Ready to Begin Again

Ready to Begin Again
Former AAHE Black Caucus reorganizes
as the Association of Blacks in Higher Education.
By Kimberly Davis

Savannah, Ga.
After more than a year of fact-finding, researching and planning, the former Black Caucus of the now-defunct American Association for Higher Education has reorganized and incorporated as the Association of Blacks in Higher Education (ABHE). During meetings held July 14 and 15, transitional board members worked to identify the issues, hammer out the group’s bylaws and finalize the association’s mission, vision and goals.

The AAHE dissolved in March 2005 amidst a sharp decline in membership and financial problems. Less than a year later, the organization’s Hispanic caucus had formed a separate group and held its first national meeting (see Diverse, March 23). The ABHE, whose vision is to “become
the premier organization to address leadership, access and vital issues concerning Blacks in higher education,” has followed the same course.

ABHE board members have held two other meetings and spent several months researching other higher education groups to find a niche for their new organization. What they’ve found, says Dr. David Taylor, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Morehouse College, is that while some campus, state and regional organizations address some of the issues that Blacks in the academy struggle with, the focus is often quite narrow. ABHE will focus on meeting the needs of a larger, more diverse community of faculty, administrators, staff and students, he says.

With far-flung board members and no institutional “home,” it has been a task to bring the board together and rethink the role of the new organization, says Dr. Roland Smith Jr., chair of the transitional board and associate provost of Rice University. “The biggest challenge is to try to envision the organization in a whole new paradigm. It’s not simply to expand, it’s to create a new organization that helps provide a voice for the issues faced by African- Americans in higher education.”

Dr. Sheila V. Baldwin, the board’s vice chair for programs, says that once it became clear that AAHE would fold, the formation of a new group was inevitable. The only questions were how and when they would reorganize.

“We didn’t want to step out half way,” says Baldwin, a professor of English at Columbia College in Chicago. “We wanted to create a perfectly sound and solid platform.”

The centerpiece of the new organization will be the already well-established Mentoring and Leadership Institute. The program, started by the former Black Caucus in 2003, was sponsored by the AT&T Foundation, the American Council on Education and Savannah State University. The program enrolled approximately 30 rising administrators each summer for the past four years. But the sponsorship deal ended after this year’s conference, leading some to wonder what the future will hold for the institute. Smith says the ABHE is committed to raising new support to keep the institute going.

Dr. Joseph H. Silver Sr., the institute’s director and vice president for academic affairs at Savannah State, says ABHE does not intend to operate in a vacuum. In an age where diversity is essential for success, he says the fledgling group wants to partner with groups that have similar interests and goals.

“There is a need for this organization, and there is a passion and commitment among those on this board to facilitate positive careers for people of color in higher education,” says Silver. “We are not trying to be isolationist; we want to [partner] because we clearly understand that those institutions and organizations that are not embracing diversity have difficult days ahead. We want to make sure that we are included at every level of the academy.”

Two major focus areas for ABHE are mentoring and professional development. Specifically, the ABHE wants to assist its constituents with negotiating, planning and navigating a route through the academy. Through emphasizing the importance of professional engagement and building strong relationships among peer groups, the organization hopes to place more Blacks in key positions within the higher education community.

“I am really excited for us to continue our work to develop young Black professionals into senior faculty and administrators,” says board member Karen Eley Sanders, assistant provost and director of academic support services at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. “That’s critical.”

As the organization moves forward, how it addresses these critical issues will go a long way in determining the group’s viability and success. The next step for ABHE is to contact former caucus members, informing them of the changes and inviting them to join the new group. The ABHE also plans to hold an issues-oriented national summit in March 2008.



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