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Georgia’s Only HBCU Engineering Program Fighting Closure

Georgia’s Only HBCU Engineering Program Fighting Closure
Clark Atlanta University says program would be too costly to bring up to accreditation standards

Yemaya Stallworth came to Clark Atlanta University to be an engineer, choosing to pursue her destiny at a school where her teachers and classmates looked like her. Working at General Electric while taking classes full time toward an electrical engineering degree, the 20-year-old sophomore embodies the historically Black school’s motto: “I’ll find a way or make one.”

But time is running out on Clark Atlanta’s engineering department,

which is slated to shut down by May 2008 as part of a cost-cutting move by the school’s board of trustees. Eight engineering professors and a group of engineering students filed a lawsuit last month in hopes of getting a judge to reverse the decision.

“There’s a dire need for us to produce Black engineers,” says Kester Garraway, a mechanical engineering senior and president of the Student Education Reform Group. “The faculty can better relate to our struggles — some of us need that one-on-one time that we get at CAU.”
Clark Atlanta’s board voted in 2003 to eliminate the engineering department, along with the school of library and information studies, which closed in May. The international affairs department, the allied health professions program and the systems science doctorate program were also tagged for elimination.

The board cited the university’s $7.5 million deficit and a need to concentrate more on other areas of study like business, mass media, biology, education and social work — disciplines university president Dr. Walter D. Broadnax says would draw more donors and raise the school’s profile.

According to CAU officials, the engineering program doesn’t fit into its strategic plan because it is not specialized, not accredited and would be too costly to bring up to accreditation standards.

In the lawsuit filed in Fulton County Superior Court, faculty and students said that Broadnax based the phase-out on personal preferences, not on financial needs or department performance.

“We want the issue revisited,” department chairman Dr. Lebone Moeti says. “It will be clear that the department should be put back together.”
Provost Dr. Dorcas Bowles says the trustees’ decision is final.
“I don’t want to revisit the decision,” says Bowles. “The board of trustees approved the decision, and the process of phasing out the program has begun. That’s basically it.”

College spokeswoman Debra Miller declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying the school needed time to review it. Broadnax has previously stated the cuts were needed to right the school’s finances. Clark Atlanta is up for reaccreditation at the end of next year.

“We got into financial trouble because we had spread ourselves too thin,” Broadnax wrote in his March 2005 presidential address.
Clark Atlanta’s program, which began in 1994, offers majors in mechanical, chemical, electrical and civil engineering. With the program closed, students would rely solely on an existing program where students attend Clark Atlanta for three years before transferring to one of 11 other schools to finish their engineering education, getting two degrees after five years from both institutions. One popular choice is the Georgia Institute of Technology, the primary educator of engineers in the state and the nation.

But through the partnership, students are forced to leave their alma mater. And at a school like Georgia Tech, they miss the unique experience of attending a historically Black college — a choice that drew many of them to Clark Atlanta.

“The drive they have to get postdoctoral degrees, to create their own businesses, to become consultants, is because of the foundation they got at a historically Black college,” says Temitayo Akinrefon, a graduate engineering student at the University of Central Florida in Orlando and regional chairwoman of the National Society of Black Engineers.

The department’s closing also would bring the number of engineering programs at historically Black colleges nationwide to 13. Most are at schools in the South, including two each in Alabama, Louisiana, Maryland and Virginia. Georgia would lose its only Black engineering program.

Associated Press

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