Monthly Archives: September 2008

An Inspiration For Us All

By Elwood Watson

 

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a good friend of mine about the acceptance speech that Barack Obama delivered in Denver. We both watched the speech at different locations and commented on how Obama’s was so inspiring, emotive, sincere and downright “on the money in his message!

 

I am a generation X Black professional and he is a Generation Y professional. We are both college professors. According to those who examine birth groups, generation X encompasses those of us who were born between 1965 to 1977. Generation Y accounts for those of who were born between 1978 to 1992. At 29 years and 41 years old respectively, we are both on the upper end of our generations.

This fact aside, we both had a very emotional conversation (a positive one) on what we had witnessed. Both of us were overjoyed at the fact that an attractive, intelligent, community-conscious Black man had secured the Democratic Party nomination for president of the United States of America. Despite the fact that we both believed that we would probably see a Black person nominated for president, we thought that we would be much older when such an event would happen.  The fact that it happened while we are relatively young people was even more gratifying.

            Needless to say, such glee transformed itself across generational lines. My older siblings, all baby boomers, were elated at the prospect of a Black president. I saw a number of television programs were Black people of all ages from 15 to 92 were being  interviewed, some with tears running down their faces, many expressing their undiluted joy that something that they thought would never happen in their lifetimes. In fact, one of the most unprecedented and inspiring moments I witnessed at the Democratic Convention was when I saw Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi officially state “I declare Senator Barack Obama of Illinois the Democratic nominee for president of the United States.” Upon hearing this, several Black delegates, mostly elderly ones, but of varied ages broke into tears. So did I.

            While the fact that a Black man has received the endorsement of a major party, there are still some Black Americans ranging from talk show hosts, to professors, to maintenance workers to retired people who are concerned (not without total rationales) as to whether an Obama presidency will actually be a double edge sword for the Black community. Many of the individuals casted their ballots for Obama with the hope that his presidency would help bridge the nation’s racial divide are also concerned that his victory will prompt many White Americans (and perhaps some Blacks) to adopt a “well, we a have a Black man as president, we have obviously overcome” sort of mindset. This conversation is of real concern from barber and beauty shops to soul food restaurants and from academic conferences to houses of worship. The fear for some is that the problems of the Black poor and underclass will be relegated “to the wilderness” so to speak.   

            While it is clear that an Obama presidency will not change the problems that are facing a large segment of the Black community overnight, or a period of time for that matter, I am more optimistic about the fact that a biracial man who has risen from humble beginnings, was temporarily the product of a single mother who had to sporadically apply for food stamps, was largely raised by his White grandparents, decided to forego a lucrative law firm position, but rather immersed himself into the grunting and largely thankless, tedious, and at times stress-filled  job of a being a community organizer will certainly remind, indeed demand, that White America as well as Americans of all races be attuned to the fact that the problems of Black, White, Latino, poor and the economically disadvantaged of all races are real and will not be forsaken. Perhaps that is the optimist in me, but it is exactly the sort of optimistic spirit in many Black Americans that inspired a large number of us to cast our primary ballots for him. I have no doubt that the majority of us will do the same this coming November. Whether he wins or loses the presidency, there is no doubt that Barack Obama is a Black person who can serve as an inspiration for us all.         

Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board  (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)

 

 

 

 

 

 

              

           

 

 

 

 

New Football Program Presents Golden Opportunity for Lincoln University

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

With the start of the new academic year, Lincoln University has made some big changes to its campus. The nation’s oldest Black college resurrected its football team and created a marching band. The institution and its president Ivory V. Nelson hope that theses changes will attract more students to the suburban Pennsylvania campus. Previously, many students headed home on the weekends, dampening the campus spirit and making it difficult for Lincoln University admissions staff to convince potential students that campus life was vibrant and engaging. With the addition of the football team and marching band, students are excited and enthusiastic about the University and the campus is buzzing on the weekends!

