By Dr. Marybeth Gasman and Dr. Kevin James
Last week, Republican Seth Harp, a senator in the Georgia state legislature suggested that in order to save money, several of the state’s public Black universities should be merged with nearby predominantly White universities. In Harp’s opinion, historically Black Savannah State University and historically White Armstrong Atlantic State University, both in Savannah, should be merged. And, historically Black Albany State University, and historically White Darton College (a two year institution), both in Albany, should be merged. Interestingly, he didn’t suggest that Georgia State and Georgia Tech, which are practically on top of one another, merge. According to Harp, the University of Georgia System has to make some serious budget cuts, possibly in the amount of $200 million.
Harp believes that the separate institutions (Black and White) in Georgia represent a legacy of segregation and he is correct – they do represent the state’s history of discrimination and segregation. However, what Harp fails to understand is the significant impact of historically Black colleges and universities on African Americans in Georgia and throughout the United States. As research and anecdote show, these institutions disproportionately graduate African American students and send them on to graduate school at disproportionate rates as well. These achievements benefit society at large.
Why are the Black schools being asked to assimilate into the White institutions? Why is it so hard for people to understand that diversity in our state systems of higher education is essential to strength? And, more importantly, why are Black institutions the ones that have to merge? Why can’t the predominantly White institutions merge into the Black institutions? Why must we continually ask African Americans to compromise, assimilate, and change?
Suggesting that Black institutions merge into White institutions is deeply troubling – what does it say about our perceptions of Black institutions when we assume that they are the weaker institutions and must do the merging? It says that we think they are inferior and that is problematic.
There are many creative ways to think about cutting costs in public higher education that are fair across institutional type. It is not acceptable to take a hatchet to historically Black colleges and universities during times of crises, especially given the fact that African Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionally affected by economic downturns in the United States.