Suit threatens status of Georgia’s public Black universities

ATLANTA

Alumni and supporters of
Georgia’s historically Black public colleges
and universities are beginning to mobilize in
reaction to a law suit filed last month that
seeks to increase white enrollment at those
schools.

The suit claims that Georgia’s three Black
public universities–Albany State, Fort Valley
State, and Savannah State–remain in a
second-class status. It cites a
disproportionate number of remedial students
attending the Black institutions while a
disproportionate number of high achievers
attend predominantly white schools like
Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia.
It calls on the Board of Regents to admit
more whites to the three campuses and offer
preferential admissions to students based on
socioeconomics, not race.

The schools, which are more than 88
percent Black, should be more integrated,
maintains attorney Lee Parks, the lawyer who
helped dismantle the former
majority-Black congressional district of U.S.
Representative Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga.
“We believe the correct approach to this long
term problem is not to close the Black
colleges, but to integrate them,” Parks said in
a letter he sent to Georgia’s higher education
officials.

Parks also argued that the Regents must
simultaneously commit to a significant
increase in Black student enrollment at
predominantly white schools, via a “uniform,
systemwide admissions policy.”
Filed in U.S. District Court in Savannah,
the suit is lust an extension of the
anti-affirmative action wave sweeping the
country says Fort Valley State alumnus and
former congressional aide Thomas W. Dortch.

“What they want to do is keep setting
fires,” he said. The minute we’re busy putting
one fire out, here comes another one.
Dortch has joined forces with Georgia
Rep. Calvin Smyre, chair of the House Higher
Education Committee. They met with State
Attorney General Mike Bowers, who last
year wrote a letter to university system
chancellor Stephen R. Portch demanding that
all race-based policies in the
system must end. That letter echoed the
U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision
made in the Hopwood vs. The State of Texas
case, which threw out an admissions policy
that gave preferential treatment to students
applying to the University of Texas School of
Law.

“We’ll have to wait and see how this
plays out,” said Smyre, who is also a Fort
Valley State alumnus. To me, it’s a situation
where it will be hard to maintain the
integrity of Georgia’s higher education and for
us to be a model higher education state
without addressing some of these issues
raised.” Smyre said he hopes the suit will be
mediated.

When the chancellor surveyed the
system’s schools, he found only one–the
University of Georgia, where Blacks account
for approximately 6 percent of the
enrollment–that uses race as one of its
fifteen criteria for admissions. The school’s
Black faculty, according to Parks, was at 3.4
percent for the 1993-94 term.
On the flip side, according to Parks. Fort
Valley State’s white enrollment hovered
around 7.1 percent while white faculty was at
21 percent.

Since that time, Portch has called for
Georgia’s colleges and universities to gradually
adopt new admission standards that will make
it tougher for remedial students to enter a
four-year school that attracts high achievers.
He has also announced new graduate
programs for the Black institution, which
could lure more white students. There are also
plans to eliminate remedial courses at
all of Georgia’s four-year schools.

RELATED ARTICLE: Turbulence at Savannah State
The abrupt departure of Dr. John
T. Wolfe Jr. from Savannah State
University and his replacement
the next day by Dr. Carlton E. Brown
has left Georgia observers reeling.
Wolfe stepped down to accept
the associate vice chancellor’s job for
the University System of Georgia.
“This is an upward move,”
Wolfe said at a press
conference. “The decision to
move was made when I
came into the job. There
are no presidencies for
life.”

The day after he announced
his departure from the
historically Black college,
his replacement
was announced by the University
System of Georgia
Chancellor Stephen Portch.
Brown was appointed to
a five-year term at the same
time as Dr. Joseph H. “Pete” Silver,
who was appointed as vice president
for academic affairs and professor of
political science. Silver was also
appointed for a five-year term.

“We have made
these appointment on
behalf of the students
who deserve strong and
stable leadership,”
Portch said. “The
historical record at SSU
reflects decades of
unparalleled presidential
turnover, which demands
an innovative solution.

Naming the team of Brown
and Silver to extended terms
clearly conveys our respect for
their leadership skills, the Board
of Regents’ position regarding
this unacceptable turnover, and
our commitment to this institution.”

RELATED ARTICLE: Key dates during Dr. John T. Wolfe’s
presidency at Savannah State University include:

* August, 1993, Dr. John T. Wolfe
appointed president.

* January, 1995, Wolfe inaugurated
president.

* June and July, 1995, the football
coach, volleyball coach and
women’s basketball coach fired by
athletic director Frank Ellis, leading
the alumni association to call
for Wolfe’s ouster.

* June, 1996, Ellis resigned.

* May, 1996, students protested campus
housing living conditions.

* November, 1996, the faculty senate
presents Wolfe with a non-confidence vote.

* December, 1996, a coalition of local
clergy, labor, and community
leaders joined the faculty senate
and student leaders to demand
Wolfe’s ouster.

* March 12, Wolfe announced his
June 30 departure.

* March 13, Dr. Carlton E. Brown
was appointed as Savannah State
University’s eleventh president. The
same day, Dr. Joseph H. “Pete”
Silver Sr. was appointed as vice
president for academic affairs and
professor of political science at
Savannah State University.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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