By Dr. Marybeth Gasman, Ph.D.
Recently, 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).