Working Toward a Common GoalThe last time Black Issues reported on the exclusive honor society Phi Beta Kappa, Fisk and Howard universities, in addition to Morehouse College, were the only three historically Black colleges and universities with Phi Beta Kappa chapters — that was in 1990 (see Black Issues, Sept. 27, 1990). In 1997, Phi Beta Kappa granted Spelman College a chapter, putting the HBCU membership at four. And at four, the HBCU membership remains.
Since there must be a certain percentage of Phi Beta Kappa faculty members at an institution before it can even apply for a charter, in “Phi Beta Kappa: A Surefire Key to the Community of Scholars,” the 1990 article, Dr. Ruth Simmons, then Spelman provost, said the low number of Black institutions chartered by the society serves as a dramatic commentary on the effect of past race relations on current-day thinking. “The whole notion of a certain proportion of Phi Beta Kappas at an institution historically discriminates against Black universities. It does not speak to the reality of living in a society segregated for a period of time,” said Simmons, now president of Brown University.
And although the HBCU membership remains at four, there are two African American members who sit on the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa Senate, the legislative governing council of the society. In this edition, senior writer Ronald Roach takes a new look at the scholarly organization, and its influence on HBCUs as well as on Black students at predominantly White colleges.
Earlier this summer I wrote about our visit with six members of the “Call Me Mister” program in one of my Editor’s Notes. As you may remember, the program, which is based at Clemson University in South Carolina and partners with three HBCUs in the state, recruits, trains and certifies Black male students to become elementary and secondary schoolteachers. The effectiveness of the program will soon be tested when the first group of “Mister” scholars, which are expected to graduate in two years or so, enter a South Carolina classroom to begin their four-year commitment as teachers. Associate editor Robin Smiles reports on the program’s evolution and the challenges it is up against as it prepares its students for teaching careers at a time when many are bypassing the profession as a career option.
Speaking of HBCUs, I had the opportunity to speak with a number of HBCU presidents over the last few weeks. Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, the new president of Spelman College, visited with the Black Issues staff recently at our offices (see story, pg. 8). In addition, the National Conference on Historically Black Colleges and Universities held here in Virginia last month also provided me the opportunity to speak with some college presidents as well. All of the presidents are passionate about the mission of historically Black institutions, but it’s difficult to fulfill that mission without adequate resources. President Bush’s Advisory Board on Historically Black Colleges and Universities visited with members of the Bush administration, as well as the president himself briefly, and are recommending increased federal spending for HBCUs. Whether it’s by applying for Phi Beta Kappa membership or to fund such programs as “Call Me Mister,” HBCUs continue to find ways to provide the ultimate educational experience for its students despite the fact that their resources often pale in comparison to those of other higher educational institutions. At the same time, there are the HBCU “haves” as well as the “have-nots.” The HBCU advisory board seeks to spread the wealth among all HBCUs by way of its recommendations (see story, pg. 7).
Historically Black institutions are one of the few places in this country that Black people can honestly say were built specifically for them, said Spelman’s Dr. Tatum during her visit. Tatum summarized well her hopes for students attending Spelman, a sentiment I’m sure many HBCUs presidents would echo regarding their own student body: “I want Spelman students to be able to say, ‘This place was built for me, and it is nothing less than the best.’ Not, ‘this place was built for me, and it’s kind of shabby.’ ” Hilary Hurd Anyaso
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