Supporting a football team and marching band is expensive and could draw funds from other parts of the institution. However, if marketed and implemented successfully, Lincoln could draw increased tuition dollars and alumni support. In order to acquire alumni support, the institution will need to communicate with its alumni, making sure that they understand the financial toll that a football program can take on a small institution and also how important alumni are to the success of a university. Lincoln must communicate the need for alumni support of scholarships and academic programs as well as the new football team.

Lincoln will also want to make sure that it builds its reputation on its academic programs, even when the attention is focused on its football program. For example, The New York Times recently published an article lauding Lincoln’s new football program and marching band, but have they examined the institution’s academics in an article. In addition, monies from the football program should be funneled to other areas of the university to ensure the success of the entire institution.

Many other institutions of higher education have added football and reaped the benefits – let’s hope that Lincoln University joins these ranks.

An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions (SUNY Press, 2008).

The NCLBification of Higher Education

By Emery Petchauer

One of the most significant yet subtle ways that the No Child Left Behind Act has affected higher education is by shaping the requirements for students intending to become teachers. In this way, although NCLB is a federal act directed at K-12 education, its effects have traveled up the educational ladder into higher education.

Here is how it works:

In order for teacher education programs to be accredited by states or bodies such as National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, programs must graduate Highly Qualified Teachers (HQT), which is a central aspect of NCLB. Generally, being highly qualified means completing an accredited teacher education program and passing certification tests (e.g. Praxis I, Praxis II in most states) — all in the discipline one plans to teach. While these are not new ideas, what is new is requiring students to pass the first part of a certification exam (again, often Praxis I) before allowing them to declare education as a major or take upper division classes. Making students pass the first part of a certification exam helps ensure that graduates will be highly qualified; it is a gatekeeper that disallows students from matriculating through their programs and getting to senior year with little chance of graduating as highly qualified. To state this process more simply, in many states such as Pennsylvania, students must now test into teacher education programs.

These policies and implications do not have significant effects on large universities with significant numbers of students planning to become teachers. In fact, it is likely that the policies go undetected by most faculty members. Students who cannot pass the tests for a variety of reasons (e.g., deficient high school educations, have not mastered dominant culture standardized testing norms) often change majors or transfer to institutions that can offer them more support to pass exams. At many large institutions, enough students are able to pass the exams on their own, so programs maintain a critical mass of students graduating as HQT to support their accreditation.

However, the policies and implications have significant effects on smaller institutions, particularly those that serve students who have been underserved by their secondary schools and have been on the lower end of the high school achievement (or opportunity) gap. In essence, these students have a short amount of time (about three semesters) to develop the dominant culture norms and skills of standardized tests and fill any gaps in reading, writing or math so that they can pass the entrance exam, declare their majors and take upper level classes. As one can imagine, this situation can create incredible amounts of stress for students, which further inhibits optimum performance.

Overall, this system — or what I call the NLCBification of higher education — creates more barriers for working class and ethnic minority students to enter the teaching profession.

Dr. Emery Petchauer is an assistant professor of education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania; his current

research includes teacher preparation for ethnic minority students particularly at HBCUs and how involvement in hip-hop implicates students’ educational approaches, experiences, and lives.

Affirmative Action is Still Relevant and Needed

           

 

By Elwood Watson

       A few weeks ago, the anti-affirmative action ballot measure in Arizona that was supported by Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Black conservative opportunist and hypocrite Ward Connerly failed to garner enough support to be placed on the ballot. Earlier this year, a similar referendum in Oklahoma faced a similar fate. I must admit that I was surprised, yet, gratified to see voters of the traditionally conservative states reject these disingenuous initiatives that were put forth by Connerly and his merry little band of dishonest distorters. 

         After all, there have been more than a few individuals in the Republican Party who have opposition to affirmative action, an unwritten plank of the GOP platform. What is often interesting is the fact many Republicans and others who oppose affirmative action argue is that what they want is a color-blind society. My response to this is that many of us across racial lines would like to see our nation and the world at large evolve into such a force; however, the sad reality is that we do not live in a society that resembles such a racial utopia by any standard of the imagination. While it is true that affirmative action has been instrumental in integrating many previous segregated institutions, White people have very little to be alarmed about in regards to such a policy.

