In an effort to cut costs in Mississippi, Gov. Haley Barbour suggested merging the state’s three historically Black institutions. Let me tell you what is wrong with this recommendation.
First, Barbour makes the false assumption that Black colleges are all alike and lack diversity. Recommending that the urban Jackson State merge with rural Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State is uninformed. These institutions have different missions and serve different student populations. Barbour fails to understand the logistics of trying to manage one larger institution split up by miles of highways.
Second, why merge all the black institutions and not consider merging all the white institutions as well? I realize Barbour also proposed merging the Mississippi University for Women with Mississippi State, but what about the state’s other White institutions – Ole Miss or Delta State, for example? They’re both predominantly and historically White so they must all be alike – right? They must serve the same constituency – right?
Third, what happened to that little old legal battle called Fordice. Here you have a historic case whose settlement promised resources to the historically Black institutions in the state. Why? Because for decades these institutions were the victims of immense racism and stalwart segregation. The Fordice settlement was aimed at bolstering Black colleges and making them stronger so they could provide an education all students. Have we forgotten about the past? One need only look at the state’s treatment of Jackson State and its students during the civil rights era or the arguments by the state in the Fordice case for evidence of uneven treatment.
Fourth, if we are to meet President Barack Obama’s goals for higher education, which are aimed at strengthening our nation so we can be more globally competitive, don’t we need all of our institutions of higher education? Why would we want to eliminate pathways to education for low-income and minority students?
Rather than mergers, the answer to a budget crisis lies in across-the-board budget cuts at all institutions (and perhaps in other areas as higher education is crucial to the livelihood of the state). And, in the spirit of Fordice and in support of strengthening Black colleges, cuts should start at the state’s historically White institutions that have benefited from decades of support. This is not the time to make cuts at underfunded institutions that have long been starved for resources.
Without these Black colleges and universities, the state would not have a Black middle class. And, many young people would not have the opportunity to learn. We need to stop thinking about our Black colleges as disposable and replaceable, and provide them with the funding and resources they deserve.
Dr. Marybeth Gasman is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund”