admissions Director Bob Baird said there was no set figure on what would be an acceptable number.In 1995, UC regents voted to drop affirmative action, a change that took effect for undergraduates this past fall.
New York — Nigerian-born writer Wole Soyinka has been named the first Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence by New York University’s Africana studies program and the Institute of African-American Affairs. In 1986, Soyinka became the first African to receive the Nobel Prize in literature. The appointment will bring Soyinka to the university for lectures on democracy in the arts in Africa during February.Soyinka is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of the Arts at Emory University. His work examines the cultural and political climate of Nigeria, especially the tensions between traditional Nigerian life and Western colonial influences.The newly established Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence Program will bring to NYU African and African-American scholars of international reputation and importance.
BATON ROUGE, La. — Florence Robinson, a Southern University honors biology professor who organized the fight against the pollution of Devil’s Swamp, will get a share of the $250,000 that accompanies the 1998 Heinz Award for the Environment.Robinson, alerted that the swamp she had explored for a college project had become a hazardous waste dump, formed the North Baton Rouge Environmental Association to make state officials aware that chemicals in the swamp were making children and livestock ill. Eventually, she was named to the National Commission on Superfund. Saying that she was flabbergasted when she learned in November that she had won a share of the environmental award, Robinson adds, “I didn’t even know I was being considered.” She says she plans to use some of the money for scholarships at Southern. She also plans to give money to environmental groups such as the Louisiana Environmental Action Network and the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice — “environmental organizations that I know are working to make a difference, that have already made a difference.” Robinson will share her award money with Lois Marie Gibbs of Niagara Falls, N.Y., the housewife who has led the fight to clean up Love Canal.
Houston — Texas Southern University’s board of regents, in a Feb. 5th meeting, dismissed James M. Douglas as president of the historically Black university. The regents voted to oust Douglas only seven months after they extended his contract for two years.Dr. Priscilla Dean Slade, who was dean of the Texas Southern business school, was appointed acting president. “The board did not feel that [Douglas’] progress at the school was moving fast enough. We felt that a bold move was needed to move the university forward,” said Willard L. Jackson, the board’s chair, in a news release.Five of the six attending regents voted for the dismissal, a move that reportedly came as a surprise to Douglas. In addition to the ouster, the regents placed Douglas on leave without pay from university employment. They also stipulated that in the fall, he may return to the Texas Southern law school where he was a tenured professor.Dissenting regent Enos M. Cabell said that he wanted “the record to show that I was totally blindsided and do not agree with this move.” Three regents were not present at the Feb. 5 meeting.
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