Clark Atlanta Engineering Professors Sue
University Over Department’s Closure
Clark Atlanta University was justified in its decision to close its engineering department, regardless of whether the faculty and students disagreed with the process, the historically Black college argued this month.
At a hearing in Fulton County Superior Court, Burton Dodd, attorney for Clark Atlanta, asked a judge to dismiss the case, calling the decision unfortunate, but not unlawful.
In October, eight engineering professors and a group of engineering students filed a lawsuit hoping to force the school into another debate about the department’s closing. Clark Atlanta’s board voted in 2003 to eliminate the department, along with four other programs, citing a $7.5 million deficit and a need to concentrate more on other areas of study.
“This is a very difficult decision,” Dodd says. “Clark Atlanta has handled it in a way that best accommodates competing interests.”
Whether the conclusion is the same or not, that department should not be closed without the input of students and professors being heard, argues Gina Mangham, who represents the department and students.
“Things are not the same at this university since the decision was made,”she says. “The administration can go back and do this the right way.”
The engineering department argued Clark Atlanta President Walter Broadnax closed the school on a whim and said their program has brought money and prestige to the college. In lieu of its own engineering program, Clark Atlanta will revert to a long-standing dual-degree program where students attend Clark Atlanta for three years before transferring to one of 11 other schools to finish their engineering education at an accredited program, getting two degrees after five years from both colleges.
Started in 1994 and boasting more than 100 graduates, Clark Atlanta’s engineering department is the only one of its kind at a historically Black college in Georgia. Department faculty say they were in the process of applying for accreditation when the program was terminated.
Mangham told the judge the school did not respect its own process when it made the decision to end the program — which gives her clients a case and has jeopardized their education.
Though Clark Atlanta has guaranteed all students in the school’s engineering program expected to graduate by 2008 will be allowed to finish, Mangham says those students will likely face challenges like faculty overload and limited course availability because of the decision to close the department — and that those forced to enter a dual-degree program to pursue engineering at their alma maters are not getting what they signed up for.
Dodd says a rehearing would be a burden for the college.
“To undo something that has already been done will cause great distress,” he says.
— Associated Press
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