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Presidential transitions – the appointment of the president of Smith College

Higher education rode a roller coaster in 1995, a year of actions that provoked rage and hope, sorrow and joy.

A review of important developments, trends and ideas of 1995 offers a sense of the ups and downs for minorities in higher education.

The Courts & the Classroom

The year was marked by two fresh threats to the drive to achieve racial diversity in higher education.

In one action that strikes at Black access to higher education, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a three-judge panel’s decision striking down a scholarship program for Blacks at the University of Maryland.

In May the high court let stand a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in favor of Daniel J. Podberesky, a Hispanic who was rejected for the university’s Benjamin Banneker Scholarship program.

The program provides full tuition, room and board to about 80 Black students.

In December, 1995 Podberesky received a check for $32,863, the cost of four years at the university.

The court voted 8-3 to overturn the race-based scholarship, rejecting the university’s contention that the scholarships could help remedy the university’s past policy of excluding African Americans.

In another key legal challenge for Blacks in higher education, a federal judge rejected an attempt to shut down Mississippi’s historically Black colleges and universities and directed the state to equalize admissions policies at its Black and white schools.

The action in the latest round in the United States vs. Fordice desegregation case came on March 7 when U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr. overruled Mississippi’s suggested approach to desegregate higher education. State officials wanted to shut down the historically Black Mississippi Valley State University or to merge predominantly white Mississippi University for Women with the white-majority Mississippi State University.

Presidential Transitions

For Black administrators, the year began on a upbeat note with the ascension of Ruth Simmons to the helm of Smith College.

The appointment of the former vice provost of Princeton University marked the first time an African American assumed the helm of one of the prestigious and conservative Seven Sisters colleges.

For African-American women in the academy, the appointment was a seminal moment, according to Deborah Carter, associate director of the Office of Minority Affairs at the American Council on Education.

“A big issue for minorities, especially Black women, is having support from friends and colleagues to help them negotiate in negative times;” says Carter.

“There are more women in those positions now. We’re still few in number but women have more difficulty in the positions commanding the kind of respect that men do,” Carter said.

But a wave of departures overshadowed Simmons’s appointment.

The world of Black higher education was shaken by the announced departure of Dr. Samuel Myers as head of the National Association For Equal Opportunity in Higher Education.

Under Myers’s leadership over 17 years, NAFEO’s role as the umbrella group for public and private historically and predominantly Black colleges and universities resuited in an estimated $1 billion in federal funds being directed to Black institutions.

Meanwhile, the top slots of historically Black colleges and universities appeared to be located behind revolving doors, to the concern of some higher education scholars. “This is a crisis period for Black higher education,” said Dr. James Anderson, chairman of the Education Policy Studies department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The parade of departures in 1995 was topped by the ousters in June of Dr. Barbara Hatton from South Carolina State University and of Dr. Joann Horton from Texas Southern University. Both were fired over management issues.

Among other departures were: Dr. Lois S. Williams, who resigned as president of Knoxville College in April, Dr. David Henson, who stepped down as president of Alabama A&M University in August and Dr. Henry Ponder, who announced in October that he would be leaving Fisk University.

The spasm of presidential departures, especially of those who came under fire, troubled Anderson. “We need to go back to the kind of consciousness that Dr. Benjamin Mays possessed. He knew that his transgressions wouldn’t be upon him the individual, but upon the institution and African-American people,” Anderson said.

Black Head Coaches On The Rise

The year was an upbeat one for Black student-athletes and college coaches, especially in the major revenue sports of football and basketball.

Three years ago there were no Black head coaches in Division l-A, the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s marquee division. Now there are six Blacks orchestrating major college football programs.

At the same time, Georgetown University coach John Thompson, the first Black to direct a predominantly white school’s team through the championship tournament, is no longer the only African-American at the top of college basketball coaching. The ranks of Black head basketball coaches now include Nolan Richardson of the University of Arkansas-Hot Springs, John Cheney of Temple University and George Raveling of the University of Southern California.

Still, the progress amounts to only baby steps, considering the dimensions of the coaching ranks, said Rudy Washington, executive director of the Black Coaches Association.

“I don’t think we’ve come an-awful long way. If you look at the whole scope of things, we’ve only come a little way. There is not a level playing field by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.

Meanwhile, the results of “no pass, no play” mandates on high school athletes and tougher eligibility NCAA requirements showed up with more Black athletes achieving eligibility and earning degrees.

“The predictions of academic disaster for athletes who were asked to do more proved false,” said Richard Lapchick, director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society.

Public Police

Congress and the courts set the tone for an assault on higher education policy. Within days of the start of the year, the historic 104th Congress began to consider measures that included a call to eliminate the Department of Education.

By year’s end the rhetoric had escalated into a budget stalemate between the White House and the Republican-controlled Congress.

“We are really in the midst of struggling to maintain programs and efforts that have been beneficial to people of color,” said Deborah Carter, associate director of the American Council on Education’s Office of Minority Affairs. “It’s been a horrific year.”

Unlike previous efforts to scrub ED from the cabinet, the current push occurred under the aegis of the first Republican-run Congress in 40 years. Led by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (RGA) and driven by a core of first-year House GOP members, the Congress targeted non-defense spending for the budget axe.

