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Merge black, white colleges? Plan stirs outrage

Merge black, white colleges? Plan stirs outrage
Posted By: Reggie Culpepper on December 17, 2008

ATLANTA - Public colleges created during segregation to provide blacks an education denied to them by white institutions are at the center of a budget battle brewing in Georgia.

Facing a $2 billion shortfall, a Republican state senator has proposed merging two of the historically black schools with nearby predominantly white colleges to save money and, in the process he says, erase a vestige of Jim Crow-era segregation.

"I think we should close this **** chapter in Georgia's history," Seth Harp, chairman of the state Senate's Higher Education Committee, said Tuesday.

But Harp has stirred a torrent of opposition. Critics of the plan say students who might otherwise not attend college are being educated at the schools. Black students perform better in the black-college setting, experts say, and the dropout rate among African-Americans is lower than at majority white institutions.

Critical piece of civil rights struggle
The schools also represent a critical piece of the civil rights struggle.

"We can't afford to run away from our history," said Leonard Haynes, executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges.

The schools were largely founded before 1964, mostly in the segregated South to teach African-American students. But they are open to people of all races and experts say the number of white students at the campuses has been on the rise.

Harp's proposal would merge the historically black 3,400-student Savannah State University with Armstrong Atlantic State University, a majority white school. Also, Albany State University, which has about 4,100 enrolled, would combine with nearby Darton College, which also has a predominantly white student body. The new campuses would keep the names of the older and more established black colleges.

But Harp's plan was preliminary with few details about how the mergers would work.

Any combining of public universities need Georgia Board of Regents' approval.



A Regents spokesman said the board has no plans to consider the idea and suggested it runs contrary to the goal of increasing the number of Georgians with college degrees.

"If anything, we need to be broadening access to higher education," Regents spokesman John Millsaps said.

Deep budget cuts to have impact
But Harp said deep budget cuts rippling across the state may leave the universities with little choice when trying to save some $250 million.

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue on Tuesday declined to comment specifically on his fellow Republican's plan but said the grim economic picture gripping the nation and state means public universities must look to spend efficiently.

"A lot of tradition has gone on in our traditionally black universities and colleges," Perdue said. "I think we need to respect that, and I think there are ways we can wring out efficiency in there that may not entail colleges losing their identities. So we'll continue to look."

But Harp, who is white, found an ally in Cynthia Tucker, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial page editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Tucker, who is black, wrote in a recent column that taxpayer-funded colleges "should be diverse, educating men and women of all colors and creeds."

"There is no longer good reason for public colleges that are all-white or all-black," Tucker wrote.

No state has ever dismantled a black college
There are 105 public and private historically black colleges in the U.S., most in the South, where Jim-Crow-era segregation laws were strictest — preventing some African-Americans from obtaining education.

While some private black colleges have folded over the years, no state has dismantled a public one, Haynes said.

Michael Lomax, president and chief executive officer of the United Negro College Fund, questioned why Georgia's black colleges must bear the burden of the state's budget shortfall.

"It seems like a politically charged and politically motivated move rather than a fiscally responsible one," Lomax, former commission chairman of Georgia's most populous county, said. "I am deeply concerned .... This is a proposal by a politician to address a budget shortfall without engaging academic professionals and planners."
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Chris Burley
Florida A&M University class of 2000
I venture to reason that Cynthia Tucker (AJC) never attended a black college since she's so quick to come to the conclusion that they're no longer needed. It's more than just black or white, it's history and tradition. You don't just throw that away trying to balance the budget.
Monday, December 22nd 2008 at 8:15AM
V. Haire
Senior Account Executive at Citadel Broadcasting
Colleges and Universities ended being "all" black or white decades ago. Legislation of diversity as an argument for merging these schools will never sway public opinion because we all will (or would) choose to matriculate where we want to be educated. The doors are open to anyone at any state funded institution, so make the cuts across the board and let the students decide which institution will provide them the education they want to pay for.
Monday, December 22nd 2008 at 9:43AM
Earl Smith
Prairie View A&M University class of 1994
Cynthia Tucker to my knowledge is a graduate of Auburn University. Actually, I am not really surprised that wrote the column that she did.
Monday, December 22nd 2008 at 1:42PM

I had to fight this very same issue when I chose to go to college. It's a moot agrument because no federally or state-funded institution can be ALL anything. The instituion runs the risk of losing funding if they become "all-black", "all-white", etc. The REAL issue here is about money and nothing else. It is obviously cheaper for the State of Georgia to operate one institution instead of two. Well, in the case of the article, four. It still costs the taxpayers to run these institutions, but taxpayers don't get to determine HOW the State of Georgia spends the money. If every taxpayer could get a budget sheet of the funding the State of Georgia plans to give each school, I am willing to put money on HBCU's being close to the bottom of the list. Instead of trying to merge institutions, try finding out a way to increase funding for education or giving every school at the same tier the same amount funding.
Monday, December 22nd 2008 at 8:49PM
Nelson Page
Loan Analyst at Small Business Administration
AS for Cynthia Tucker's comment. If you have never attended an HBCU institution, "you just don't understand", nor will you ever understand. Unlike predominately white universities, HBCU schools have always had and open door admission policy to anyone who wanted to attend. Its not our fault that whites chose not to attend. On the other hand UGA and GT and even Auburn University are still finding ways to keep minority enrollment to less that 3%. As quiet as it is kept, these predominately white universities do not welcome black students. In conclusion, our children need to attend schools where they are welcomed and not subject to racist professors who don't give a damm whether they graduate or not.
Tuesday, December 23rd 2008 at 9:56PM
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