Tag Archives: black colleges

Paul Quinn College: To Save or Not to Save

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman, Ph.D.

gasman2009Recently, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) voted to revoke Paul Quinn College’s accreditation, noting financial and academic problems. In the same breath, however, SACS acknowledged the excellent work being done by Paul Quinn’s president Michael Sorrell in recent years. Sorrell plans to appeal the SACS’s decision.

The loss of accreditation at Paul Quinn has been the subject of quite a few editorials and news stories over the past week.  Some editorials call for the support of the institution, noting its contributions to the community, nurturing educational environment, and recent progress.  However, other editorials and news stories have not been so supportive and in fact, have questioned the very existence of the institution.

On Tuesday, June 30, 2009, Mike Hashimoto wrote an editorial in The Dallas Morning News asking why anyone should support Paul Quinn College.  He noted that many in the Dallas area, where the small college is located, were calling for support of the institution.  He wondered why.  When supporters claimed that losing Paul Quinn would lead to increased job loss, Hashimoto countered, “there can’t be more than a relative handful of jobs on that campus.”  When supporters noted the diversity that Paul Quinn brings to the Dallas community, he exclaimed, “Diversity? It’s a historically black college so not really.”  When supporters claimed there would be an educational hole in the community without Paul Quinn, Hashimoto stated, “Hole in the community?  Down to 375 students, I’d argue not a very large one.”

Although Hashimoto makes a few interesting points in his editorial, he is not an informed critic of HBCUs.  He knows nothing about these institutions and their history.  He doesn’t understand the role that Paul Quinn has played in bolstering the lives, economy, and education of its surrounding community for decade upon decade.  Hashimoto doesn’t comprehend that the faculties and staffs at HBCUs offer more diversity than most of their “historically white” counterparts.  Moreover, he fails to realize that there is great diversity among Black Americans — being an historically Black college does not mean an institution lacks diversity in any way, shape, or form!  Hashimoto also fails to recognize the unique environment boasted by most HBCUs — one that nurtures and supports mainly low-income, first generation students regardless of the resources on hand.

What Hashimoto gets right is his assessment of the lack of support in the Dallas community for Paul Quinn.  Given the importance of the institution, it is imperative that both the majority and African American communities get behind the small college and support it regularly and systematically.  My good friend Nelson Bowman, the Director of Development at Prairie View A & M University (another Texas HBCU) often talks about “crisis fundraising” and how HBCUs sometimes fall back on this approach when in difficult situations.  In his words, the approach is  “Give us money or we will have to drop the program, go out of business or fail to provide for people who need us—and it’s going to be your fault.”  One need only recall Morris Brown College and its recent financial woes — resulting in the water company threatening to shut off the institution’s water supply.  Support during a crisis is not enough — if people in the community want the benefits of an institution, they need to support the institution regularly.  And the institution needs to ask for help regularly and not just practice “crisis fundraising.”

In 1872 a small group of African Methodist Episcopal (AME) preachers created Paul Quinn College — one of a handful of AME colleges.  These institutions are unique in that they were created by African Americans for African Americans and in that way they are American treasures that need to be held up as examples of African American agency and forethought.  It’s time for those in the community of Dallas as well as the Paul Quinn alumni to stand up for this institution now during a time of need and later during times of prosperity.

I’m hoping that President Sorrell can convince SACS and others that Paul Quinn College is back on track in terms of its ability to educate young minds.  I’m also hoping that he can keep up the good work being done by the institution and that this good work will be recognized by those in the community and especially the institution’s alumni.  Perhaps even Mr. Hashimoto will take notice.

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).

 

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HBCUs a “Land of the Lost”? I Don’t Think So

MBPortraitClose2By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

Today, I came across a blog post written by a colleague who has worked in the HBCU community for many years. He titled the post Land of the Lost — after the Sid and Marty Krofft TV show and more recently, the movie.  At first glance, I thought the post was a review of the movie and was ready to move on to something more interesting.  However, as I read down the page, I noticed his post compared HBCUs to the Land of the Lost.  I had to keep reading given my research.

In the post, which I encourage you to read and respond to, my colleague, based on his experience working at HBCUs and working for affiliate organizations, is highly critical of these important institutions.  He compares HBCU presidents to the tyrannical dinosaurs in the movie, HBCU faculty to the Sleestack (lizard-like creatures), and students to Pakuni (I’ll let him explain that comparison).  At first, I was enraged given what I know about stereotypes of HBCUs and their leaders — admittedly, I’m still slightly enraged.

However, after re-reading the post several times, he makes some interesting points (albeit his criticisms could be lodged against any institution regardless of racial history).  With regard to college presidents, he calls for more transparency and more open debate.  I agree that open debate and clear processes should always be the goal on a college campus.  With regard to faculty, he points out the heavy teaching loads at HBCUs and how these loads stifle creativity.  Although HBCUs are primarily teaching institutions, it would benefit these colleges and universities if they more readily encouraged research and exempted faculty from some of their teaching duties to pursue research (funded and unfunded). With regard to students, although my colleague believes in their potential, he thinks they need to more deeply explore this potential — defying peer and parental expectations.  This could be said for all college students, by and large.

