A group of Prairie View A&M University alumni and university donors are petitioning the Texas A&M University System to either address concerns that its regents don’t represent the university’s interests, or let the university secede from the university system.
In a letter presented to TAMU system chancellor Michael D. McKinney, a group of Prairie View donors are requesting that the university be allowed to break away from the University System if it is not reformed.
“Fellow Prairie View stakeholders and I have decided that the time has long since passed for African-Americans to take responsibility for and control of our own destiny,” reads the letter, which was written by the Rev. Walter N. Pendleton. “Our intent is to liberate African-Americans and to achieve educational, economic, political and social parity between African-Americans and the majority race and others by means of a proper education.”
The complaints noted in the four-page letter include concerns that the nine-member board is comprised of seven TAMU graduates and no Prairie View graduates. In its 130-year history, no Prairie View graduate has ever served on the board, donors say.
The letter also raised complaints about the board’s pattern of appointing underqualified presidents to the historically Black university and questioned the elimination of the school’s open-admissions policy. Other complaints centered on the reduction in the number of Black faculty while White faculty levels remained relatively constant. The letter also raised concerns that race-conscious affirmative action programs would threaten Prairie View’s Black identity.
Among the group’s requested reforms was the formation of an auxiliary board, comprised of Prairie View stakeholders, which would be responsible for appointing presidents, officials and professors at the HBCU. They also suggested establishing a medical school; replacing the current president with a more experienced one; abolishing race-conscious affirmative action programs; establishing student retention and graduation programs; restoring open admissions; and allowing the university to handle its own contracts.
“We are aware that some of these initiatives would require legislative and other outside actions,” reads the letter. “Also, understand that this is not an effort to get a token Prairie View alumna appointed to the Board of Regents. Rather, we believe that our grievances and initiatives should be addressed in one of two ways. One, by mutual agreement with the Texas A&M University System. Or, by separating Prairie View from the Texas A&M University System.”
Attorney Lonnie B. Davis, who is among those involved in the petition, says people are often under the false impression that Prairie View receives money from the TAMU system. “We get some federal funding by virtue of being a land-grant college, some from the state of Texas, and the remainder comes from tuition and fees,” he says.
Prairie View has been under the control of the TAMU system since the HBCU’s founding in 1876. However, it is that control that now has concerned alumni and donors up in arms. “From 1999 to 2003, the proportion of African-American professors was reduced from 70 percent to 57 percent,” says Davis.
Not everyone supports secession and note sour grapes may be at play here.
Tyra Metoyer, Prairie View’s director of public relations, says she has concerns about at least two of the leaders of the group calling for reform. She says Pendleton was a former gospel music announcer at Prairie View’s campus radio station, but he had been fired and filed a lawsuit. And Davis, she says, is currently providing legal representation for a tenured faculty member that was recently dismissed.
Davis contends that his complaints against the university preceded his representation of the faculty member. “These issues go far beyond anything to do with any particular faculty member. Any complaint resolved for the faculty member would not resolve the multitude of other complaints that have been made,” he says.
According to Davis, the group is awaiting a response to their request to meet with McKinney. McKinney’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
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