Blacks in Higher Education Meet

Houston “I really feel good” was Dr. Roland Smith’s reaction to a question about the recently held meeting of the American Association of Blacks in Higher Education. Smith is the AABHE’s president and driving force in its restoration after a three-year hiatus.

Many Black higher education professionals doubted that the organization could be revived. This group, as well as its Hispanic counterpart, was a caucus of the now defunct American Association for Higher Education. When that organization folded, the Hispanic group immediately morphed into the now vibrant American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education, which recently held its third consecutive national meeting. The Black caucus however had not met until last Friday.

“We’re not interested in competing with our Hispanic brothers. In fact, we have a history of working with the Hispanic, Asian and other caucuses and expect that to continue,” said Smith.

“Even though we have not been having a national meeting, our Education Leadership Institutes have been thriving,” said Smith. These institutes are a signature program for the organization and are held during the summer at HBCUs willing to host them. In the past, Savannah State University, under the direction of Drs. Joseph Silver and Carlton Brown, has hosted the institute. This year’s institute will be hosted by Jackson Sate University under the leadership of Dr. Ronald Mason.

“Our focus will continue to be on educational leadership and from there explore ways of tackling many of the other problems that beset the Black community,” said Smith.

One of the chief factors that will determine the future viability of AABHE will be to identify a set of priorities that will attract a loyal constituency and carve out a niche in a landscape that is becoming more crowded and competitive each year.

“I am attracted to this organization because of their focus on student learning. And that is our definition of success as opposed to credentials,” said Dr. Deborah Cureton, campus executive officer and dean at the University of Wisconsin-Richland.

Another new organizational strategy that AABHE is undertaking is to enlist the support of the many statewide Black faculty and staff associations. The recent meeting included representatives from such associations in Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois and Texas, which served as co-conveners of the Houston meeting.

“Our goals are the same as AABHE, so it only makes sense that we work together,” said Dr. Michael Toney, chair of the Illinois Committee on Black Concerns in Higher Education and executive director of Urban Health Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

As to what’s next for AABHE, Smith said, “We’re at an exploratory phase and will be sensitive and respective of existing state organizations even as we reach out to them.”

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