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15 Issues to Watch

15 Issues to Watch

For the next several months, in observance of Black Issues In Higher Education’s 15th Anniversary,  this special column will be devoted to looking back and ahead to the events, people, and institutions having the greatest impact on access and equity in higher education. For this edition, the column highlights some of the issues and events to watch on the legislative, academic, and organizational landscape this coming academic year.

15 Issues to Watch in 1999-2000

1. The University of Michigan Affirmative Action Case: The country will be following closely the courtroom arguments in the pivotal case against the University of Michigan’s admissions policies—a case that could have a major impact on the affirmative action battlefield. University officials intend to argue that their admissions policies have made the campus more diverse and have lined up experts to argue that all students benefit from that diversity. Just last month, a federal court cleared the way for a group of intervening Black and Hispanic students to join the defense. The students plan to argue that the university needs to have affirmative action policies in place to remedy past discrimination.

2. Y2K Preparation: A nationwide crunch is on to bring technology systems on American college campuses into Y2K compliance. A recent federal report says 46 percent of American colleges and universities do not yet have Y2K plans, and another 46 percent are saying they don’t expect to be Y2K compliant until after September 1999.

3. Campaign 2000: Race, Education, and Presidential Politics: After Republicans unsuccessfully tried making affirmative action a hot button issue in the 1996 presidential election year campaigns, it’s likely they’ll bring it up again in 2000. Already, education has emerged as a major priority agenda item for presidential candidates in both parties.

4. Show Me the Money: Will Republican tax breaks force cuts in higher education funding, including Pell grants? Tax cuts passed by Republican legislators have set in motion the possibility of a big showdown over higher education funding. Deep education cuts could put minorities in contention for Higher Education Act funding, echoing last year’s dispute between Blacks and Hispanics over Title III.

5. Pressing for Change: Scholars and media analysts are playing close attention to efforts by Florida A&M University and other univerisites to award tenure only to those who hold doctoral degrees in journalism. While university administrators say the requirement is essential to building first-class journalism schools, several journalism professors and various professional journalism organizations disagree. These dissenters  say the policy  will ultimately hurt students because journalism schools should be hiring practioners, not scholars.

6. NCAA Eligibility Standards: In March, a federal judge in Philadelphia struck down the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s freshmen eligibility standards, citing the NCAA’s own reports that say the standards disproportionately and unnecessarily impact African Americans. The ruling has been stayed pending appeal, but most experts expect the NCAA will have to make changes in standards. What will those new standards be? And will they be fair?

7. NAFEO: Presidents of Black colleges will be waiting to see if the venerable Black college association can carve out a renewed role for itself since it hired a new lobbying firm in Washington.  Concern also is mounting that NAFEO will be able to do less and less for Black colleges unless the organization can persuade more of its colleges to pay their dues. As of May, 56 of NAFEO’s 118 member colleges had not paid their dues.

8. The Changing Complexion of HBCUs: With students of all colors attending college in greater numbers, the enrollment at historically Black colleges and universities is rising as well. And as those numbers go up, so does the number of Whites attending HBCUs — some states having specifically mandated greater diversity at their public HBCUs. There are also those HBCU executives who have set their own goals for the recruitment of more Whites to their campuses. In fact, several HBCUs — most notably Bluefield State and West Virginia State colleges — are overwhelmingly White. And you can add athletics to this mix. Following this year’s controversial National Minority College Golf Championship, which was won by a team of White foreigners, sponsors amended the rules so that only HBCU teams with a majority of players of color  will be eligible to compete.

9. Ayers v. Fordice: The long-running Mississippi desegregation case appears to have no end in sight. A federal district judge recently ordered hearings to inquire into disparities among Mississippi’s public colleges and into scholarships tied to American College Test (ACT) scores. Plaintiffs in the case are contending the federal district court is allowing inadequate desegregation plans and improper higher education expansion to proceed.

10. K-12 Teacher Shortage: President Bill Clinton may be calling for higher standards for qualifying teachers, but “in the real world,” that desire may have to go unfulfilled — at least temporarily. Massachusetts is just one of many states that has been having trouble getting graduates from their public institutions to pass teacher certification exams. In fact, in Maryland, the state’s board of education recently announced that in order to fill its teacher shortage, it is considering ways to satisfactorily certify would-be teachers who are joining the profession as a midlife career change. HBCUs, however, seem to be doing a better job at training teachers, according to last year’s report by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

11. Community College Challenges: While often overlooked by the more elitist of postsecondary education analysts, two-year colleges attract more than half of all Blacks pursuing higher education. So, issues like performance-based funding, the growing trend of two-year institutions to grant four-year degrees, and low transfer rates of Black and Latino students into four-year colleges all weigh heavily on the collegiate careers of many students of color.

12. Embracing Encarta Africana: Last year’s release of the Encarta Africana by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Dr. K. Anthony Appiah — in conjunction with computer systems giant Microsoft — was an academic milestone. According to Gates, “There’s never been anything like this before, a comprehensive encyclopedia of the entire Black world.” But now that it’s available on CD-ROM and in a print version from Perseus Books, how will it be used — if at all — by the secondary and higher education community?

13. Cross-cultural Alliances: Can We All Get Along? The formation of the Alliance for Equity in Higher Education has helped raise expectations among minorities in higher education that coalition politics will serve the needs of minority students. The Alliance opens up the possibility for greater cooperation among Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans in the national higher education arena.

14. What Will Become of ACE’s Office of Minority affairs? Now that the American Council on Education’s vice president of the Division of Access and Equity Programs, Hector Garza, has left the association on a leave of absence, what will happen to ACE’s  Office of Minorities? Will the office, which is responsible for publishing the influential Annual Status Report on Minorities in Higher Education, maintain a similar, higher, or less visible pofile within the organization? And who will be selected to fill the position in Garza’s absense?
15. Badillo and the Big Apple: With Herman Badillo taking over as the head of the City University of New York Board of Trustees, a lot of changes are expected from New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s ally. Badillo’s board has already ousted City College’s president, Dr. Yolanda Moses, and the board’s plan to eliminate remediation from the system’s four-year institutions is well underway. Then there also is anxiety in the minority community that if suggestions from a recent report that was critical of CUNY are implemented, they will have an adverse impact on students of color.

— Compiled by Michele N-K Collison, Eric St. John, and Ronald Roach

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