Congressional Black Caucus Members to Boycott Education Hearings
CBC protesting unfair treatment of Black, Hispanic-serving institutions
Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members plan to boycott many congressional education hearings this year as part of a continuing protest against what they view as unfair Republican treatment of Black and Hispanic-serving colleges.
The 21 Democratic members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee say they will boycott all subcommittee meetings until GOP leaders change their plan to divide higher education policy among two new subcommittees. One new panel, 21st Century Competitiveness, would oversee nearly all higher education programs except for aid to historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions and tribal colleges. These programs instead would fall under the responsibility of the Select Education subcommittee — also responsible for juvenile justice, child abuse and aging programs (see Black Issues, March 1).
And during Bush’s budget speech to both chambers of Congress, many House Democrats wore buttons protesting the change.
“If you look at the [Feb. 7] hearing, we kept saying we don’t think this is malice; we don’t think it’s intentional,” says Rep.
Major Owens, D-N.Y.
But, Owens adds, “This is going back to the days of separate but equal, where you had one water fountain for colored and one for White people [and] the equal never lasted very long.”
Taking HBCUs and HSIs away from other postsecondary programs and placing them with social service programs is a clear setback for minority-serving institutions, says Owens, who is one of the leaders of the boycott effort.
Moving Black and Hispanic-serving colleges to a separate subcommittee is “segregating them from other higher education concerns and also indicates, by their new association with purely social issues, the low priority in which these institutions are perceived by the Republican leadership,” Owens says.
Democratic membership on the Education and the Workforce Committee includes many prominent CBC members, including Owens and Reps. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Harold Ford Jr., D-Tenn. Some members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus also sit on the committee and have voiced their opposition to the new subcommittee structure.
Republicans deny they are shortchanging the colleges, saying that the reorganization will allow for more careful consideration of HBCU and HSI issues. Members of the Select Education subcommittee also are among those leading a new House Republican task force on Black colleges, they say. The task force, formed late last summer under the leadership of Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., is supposed to provide a discourse among HBCU presidents, legislators and the business community to improve Black colleges (see Black Issues, Aug. 31, 2000).
As debate intensifies, those caught in the crossfire are individual HBCUs and HSIs, which are being courted for support by both sides.
The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) “remains concerned” about the division of college programs into two subcommittees, says its president, Dr. Antonio Flores. The plan “may lead to the de-emphasis of HSIs and other [minority-serving institutions] as an essential part of national higher education policy priorities,” he says.
Still, Flores has expressed a willingness to work with Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., the Select Education subcommittee chairman, who says he wants to undertake a major outreach effort. So far, Hoekstra’s plans to make minority-serving institutions a priority “represents a healthy step in the right direction,” Flores says.
HBCU leaders Divided over plan
Some Republicans also claim individual colleges have voiced less concern with the plan. House GOP aides recently released a list of Black college leaders who participated in a conference call with Republican lawmakers about the restructuring. Hoekstra and his aides maintain that no HBCU leaders voiced objections during this call (see Black Issues Web site for complete list of conference call participants).
But a controversy has been brewing around the exact purpose of the Feb. 6 conference call, which was arranged by Rep. J.C. Watts’ (R-Okla.) office.
“My understanding was that the conference call was no more than a courtesy call to open the lines of communication,” says Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, president of
Edward Waters College in Jacksonsville, Fla. “I was only able to stay for the first 30 minutes of the call, but I had the impression that nothing beyond polite introductions was on the agenda.”
Another source requesting anonymity told Black Issues that they felt the meeting was only for informational purposes and not a forum for debate on the new committee structure.
Dr. Leonard Haynes, a Republican advisor to Watts and former acting president of Grambling State University, who also served as assistant secretary for postsecondary education in former president Bush’s administration, says the purpose of the call was to explain the subcommittee arrangement — adding that two people objected to the new subcommittee arrangement. “They [conference call participants] were not duped,” Haynes told Black Issues. “This is about politics. The sentiment I got was ‘let’s give it a chance.'”
Democrats, however, have countered with letters from HBCU leaders criticizing the move. The new structure would “seriously harm all institutional aid programs,” says Dr. James Hefner, president of Tennessee State University. Separating aid to HBCUs or HSIs from student financial aid also makes little sense, he says, because of the close relationship between aid programs and access to higher education for students of color.
Prior to the conference call, Dr. Henry Ponder, president of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), sent a letter dated Feb. 2 to Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chair of the House Education Committee and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., senior Democrat on the committee, which said NAFEO-member institutions are “deeply alarmed” by the “recently announced efforts” to restructure the education committee.
In a Feb. 7 letter to both Republicans and Democrats, the leaders of HACU, NAFEO and the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) tried to put the issues into perspective. Leaders of minority-serving institutions “remained concerned” about the restructuring, said the statement signed by Flores, AIHEC executive director Dr. Gerald Gipp and Ponder (see letter).
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