Experts Leary of Texas’ Latest Education Disparity Elimination Efforts
By Lydia Lum
Educators here are asking state lawmakers to help finance new endowments of faculty positions and student scholarships. The request is part of an effort to settle the dispute between the federal Office of Civil Rights and the state of Texas regarding inequalities among the state’s two public historically Black universities and other state-funded schools.
A $24 million proposal is one of the recommendations recently approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to forward to the Texas Legislature.
For months, a task force appointed by the Coordinating Board has examined ways to improve historically Black Texas Southern and Prairie View A&M universities. Their recommendations, which the board unanimously approved, also included establishing a student development and support center at Prairie View; establishing an institutional development office at TSU; building more student housing at TSU and developing additional academic degree programs at both universities.
The Texas proposal calls for lawmakers to offer $24 million in matching grants to Prairie View and TSU. Each school would raise $6 million for new endowments of faculty chairs, and another $6 million each for endowed scholarships. Educators are suggesting the state match funds raised by each university, dollar for dollar, up to $6 million for each endowment over a six-year spending cycle. These funds would be in addition to the regular state appropriation based on the number of enrolled students.
If approved by the Texas Legislature when it convenes for its biennial session in January, the $24 million expenditure would be unprecedented in this state. In Texas, college endowments are made up of private gifts.
Outside Texas, public funds have helped many universities, including historically Black schools. But some observers criticize states for putting so much of the burden on school fund-raising.
“This is like giving someone a pay raise and then asking that person to come up with it himself,” says Earl Ingram, vice president and equity officer at George Mason University in Virginia. Ingram also worked for the OCR for much of the 1980s.
Other critics of the Texas proposal say that Prairie View and TSU shouldn’t be expected to do so much to resolve a dispute that’s actually between the state and the OCR.
“This proposal is not a redress,” says Dr. M. Christopher Brown, professor of higher education at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Brown also has published his research about college desegregation in the southern and border states. “There are a lot of strings attached. This does not redress the issues of underfunding all these years at these schools.”
Ironically, supporters of the Texas idea aren’t sure if it’s even legal. Education leaders insist that the proposal is aimed only at TSU and Prairie View, which could be interpreted as race-based. Courts already struck down affirmative action in Texas college admissions in the Hopwood case. No one has consulted with Texas Attorney General John Cornyn about the legality of the plan. However, Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s staff lawyer has helped shape the idea, says Dr. Paul Grubb, interim director of access and equity for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which oversees Texas’s public universities and community colleges. “We’re helping institutions that need help,” Grubb says. “And it’s short-term, targeted help.”
Meanwhile, needs continue to plague both schools.
During a presentation to the Coordinating Board, TSU’s president, Dr. Priscilla Slade, reiterated how the school was built in 1947 “on a shoestring and a promise” of a school just for Blacks amid efforts to keep the University of Texas segregated. A consultant recently rated all 31 of TSU’s buildings in poor condition. A report stated that repairing half the buildings would cost $1 million and repairing utility infrastructure would cost more than $8 million.
Fortunately, the problems don’t jeopardize student and faculty safety, the consultant reported.
Earlier this year, Bush and OCR officials signed a deal saying they would agree on a plan to resolve disparities in Texas higher education (see Black Issues, June 22). Texas, which has relied on several state-approved desegregation plans, is one of 11 states where federal officials are still monitoring its progress in eliminating dual systems of higher education as part of their enforcement of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination in federally subsidized schools.
For their part, OCR officials have warned Bush’s staff that the final plan should include close monitoring “to ensure timely implementation [and] provide the state and OCR with a mechanism to determine progress,” says Taylor August, Dallas director for the OCR’s Southern Division.
For instance, TSU and Prairie View officials should report fund-raising efforts and progress to the state Coordinating Board as well as their recruitment efforts to diversify the applicant pool for the endowed chairs, August wrote in an October letter to Bush’s staff.
