Misinformation Super Highway?
If you spend any time on the Internet, you know that there is a wealth of information that can zip through your phone lines and into your home or office in the blink of an eye. Some of that information is useful and some of it — well — isn’t.
Take, for example, the e-mail requesting help for a 7-year-old girl dying from brain cancer — who doesn’t exist. Or the one warning you not to flash your lights at a car without its lights on because you could be shot by a gang member undergoing a rite of initiation. Just a couple of examples of Net-lore and Internet hoaxes that clog the information superhighway.
Add this one to the mix: An e-mail message claiming that 14 historically Black colleges and universities are closing because of lack of funds. The ill-fated schools? Barber-Scotia College, Central State University, Huston-Tillotson College, Jarvis Christian College, Lane College, Mary Holmes College, Miles College, Paul Quinn College, Southwestern Christian College, Texas College, Texas Southern University and Wiley College. The problem? None are closing.
But those are the same 14 schools, according to a recent Sallie Mae report, that potentially could loose eligibility to participate in federal financial aid programs because of high student loan default rates.
Many of the schools polled by Black Issues In Higher Education reported that they were in the process of managing their default problems and had experienced increased enrollment or growing endowments.
“Whoever began this e-mail must have heard about the schools experiencing problems with default and some of the implications of that and then made a gross exaggeration of the facts,” says Dr. Lamor J. Carter, vice president for development at Texas College. “That these schools are closing — nothing could be farther from the truth.”
The Tyler, Texas, campus of 300 students expects to see a 10 percent to 15 percent enrollment increase this year and its endowment grow beyond $3.2 million, says Dr. Haywood Strickland, the college’s president.
The e-mail spotlights Texas’ six historically Black institutions and questions Gov. George W. Bush’s commitment to the schools. The message also suggests that Bush used Paul Quinn College as a campaign stump for his gubernatorial run, then abandoned the college. Bush served on the Dallas school’s trustee board in 1991.
Comer J. Cottrell Jr., a trustee at Paul Quinn College and chairman of the Pro-Line Corp., says that Bush has been nothing but supportive of the institution. Bush chaired a fund-raiser to help the university recover funds mismanaged by then-President Warren Morgan, he says.
Aware of Bush’s plans to run for governor at the time, Cottrell says he encouraged Bush to step down from the board amidst the college’s financial troubles. But Cottrell says Bush’s support has continued during his governorship.
“He’s met with all the Black college presidents and been very supportive,” Cottrell says.
Dr. Lee E. Monroe, president of Paul Quinn, agrees. He says Bush has signed off on key legislation supporting Texas’ private historically Black colleges while governor.
“This comes from someone with political motivations, and I think it emanated from the Black community,” Monroe says. “This is someone’s attempt to get involved in election politics, and they [dragged] us in.”
But the attempt to smear Bush’s reputation instead may be harming the reputation of several Black colleges and universities. Several administrators say they worry how the message will impact enrollments and fundraising.
“If this person was so concerned about the image of these schools they wouldn’t have sent this,” says Linda Jackson, a spokeswoman for Hutson-Tillotson College in Austin, Texas. “They have done more damage by sending this message out. People read the message for the first time [and] get concerned and alarmed.”
Paul Quinn decided to fight fire with fire. The school has used the Internet to set the record straight. Its Web site touts the school’s recent capital campaign raising $29 million — the e-mail says Black colleges can’t raise large endowments — and a recent local television interview highlighting Paul Quinn’s efforts to turn around its default rate. Monroe and a college spokesman have even responded directly to the rumor by posting counter e-mails on Web message boards.
“We’ve improved our public relations. We put all our press releases on the Web as well as our success stories,” Michael Vega, Paul Quinn’s director of public relations, says.
“This is unfortunate and we need to make sure that the colleges fight this. It is not good for the reputation of HBCUs at all. Hopefully, it will dry up as more people look into it,” he says.
Dr. Warren Martin, a marketing professor at the University of Alabama-Birmingham and former computer programmer who has studied marketing and the Internet, says that Paul Quinn did exactly the right thing.
Martin suggests a task force to reverse the negative media attention, which would send out mailings to key members of the community, such as students and alumni, as well as sending counter e-mails.
“It is exceptionally hard to combat this with the power of the Web,” Martin says. “Information can be relayed in an altered fashion so quickly.”
The battle has been a particularly tough one for Jarvis Christian College in Hawkins, Texas.
“It’s just not true, and we shouldn’t have been on the list to begin with,” Emma Strickland, secretary to the president, says of the e-mail.
The school mistakenly was placed on Sallie Mae’s list of schools with default loan problems and now the e-mail furthers the misinformation by suggesting that the school will close. The school has gotten retractions in three Texas newspapers and recently sent a letter to alumni.
“One of the results of the Internet is that people will have to be more responsive to their e-mail, try to control it and actually track down the source of these messages,” Martin says.
“People are in libel in my opinion. They are hurting reputations. People need to exercise more restraint and be careful of what they repeat.” n
George Bush was on the board of tiny Paul Quinn College. Mr. Bush has not fulfilled his duty to the people who helped him run successfully for governor of Texas. There will be six Black colleges in Texas, which will close due to a lack of funds. The Black college has served the citizens Texas faithfully. Paul Quinn College is the oldest Black college west of the Mississippi River! Matter of fact, it’s one of the oldest colleges in the State of Texas! How can Mr. Bush campaign in front of the Urban League and not address this situation? It’s a damn shame!
Paul Quinn and the other five colleges never receive the million dollar endowments like most White colleges. This article is not meant to sound racist, but when all the prominent Black athletes are wooed to attend the White colleges to play sports they generate millions and billions of dollars. Paul Quinn and the five others will close due to hundreds of thousands dollars. These institutions are older than most of their White counterparts, but they do not receive 5 percent of the endowment capital that’s given! Most of the time simply thrown at their White counterparts! I hope that someone who is a reporter for a newspaper or a television station would do a follow up article. “The citizens of America need to know how he forgets after you helped him with his agenda!” I would also appreciate if everyone tells a friend and they tell a friend how George Bush is neglecting a simple issue!
I know for a fact that George Bush campaigned at tiny Paul Quinn when he ran for governor. Paul Quinn went out of its way financially and morally to welcome him and look at their fate. Watch out America, we could be in for another one of those you-know-what presidents. George Bush might make a good president, but the best way to start is to take care of the people who took care of you when you were nothing! If he truly cared about his friends he would not turn his back on the ones who gave there all to help a so-called friend!
Oh yeah, Paul Quinn has students and teachers from all ethnic backgrounds who presently attend or have attended! It’s not a Black thing, it’s a moral thing!!
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