An open letter – Black colleges - Higher Education


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An open letter – Black colleges

by Alvin O. Chambliss, Jr.

This is excerpted from an open letter sent by Alvin Chambliss Jr.,
Esquire, of Texas Southern University, to Dr. Elias Blake Jr.,
executive director, Benjamin E. Mays Institute, concerning historically
Black colleges and universities.

Chambliss is the lead attorney in Ayers v. Fordice, a twenty-year
old case which argues that the state of Mississippi has an affirmative
obligation to eradicate all traces of segregation in its public higher
education system. Blake is a consultant to the plaintiffs in the same
case.,

NAFEO is the membership organization of all historically and predominantly Black colleges and universities.

Dear Dr. Blake:

After talking to you for a long period of time about the critical
situation public Black colleges find themselves in, I am compelled to
write you an open letter that can and should be shared with the world.

I will not mince words because to do so, I would be betraying the
trust of our young college students who I represent. Moreover, the
situation is critical and we have very few people who are willing to
put anything on the line. You and I have caught hell from our families
who allowed us to work in the struggle for free while Ph.D. personnel
walked around worrying not about their next meal, but rather, rank and
tenure, salaries and foreign travel. Good people like Dr. Arthur E.
Thomas, formerly of Central State, are chewed up and kicked to the curb
while NAFEO (the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher
Education) and its leadership looks on. I am not sure whether anything
positive can be done … but we must study this situation so that it
cannot be replicated elsewhere. Colleges and universities must operate
in the interest of students — or, stated another way, without students
they would cease to exist.

During April, 1992, the Mississippi congressional delegation asked, what do you people want?

As you know, the issue of public vs. private Black colleges caused
many members on Capitol Hill to question whether we really knew what we
wanted.

Deja vu.

It is now April 11, 1997, five years later and the issue has not
been resolved. This is criminal and Black students need to know that
their leaders are not taking care of business. This is apparent when
one looks at public Black colleges’ long term goals and/or strategies.

Financial aid and accreditation are areas where the leadership at HBCUs are denied basic respect.

Actions taken by the Criteria and Reports Committee of the
Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and
Schools during its annual meeting held in Atlanta, Georgia, December
10-13, 1995 are instructive:

Warning

1. Alabama A&M University, Huntsville, Alabama 2. Grambling
State University, Ruston, Louisiana 3. Denmark Technical College,
Denmark, South Carolina 4. Livingston College, Salisbury, North
Carolina 5. St. Paul’s College, Lawrenceville, Virginia

Probation

1. Knoxville College, Knoxville, Tennessee 2. Barber-Scotia College, Concord, North Carolina

Dropped Institution from Membership

1. Texas College, Tyler, Texas 2. Selma University, Selma, Alabama

Colleges removed from probation and had their accreditation reaffirmed.

1. Edward Waters College, Jacksonville, Florida 2. Allen University, Columbia, South Carolina

We know what the problems are, but we fail to respond appropriately
or take long range action to combat anticipated actions. This is
telling in the area of financial aid where all of the rules of the game
favor large white institutions.

We cannot continue to seek waivers and/or exemptions when, if we
change the rules, we would achieve exemplary status. We must become
more proactive.

A student enters Harvard University with a 4.0 GPA and a 36 on the
ACT. Another from the Mississippi Delta enters Mississippi Valley State
University with a 2.8 GPA and a 15 on the ACT. Through hard work and
going to school year round, the Mississippi Valley student finishes
college in five years and passes the NTE on his or her first try as
does the Harvard student who took off several semesters to travel in
Europe. They both receive a Ph.D. during the decade.

Dr. Blake, I don’t care what the experts say, in terms of
achievement progression, the Mississippi Valley State student is better
than the Harvard student and the faculty at Mississippi Valley did a
better job of teaching than the Harvard faculty. This kind of
experience cries out for promotion at public and private Black
colleges. Until and unless we believe in our students and faculty we
have lost the game before it officially starts.

The issue of higher education desegregation for public Black
colleges is, as Justice Scalia stated: “What I do predict is a number
of years of litigation-driven confusion and destabilization in the
university systems of all the formerly de jure [segregated] states that
will benefit neither. nor whites, neither predominantly Black
institutions nor predominantly white ones.” Ayers v. Fordice 60
U.S.L.W. 4781 (1992).

Formerly de jure states are: Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, North
Carolina, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, West Virginia, Florida,
Kentucky, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia. Ohio did not
submit a Plan of Compliance and Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and
Tennessee are involved in litigation. According to the OCR regulation
“an examination must be made of a “wide range of factors to determine
whether [a] State has perpetuated its formerly de jure segregation in
any facet of its institutional system.”

It is clear to me that NAFEO and its members in the public sector
do not understand the legal implications of the Ayers v. Fordice
decision. The stay-the-course line argued by both private and public
colleges is an ill-advised strategy and it clearly pulls the rug from
under all Title VI efforts.

Please, please Dr. Blake tell them that history is going to judge
them harshly if they allow students at public Black colleges to be sold
out.

There are Black agents going to state legislators asking to be
included in desegregation funds earmarked for public Black colleges to
be diverted to private Black colleges. Just like Howard University’s
House Budget Mark-up for FY 1997, “Increase Funding for Historically
Black Colleges by Eliminating the Earmark for Howard University.” The
Ohio legislature is pushing to eliminate Central State University by
combining it with Wilberforce.

Can you imagine Black people asking white people to close another
Black college and/or allowing their names to be used in a closure?
Where is the outrage … the moral fiber that says, I cannot take blood
money! Public Black colleges allowed themselves to be used in 1992 by
forces who we all knew to be a “clear and present danger” to students.

As Congressman Bennie G. Thompson stated: “The Republican
leadership is once again trying to use `divide and conquer’ tactics to
force struggling HBCUs to fight each other for federal funding.”

The goal must be more and better desegregation achieved by a fair
means. Any strategy must address Black colleges achieving Research II
and I status and anything that hinders this goal is anti-Black college
and must be dealt with accordingly. If this is done it would mean more
funding for all. The stay-the-course strategy and not confronting the
issues will, in the end, lead to chaos.

Sincerely yours, Alvin O. Chambliss Jr.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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