The problem my colleague has, as well as others who heavily critique HBCUs, is that he fails to realize that the problems with leadership, heavy teaching loads, and unexplored potential are issues at all institutions.  Yes, these issues manifest at HBCUs, but they also surface at historically White institutions and have for centuries.  Merely pointing to problems within the HBCU context as if they are race-based problems is dangerous.

A perpetual believer in what is good and right, my colleague ends with the following:  “HBCUs must be relentlessly creative in making education relevant and continue to be a fearless advocate for those whom society would consign to the abyss of hopelessness.”

Now this is something about which we can both agree.

Check out Land of the Lost and participate in an open debate at http://dlpeterkin.wordpress.com/2009/06/16/land-of-the-lost/

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).

Diversity at Historically Black Colleges and Universities

MBPortraitClose2By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

Why is it that people assume that Historically White Institutions are diverse, yet in the same breath assume that Historically Black Institutions are not?  And, when I say people — I mean all kinds of people — of various racial and ethnic backgrounds.  If you take a look at the nation’s Historically White Institutions (HWIs), you’ll find that most are not that diverse unless they are located in urban areas.  These institutions, although legally no longer segregated, are far from integrated — especially the more elite, selective institutions.  If you look at the faculty of HWIs, it is not heavily integrated.  Most tenured faculty members are still White and male. 

However, if you look closely at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), you’ll find student bodies that boast considerable diversity — especially if you examine the public HBCUs.  According to statistics gathered by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, for example, 8 percent of public HBCU student enrollment is White, 2 percent is Latino and 1 percent is Asian.  Of note, over the past 30 years, Latinos have increased their presence at HBCUs by 124 percent.  Moreover, the faculty at HBCUs, both public and private institutions, has always been diverse.  HBCUs have opened their doors to the best faculty regardless of racial or ethnic background and continue to do so.  Among HBCUs, Blacks (including Africans and Caribbeans as well as African Americans) make up roughly 60 percent of the faculty, with Whites accounting for 30 percent and Latinos and Asians the remaining 10 percent.  It would be very hard to find this kind of diversity at most HWIs.

Yet, time and time again, HBCUs are looked upon as “segregated” environments that don’t represent the “real world”.  If you have been studying the projected Census data, you know that HBCUs now represent the very real world of the future.  By 2020, the percentage of people of color in our country will be 40 percent and by 2040 the percentage will increase to 50 percent.  HBCUs are preparing students for a very realistic world.

In order to counter misconceptions, HBCU leaders must promote the diversity on their campuses.  This is ever more important given falling enrollments at some HBCUs.  Many students of various racial and ethnic backgrounds could benefit from the nurturing, yet challenging environments at HBCUs as well as the lower tuition. 

Some worry that becoming more diverse will dilute the “HBCUness” of HBCUs — true,  but I doubt that diluting will take place to any great extent.  Culture runs deep and traditions can be maintained with effort.  Just look at the nation’s Historically White Institutions — many have “integrated” but continue to, unfortunately, hold fast to only the culture on which they were founded.  I have a feeling that HBCUs can maintain diversity — thrive from it — and still be the centers of African American culture that they have been for decades.

Remembering a Legend: John Hope Franklin

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

gasman-current-sittingIn 1997, while I was doing my dissertation research, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview historian John Hope Franklin. As a doctoral student, I was nervous about the interview and lacked confidence in my knowledge of American history. Here I was about to interview one of the nation’s great historians. Within minutes, my nervousness went away as Dr. Franklin was incredibly kind and made me feel instantly at ease. He had a quick wit and used self-deprecating humor in a great way.

I remember feeling anxious because I was young and also, frankly, because I was White. I wondered what he would think about my doing research related to African American history. At the time I was writing my dissertation on Charles Spurgeon Johnson, the former president of Fisk University and Harlem Renaissance architect. Dr. Franklin was completely supportive, explaining how society had changed so much in his lifetime, how this change had been made by people of various racial backgrounds working together, how all of our histories were intertwined, and how he was grateful that young people were more accepting of differences.

What I remember most about the interview was that despite his broad knowledge, accomplishments and daunting intelligence, he had a sweet disposition. It reminded me of something my mother once told me, “You get more with sugar than you do with vinegar.” I was asking him questions that forced him to recall his actions in the 1950s. As he was 82, he had a bit of difficulty remembering everything. When I asked him to recall his actions in a controversial Fisk University board meeting, he said, “if you said I did that sweetie, I did it – I’m an old mad who knows he led an interesting life but can’t recall it all.” This interaction has stuck with me for years.

I hope all of the Diverse readers will take a few minutes to read the work of Dr. Franklin. He spent years uncovering the agency, actions and contributions African Americans and bringing them to the forefront of American history. Bravo!

Changing the Conversation About HBCUs: YES WE CAN!

