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A remedy for Central State’s problems?

by Mark Fisher

DAYTON, OHIO

Some Ohio legislators want to force Central
State University to merge with another institution of higher education
despite a graduation rate for Black students that exceeds that of nearly
half of the state’s public universities.

One of the suggested merger partners is, ironically, the very
institution from which CSU split exactly fifty years ago–Wilberforce
University, one of the nation’s oldest, private, historically Black
colleges and universities (HBCUs). Wilberforce is located across the
street from CSU in southwestern Ohio. The chairman of the board of
trustees at Wilberforce has embraced the possibility of reuniting the two
schools, although Central State supporters say they’ll oppose any
attempt to strip the school of its status of a four-year, independent
university.

In response, Raymond Pierce, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the
U. S. Department of Education, wrote to Ohio governor George V.
Voinovich to inform him that talk of the merger has prompted a
resumption of an Office of Civil Rights (OCR) investigation into Ohio’s
higher education system.

In May of 1981 the OCR found Ohio to be in violation of Title VI
of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because of its segregation of Central
State University. The federal government and the state of Ohio have
had several agreements to develop a plan for Central State. However,
Pierce said in his letter, “OCR has no
reasonable expectation that the state will
provide OCR with a plan to remedy this
matter. “

The reopening of the OCR’s
discrimination complaint against the state of
Ohio over its funding and treatment of CSU
could lead to a federal lawsuit or the
withholding of federal funds from Ohio. [See
box for excerpt from letter.]
Central State is battling for its political
and financial life after the school amassed a
debt estimated by some state officials at
nearly $20 million. An interim report of an
investigation by Ohio’s Inspector General
suggested that CSU officials engaged in
“numerous instances of fraud, waste and
abuse” that could result in criminal
prosecution. Some legislators–particularly
Republicans who control both sides of Ohio’s
legislature–say the school has squandered
previous bailouts and should be either closed
or merged with another school such as
Wilberforce or Ohio State University.

CSU’s supporters say the school has been
neglected and underfunded for years by a
state government that three decades ago chose
to build another four-year state
university–Wright State University–only
eleven miles away. They say preserving the
publicly supported HBCU, which had a
winter-quarter enrollment of 1,664, is a
worthy investment.

Fred Ransier, a Columbus, Ohio, attorney
and Central State graduate who serves as
chairman of CSU’s board of trustees, says the
school has made great progress in the last
seven months in cutting costs and restoring
sound fiscal management. He and eight fellow
trustees were sworn in en masse last summer
after Gov. George V. Voinovich asked the
previous board of trustees–the majority of
whom the governor had appointed–to step
down.

Ransier said Central State still provides
the nurturing atmosphere that African
American students cannot find at other public
universities in the state. During a legislative
session, he referred to a Dayton Daily News
study which showed that CSU’s graduation
rate of Black students was about average
among state universities. That study, which
utilized state and federal enrollment and
graduation data along with National Collegiate
Athletic Association (NCAA) graduation-rate
data, showed:

* Central State graduated more Black
students between 1990 and 1994 (1,252) than
any other public university in Ohio.

* The school’s graduation rate for Black
students entering college in the late 1980s (an
average of 23 percent over the period) places
it in the middle of the pack among Ohio
public universities’ graduation rates for Black
students.

* Wright State University–the newer
and larger school eleven miles away that some
legislators had suggested as a potential merge r
partner for Central State–had the lowest
Black graduation rate (17 percent among all
state-supported universities.

Some legislators scoffed at
CSU’s reported graduation rates
saying they should be even higher if
the university is to be successful at
their mission of providing a
nurturing atmosphere Key
lawmakers began talking about
tying any future operating money
allocated to Central State to a
requirement that CSU link with
another school. The university gets
about half of its operating money
from its state subsidies.

Two Republican legislators held an
exploratory meeting with Wilberforce
University President Dr. John Henderson and
John L. Walker, a Merrill-Lynch vice
president who serves as chairman of
Wilberforce’s Board of Trustees. Walker said
he would welcome a reunification with CSU if
the state of Ohio made an adequate financial
commitment to the arrangement.

“I personally feel it would be a great
thing to he together again,” Walker said. “But
I certainly don’t want an albatross around our
necks that could pull us down.”
Wilberforce–affiliated with the A.M. E.
Church and with a fall enrollment of 897
— has operated with a balanced
budget for the last seven years and
has an endowment of between $8
million and 59 million, Walker
said.

“We run a tight ship, and we
watch every penny. ” Walker
said, adding that the merger could
“put Wilberforce University back
on top” among HBCUs.
The institution now known as
Central State originated in 1887 as
a department of Wilberforce
University, which was founded
before the Civil
War. The Ohio General Assembly expanded
the department in 1941 to provide four-year
degree programs. In 1947, it began operating
independently under the name Wilberforce
State College. It became Central State College
in 1951, and Central State University in 1965.
In recent years, the school has endured a
series of financial crises, but supporters say
its continued survival is essential.

Jeff Johnson, a state senator from Cleveland
and the president of the Ohio Legislative
Black Caucus, said he and other CSU
supporters will lead the fight to preserve the
school’s independence.
“Whatever it takes for this university.
we’ll do,” Johnson said.
Dr. George E. Ayers, the Washington
D.C.-based consultant who has headed a
management team that has operated Central
State since last July, said neither legislators
nor the inspector general has fully recognized
the university’s progress in recent months.

The university has hired a private
accounting firm to help tighten fiscal controls,
enforced stricter admissions and
student-conduct standards and trimmed the
school’s workforce by more than fifty
positions through terminations, resignations
and retirements, Ayers said. The school has
about 325 employees.

“We have bitten the bullet,” Ayers said.
Ayers, who served as president of
Chicago State University from 1982 to 1989,
has told trustees he will remain until a
permanent president is hired. Trustees hope
to hire a new president in May, though some
trustees say the uncertainty over the school’s
future has hampered recruitment of potential candidates.

RELATED ARTICLE:

The following is an excerpt from the
letter from Raymond C. Pierce, deputy
assistant secretary of the U.S. Department
of Education, to George V.
Voinovich, governor of Ohio:
I am writing to inform you that the
Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has determined
that it will be necessary to resume
immediately its investigation of Ohio’s
higher education system and, specifically
of Central State University. Over
fifteen years have passed since OCR
issued its letter, dated May 15, 1981, finding
the state to be in violation of Title VI of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.

2000d, for the unlawful racial segregation
of Central State. In all that time and to the
grave detriment of the educational
opportunities afforded Central State
students, the State has not agreed to resolve
this outstanding violation…
We are aware of the efforts being
made to stabilize the situation at Central
State this year, including the passage of
the deficit reduction legislation for
Central State. Our focus must be, however,
upon the future of Central State and we
are especially concerned by media
accounts suggesting that the state is
considering merging Central State with
another university.

OCR will resume its investigation
immediately, beginning with a request
for additional data from the State of
Ohio. OCR will then take whatever
enforcement measures are necessary,
including the possible referral of the
case back to the United States Department
of Justice or the initiation of
administrative proceedings seeking the
termination of state higher education
funds from the U.S. Department of Education…

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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