In fact, many businesses and corporations have avidly adopted such inclusionary measures, realizing such a practice that makes good business sense. This was evident when many of these institutions banned together to rally in support for affirmative action which was partly upheld by the Supreme Court. Moreover, it should be well known by now that the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action are White professional women.

        Because Blacks, non-European Latinos and many women, for the most part, have not achieved relative parity with White males, the rationale for such a program still exists. In addition, affirmative action should not be seen as an entity that rewards subpar and incompetent minorities. The vast majority of Blacks who have benefitted from affirmative action are qualified individuals who are fully competent to hold the positions they hold. This is not to say that there have not been some bad apples that were not quite ripe enough; however, they were certainly outnumbered by the juicy ones bursting with flavor. Think of all the White males who were are, in some cases, incompetent in their positions but nonetheless routinely received jobs (and in some cases promotions) due to the fact that they were part of the “good ol’boy” network and had the correct plumbing. Veteran status, children of legacies, geographical location are all forms of affirmative action as well.  

As a historian, I can attest to the fact that Whites have had ample opportunities due to affirmative action. The GI Bill is a classic case in point. This bill signed into law by the U.S. Congress after World War II made it possible for millions of White American men (and a number of Black men including my father ) of modest backgrounds to attend college and become part of the American mainstream.  This program produced an entire new generation of middle- and upper-class families. Men who grew up on farms or economically depressed urban areas in Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, Delaware and so on were afforded the opportunity to attend colleges and universities that many would probably not have been able to attend and earned their Ph.D.’s, JD’s. MBA’s and MD’s. This was the most glaring example of affirmative action in this nation’s history. Ira Katznelson’s book When Affirmative Action Was White provides a fascinating, much understudied history of this topic.  

         White men comprise about 40 percent of the American population, yet they represent 85 percent of tenured college faculty positions, 86 percent of partners in law firms, 90 percent of mainstream news media personalities and 96 percent of CEO’s. Such percentages have not happened without accident. Such a situation reminds me of the response that the late former first lady Claudia (Lady Bird) Johnson gave to reporters when a number of them inquired as to why her husband President Lyndon Johnson had a disproportionate number of non-Ivy League graduates in his cabinet and White House who held influential posts as opposed to the traditional Ivy-League graduates who often occupied and dominated such positions. To paraphrase Ms. Johnson, she said ‘because Lyndon and I refuse to believe that God gave out brains that unevenly.’ They were both correct. The same analogy applies to White men.

There are a sizable number of people (including some Black people) who argue that we need to refocus affirmative action in terms of class as opposed to race. While this idea is one that should be included to expand the policy, the fact is that the majority of discrimination that takes place in American society is racially based. Without affirmative action many institutions would not have desegregated and without consistent pressure would very well – no matter how politely or in no uncertain terms—close their doors to minorities and, in some cases, women.

The fact is that while we may be on the verge of electing our first Black president, the more pressing reality is that while America is a colorful society, it is far from being a color-blind society. As long as people continue to deny an individual access to something due to his or her race, gender or, in some cases, religion, then affirmative action will be a necessity. 

                       

 

Elwood Watson, Ph.D. is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board  (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)