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

gasman-current-sittingOver the past month, I have been to three meetings in which the leaders of HBCUs have come together to talk about these venerable institutions during this time of economic crisis.  I have come away from each of these meetings thinking, “There has got to be a way to change the discourse around these institutions — change the conversations that take place in the halls of policymakers and around the water cooler at newspaper offices.”  Over and over I hear those who have little to do with HBCUs  making gross generalizations, underestimating their contributions to society, and all but dismissing their need in a nation that clearly struggles with how to effectively educate African Americans and other students of color. 

After some thought, I am convinced that a change in the conversation will come as a result of partnerships between those on the inside of HBCUs and those on the outside who are advocates, researchers, funders, reporters, etc.  Of course, these partnerships need to be built on trust.  We all know of incidents in the past in which outsiders, who did not have the best interest of HBCUs in mind, did more harm than good in their misguided attempts to “help” Black colleges and universities.

Here are several concrete ways to change the conversation about your individual institution and HBCUs in general:

  1. Identify experts in the field of higher education who focus on HBCUs in their research and get to know them.  These people are called by the media, policymakers, and foundations on a regular basis to comment, using empirical data, on HBCUs.  Make sure that these people know about your institution and the positive impact it’s having on the local community, students, and perhaps, society at larger.  The best way to identify these people is to read stories on HBCUs in major newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, The Chronicle of Higher Education, the Chicago Tribune, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, as these individuals are often cited.  I would also suggest sending materials on your institution — including annual reports, press releases, campaign materials — to these individuals so that they can refer to your institution when giving examples to the press.  You should also be sending these materials to foundations and media outlets.
  2. Write op-eds about your institution’s contributions to student success as well as the contributions of HBCUs in general.  Send these op-ed essays to local, regional, and national papers and magazines. It’s best if these op-eds come from the president of your institution, but they can also come from faculty members who are working on noteworthy research projects or student affairs administrators who have discovered ways to retain or graduate more students. 
  3. Set up an institutional Facebook site for students, alumni, and supporters to join, creating viral enthusiasm for your institution.  Keeping alumni informed, and more importantly, singing the praises of your institution in their local communities is powerful.  In addition, using Facebook allows you to keep in touch with countless numbers of supporters, announce events, and even garner financial support once you have built up a rapport with users.
  4. Send out more press releases about the accomplishments of your institution.  I always tell people that for most papers, 70 percent of what is written comes from press releases.  If you don’t have the professional staff to write press releases, engage students in internship opportunities and give them the opportunity to hone their skills.  Now, some folks will say, “but newspapers only print the negative!”  My response to this is — couch your positive accomplishments as a solution to a longstanding problem.  So, if your graduation rates are up, begin the press release with the problem that your institution faced and tell the story of how you are solving it. 

These are just a few ways to change the conversation around HBCUs, which is even more important during these difficult economic times.

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).

 

During an Economic Crisis, Don’t Make Cuts in Institutional Advancement

By Marybeth Gasman, Ph.D.

A few days ago, I was on the phone with a good friend, Nelson Bowman, who works as the Director of Development at Prairie View A & M University.  We started talking about the economic downturn and its impact on HBCUs.  Nelson is amazingly resourceful, and as such, was trying to get some “free” consulting out of me.  He asked, “What are your thoughts on institutions, specifically HBCUs, that cut the budgets of institutional advancement during these difficult economic times?”  This is a great question.

Although I would advise all HBCUs to cut as much fat out of their budgets as possible during this time, Institutional Advancement is the life blood of an institution and should not be cut in any substantial way.  Those in this area are raising money for the rest of the institution — for scholarships, facilities, operating costs, faculty research, and other essential areas.  Some HBCU administrators are cutting travel, event, and staff budgets in Institutional Advancement right now.  In many ways, as my colleague Nelson Bowman reminded me, cutting in this area first is treating Institutional Advancement like an accessory rather than an essential part of the institution.  An accessory is something that you can take on and off depending on your mood or the situation you are in.  Slashing Institutional Advancement budgets during difficult times results in a need to rebuild when times are better. Institutional Advancement should be treated as central to the mission of an HBCU and its activities should, in fact, be bolstered during times of crisis.  Times like these are the best times to be bold and increase efforts to garner monetary support for the institution. 

Even if regular donors cannot give as much during tough times, HBCUs need to stay on the radar screen of these donors.  Donors need to know that the institution is in need and that their support is still greatly appreciated and desired.  They also need to be made aware of the ways that the institution is coping with the economic crisis and cutting spending where necessary.  During tough economic times, donors want to know that their contributions are being used wisely. 

Cutting back on personal visits, public relations materials, and stewardship events will end up hurting HBCUs in the long term. Investing in Institutional Advancement is an investment in the future of the institution.  However, HBCUs must convince their internal constituents (faculty, staff, and students) that the work of the Institutional Advancement staff is essential to the strength of the institution as a whole.

What the Media want to Know about HBCUs?

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