At the same time, the pace quickened in the assault on affirmative action marked by the vote of the University of California Board of Regents, at the urging of Gov. Pete Wilson (R), to stop using race-based admissions practices at the system’s nine campuses.

The action triggered a wave of campus protests reminiscent of the anti-war, civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s.

“The stakes here are tremendous,” said Ronald H. Walters, chairman of Howard University’s Department of Political Science.

“One thing that has gone unnoticed in this affirmative action onslaught … is that businessmen are not that hostile to affirmative action,” said Kenneth Tollett, distinguished professor at Howard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

The veteran Black educator asserts that, despite all their rhetoric, affirmative action opponents have generated more smoke than fire — so far.

He says that the chorus of protest has gotten louder and better organized. But, he noted, the campaign to place the initiative on the next general election ballot appears to have stalled. Right now, the drive is short of the 700,000 signatures of California registered voters to win a spot on the ballot.

“The problem is that there is not money to send people out there to get signatures on the petitions,” he said.

Fundraising Highs & Lows

For HBCU presidents, the year was marked by a new urgency for finding money to keep the doors open.

The flow of federal funds was already in decline with the end of the Cold War. Add in the budget-cutting fervor that has gripped Washington, and the task of fundraising has never been higher on administrators’ agendas.

Although the Clinton administration and the Republican-controlled Congress showed an eagerness to reduce the federal funds earmarked for Black students, the year marked a plateau for fundraising for historically Black colleges and universities.

With former Rep. William H. Gray III (D-PA) at the helm, the College Fund/ UNCF exceeded its $250 million goal by more than 12 percent.

“Campaign 2000,” the organization’s most ambitious capital drive, generated $ 280 million for HBCUs. The campaign was launched in April 1990 with a $50 million challenge grant from Walter H. Annenberg which provided one dollar for every four raised by the campaign.

Closing the Technology Gap

While the nation remains split into groups of technological haves and have-nots, Black college students are driving aggressively to close the computer gap between them and their white counterparts.

“It’s a footrace to the future and we’re running. Now that we have been given the opportunity, Blacks are doing well,” says Tepper Gill, director of the Computational Science and Engineering Research Center (COMSERC) at Howard University (DC).

He is referring to a recent flurry of interest in academic arid social computer use among Black students in higher education. Within the last 18 months there has been an explosion of electronic gateways, known as World Wide Web home pages, for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) on the Internet. The Internet is a massive cyberspace umbrella for the global network of computer bulletin boards and electronic research outposts and forums.

The number of World Wide Web sites, known as home pages, has soared from 0 to 32 for Black schools. In addition to the growing Black presence within the Internet, Gill says, “I’ve got kids here who aren’t getting paid and are here till 8 and 9 at night working on the computers.”

Risky Investments

As the pressure builds on colleges and universities to acquire and maintain a healthy investment portfolio, so do the risks associated with investments, as several institutions discovered in 1995.

Four community colleges in California’s wealthy Orange County were hit hard by the county’s $2 billion loss from investment in derivatives, an investment vehicle tied to low interest rates.

Similarly, when Odessa College (TX) officials bought mortgage-backed derivatives, they had little inkling that the securities would result in a $10 million loss.

In both instances, the exotic securities proved profitable at first. Then, when interest rates rose, the portfolios began to lose money because the value of the derivative securities is tied to real estate values.

The lesson community colleges drew from the crisis is “that you have to question where your money is,” said Dr. Vivian Blevins, president and chancellor of Rancho Santiago Community College, one of the four Orange County schools affected. “You can’t assume that people who are responsible for those funds are managing them responsibly,” he said.

All that was happening at a time when the flow of state funds to higher education continues to slow to a trickle. In the last three years, cuts in state funding nationwide have totaled $7.2 billion.

If the experience of New York state higher education institutions are any example, community colleges can expect heavy damage from the state higher education budget cutting.

If N.Y. state budget cutters have their way, four- and two-year institutions will lose more than $600 million in state and city funding in the future. Financial aid to part-time students would be eliminated and a 10 percent reduction of aid for the lowest income students was predicted as the result of a $10.5 million cut in state funding from the fiscal year 1996 budget.

“This cut will make college unaffordable. We’re going to have adults with high school level skills at a time when we need highly skilled workers,” said Rita Rodin, public information director for the City University of New York.

Remedial Ed on the Rocks

The budget axe and a drive to raise the bar for academic performance combined in 1995 to deal hard blows to remedial programs in higher education.

Fiscal realities are fueling a debate over whether four-year institutions should continue to shore up reading and writing deficiencies in undergraduate degree candidates.

“It’s already being challenged in the legislatures and it will continue to be challenged. Some of those challenges will come from faculty members,” said D. Stanley Carpenter, associate professor of education administration at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX.

In 1995, budget cuts proposed for the State University of New York system would eliminate remedial education from the City University of New York curriculum, in what observers say is a preview of things to come for existing remedial programs.

The result is an elevation of expectations and performance standards for remedial education programs. “We changed our attitude about performance,” said Jonnathyn Ogle, who helps run the Challenge Program at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, GA.

The Georgia Tech program is an example of how schools are redesigning remedial education programs to jump-start students’ academic performance early in their undergraduate years.

Ogle describes it as a “wake-up call to the fact that performance is the only things that matters.”

“We realized that we were doing a disservice to students by patting them on the back,” he said.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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