Stay The Course Or Change Directions Is The Question

By James Ewers

As Election Day approaches, we must decide whether characteristics will trump the issues of the day.  This conundrum makes for a slippery slope for some of us. Those of us that are voting age have participated in some local, state and national elections where we did not always vote for the “conventional” or for the “favored” candidate.  The same goes for some pieces of legislation.  In order for change to occur, our country’s lawmakers had to think outside of the box and in addition listen to their constituents. Title IX for women and the Voting Rights Act are just a few of the laws that were created simply because America believed that it could do better and be better.  The song does cry out, “my country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty.”  Our nation’s history is filled with stories of courageous people and periods where change happened.  But of course there were people who stepped in the path of progress only to see their efforts to “stay the course” swept away in the movement of change.  Imagine for a moment that there was no Title IX.  Michele Wie, the golfer, would not have had an opportunity to compete.  Where would tennis be without the Venus and Serena Williams?  Dara Torres, the swimmer, would not have been able to compete in 5 Olympics.  Obviously there are endless examples of what can happen when you change the landscape and give people hope.  So this is what happens when you take flight on the wings of change.  The irony of change is even those who are ardently against change benefit from it.

Now in just about six weeks Americans will exercise their time-honored privilege of voting for the next president and vice president of the United States of America.  Recently, I participated in some voter registration efforts and we are indeed fortunate to live in a country where our votes actually count.  Even for the registered naysayers, they must also cast their ballots.  For the first time that I can recall, you have gender, race and age all playing out in this election.  Both major political parties are waging fierce campaigns to capture the vote.  We have seen both political conventions and watched as each candidate received a “bump” in the polls.  I have always wondered about these polls.  One day Sen.Obama is leading, and the next day he is not.  Have you ever mused about who is making these calls and who are they calling?  Have you ever been called by any polling organization?  I know that I haven’t.  I continue to sit by the telephone but I can’t get a call.  This election is absolutely about “firsts.”  Obama has the chance to become the first African American president.  Sarah Palin has the chance to become the first female vice president and John McCain has the chance to become the nation’s oldest sitting president.  These are all dynamics that will weigh mightily on the American voters.  Some will argue that a percentage of Americans will vote for Obama because he is African American, the McCain-Palin ticket because Palin is a women and McCain is a decorated war veteran.  While to some degree this is true let’s hope that the issues outweigh the characteristics of the candidates.

We know what the issues are in this important election.  Pretending that the country is in good shape only makes your imagination run wild as it just isn’t so!  Just a few days ago our government had to bail out AIG, the insurance company.  Whether you read the newspapers or watch television, you can see that America is at a cross roads and at a defining moment in its history.  To a certain extent, we are all stubborn and have a bit of pride when it comes to change as it is far simpler to keep things just the way they are.  The telling question is will the realities of the day or the pride of yesterday take over when we are in the voting booth.  Change for some is just too difficult.  They would rather stay on the same road even as it is exploding in front of them.  However for many of us we see just over the horizon change that we can believe in!

 

Dr. Ewers is the associate dean for student affairs and director of community partnerships at Miami University Middletown in Ohio. He is the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues

Virginia State Election Board’s Use of Jim Crow-like Student Residency Questionnaire Raises Voting Rights Questions

By Dr. Pamela Reed         

 The New York Timesreports that E. Randall Wertz, the county registrar of voters in Montgomery County, Va., recently issued two outrageous and confusing (at best) press releases with regard to college student voter registration.

            The first of the official missives made several patently false claims:  1) the parents of students who register and vote locally cannot claim their children as dependents; 2) students registering to vote using a local college address risk losing scholarships; and 3) such students will no longer be eligible for coverage under their parent’s health and auto insurance. 

            Coincidentally or otherwise, these official county notices went out in late August, in the midst of a highly successful voter-registration drive at Virginia Tech, the state’s largest university which boasts an enrollment of over 25,000 students (over 5,000 of whom are incoming freshmen). At that time Barack Obama supporters had registered thousands of students. 

            Keep in mind that Virginia is a major swing state that in past years has been reliably Republican; however, this year Barack Obama has made significant inroads, claiming 64 percent to Hillary Clinton’s 35 percent in the state’s Democratic primary in February.  Many political analysts even predict that Obama could actually win the state in November, which would effectively signal nothing less than a historic sea-change in the American electoral map.  So, that is the backdrop of this grossly underreported controversy that is reminiscent of Jim Crow era electoral shenanigans.            

            According to the Times, Sujatha Jahagirdar, program director of the Student Public Interest Research Group’s New Voters Project, indicates that her organization “registered 500,000 young voters in 2004, the majority on college campuses, and we’ve never heard of a single one who lost health insurance, scholarship or tax status because of where they registered to vote. …There’s no issue for snowbirds who live in Iowa but fly to Florida for the winter.” 

            Understandably, this has all lead to mass confusion and anxiety among students and parents alike.  It has also prompted queries from civil rights lawyers who are quick to point out that this practice is in clear contravention of the landmark Supreme Court ruling Symm v. U.S, 439 U. S. 1105 (1979) which clearly established that students can absolutely register to vote using their local college addresses, regardless of their permanent home addresses.   Jon Greenbaum, who directs the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law, condemns the highly suspect activities, saying in the Times that ”what the state Board of Elections has on its Web site…sounds like it is discouraging students from registering at their school address.” 

            The county registrar, who blames the “mix-up” on an intern tasked with summarizing the state’s guidelines in this regard, confirms that some students have elected to withdraw their local registration, fearful that their families will be penalized economically.  The registrar claims that his office’s “clarification” is driven by his interpretation of the state’s election laws.  Which brings us to the heart of the matter:  the Virginia code with regard to college student voter registration is fuzzy, at best, while the law of the land is unequivocal:  A college student can absolutely register to vote using a local address.  There is really nothing complicated about it.  Still, Werner claims that ”we’ve asked for more guidance from the state legislature, but they haven’t wanted to deal with it.”  The obvious question here, at least in my mind, is this:  “Why ever not?”

            In response to the public outcry—and the civil rights lawyers—the Virginia State Board of Elections (VSBE) sought to “modify” and “clarify” the legal basis for the misleading communications disseminated by the Montgomery county registrar.  What did they do, you ask?  Amazingly, they have gone so far as to post on their website a “self-guided questionnaire”—that is not required, and some would even argue that it is not allowed, by law—to “assist” college students in determining their “legal” residency.  This harkening back to the very same tactics that the High Court ruled illegal almost 30 years ago when the Waller County, Texas, registrar of voters, LeRoy Symm, routinely required the students of the HBCU Prairie View A&M University to complete a residency questionnaire that is almost identical to the one on the VSBE website today—in 2008.

            What does the Obama campaign have to say about this turn of events?  Not much.  According to the New York Times, Kevin Griffis, the campaign’s state spokesperson said “the release appeared to be a good-faith effort to convey state guidelines, not a politically motivated effort to stop voting by students.”  Really?  Good faith?

            This writer begs to differ.  Obama should have a swarm of lawyers blanketing the state, serving notice that he will not sit back and allow Virginia to be the Florida or Ohio of 2008.  They should begin by demanding that the VSBE immediately pull down its confusing and perhaps illegal questionnaire.  They should also be monitoring Chesterfield County, Va., very carefully-the home of Virginia State University—where nine of 64 precincts ran out of ballots during the February Democratic primary, which has prompted an ongoing Justice Department investigation.  These voting irregularities, among others across the nation, are currently being examined by the Senate Judiciary Committee, as detailed in a Richmond Times-Dispatch report from Sept. 10.  But I digress.

            Here’s another pressing question:  Whereis the Democratic National Committee (DNC)?  Why are they not on the case in Virginia?  Are they so afraid of being accused of “race-baiting” or playing the “race card” that they will not call a spade a spade?  This is a clear violation of the voting rights of the students of Virginia Tech.  I know it.  You know it.  The state of Virginia knows it.  Barack Obama, the Harvard-trained esquire, knows it. 

            According to the VSEB website, “even the homeless may register by using the site ‘where they lay their head at night.’”  Are college students in Virginia not entitled to the same right?            

Dr. Pamela D. Reed is a diversity consultant, cultural critic, and assistant professor of English and African-American literature at Virginia State University.

Increasing Minority Ph.D. Completion