“Negotiations are going along as planned,” says Bush spokesman Mike Jones. “We are getting feedback from OCR officials and hope talks continue smoothly.”
dIFFERENT FOLKS, DIFFERENT STROKES
In the 1980s in Virginia, lawmakers allocated funds to start the Commonwealth Program, drawing top-flight senior Black faculty to George Mason University as visiting faculty. George Mason still had to cough up nearly half the visiting faculty’s salary, Ingram says. But the program more than doubled the embarrassingly low ranks of 10 Black faculty at George Mason before the program began. One faculty superstar is Pulitzer Prize winner Roger Wilkins, also a former assistant U.S. attorney general. Wilkins might not have moved to George Mason had it not been for the state-supported financial deal, Ingram says.
About 60 percent of the visiting Black faculty, including Wilkins, were hired into George Mason’s ranks, Ingram says. And Virginia has since cut off its financial support to the Commonwealth Program. “The program strangled itself over its own success,” Ingram says.
In Maryland, lawmakers have set aside more than $8.75 million in state-funded matching grants to start new endowments at each of the 11 schools within the University System of Maryland, including three historically Black institutions.
The state’s endorsement has attracted donors who never had given to minority schools, says John Martin, vice chancellor for advancement at Maryland. Some have been banks that are not owned by minorities.
Martin says Maryland bank officials had not considered the state’s Black colleges because of the lack of high-profile economics and business programs at some of those schools. “It’s time for all of us to support our minority institutions,” Martin says. “That includes those of us who have never raised money on behalf of our minority institutions.”
At Maryland’s historically Black Coppin State College, the state match is “an excellent incentive,” says Dr. Hattie Washington, vice president for institutional advancement. One-third of Coppin’s graduates are teachers and social workers with limited disposable income, so the matching grants help her and others at Coppin tap other individuals and corporations, Washington says. So far, Coppin has secured $126,000 in private funds. The new endowment is supposed to help finance academic programs, student services and community outreach programs.
Florida officials say that state has matched single gifts of $100,000 or more at varying levels since the late 1970s. The state has pumped a total of $327 million under the program to 10 schools in the University of Florida system. But now there is more than $100 million waiting to be matched.
Educators as well as lawmakers are considering how to modify the program because its success has outpaced state resources.
SHOW ME THE MONEY
The notion of Texas supporting endowments for faculty chairs is not new. In the 1980s, a state law was passed to encourage fund-raising among the 35 public universities. The law stated that for newly endowed faculty chairs, the state would match funds dollar-for-dollar from that endowment’s annual payout to increase the salary. But the Texas Legislature never set aside money for the program because of expensive crises in prison crowding and public school finance reform. The law eventually was repealed.
Former Prairie View A&M President Julius Becton is skeptical of Texas legislators. He says they “never understood” tenure or endowed chairs during his presidency in the early 1990s. He also wonders whether Prairie View and TSU could even raise the $12 million under the proposal. Former President George Bush currently is spearheading an unrelated $50 million TSU fund-raising campaign, although TSU’s fund-raising record is abysmal. A state report last year announced that each of TSU’s more than 30,000 alumni give less than an average of $2 yearly. Texas’ coordinating board reported that TSU received $1.9 million in
private donations in fiscal year 1999.
But Slade, as well as Prairie View A&M’s president, Dr. Charles Hines, had signed off on the proposal before the state Coordinating Board approved the ideas. Neither could be reached for a Black Issues interview.
It’s unclear where the money would come from. By law, it cannot come from the Permanent University Fund, a nationally known public endowment of West Texas land and oil wells now worth $10 billion and second in value only to Harvard University’s endowment. Annual payouts support capital projects at some of the schools within the University of Texas and Texas A&M University systems as well as discretionary “excellence funds” at the two predominantly White flagship schools. Adding other beneficiary schools to the PUF endowment would require legislative approval and a voter-approved state constitutional amendment.
No Texas lawmaker yet has drafted a formal bill embracing either the $24 million proposal or anything else to help resolve the OCR dispute. But Texas Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat whose district includes TSU, is optimistic. Recent reports from the Texas auditor’s office stated that TSU’s bookkeeping and accounting have improved for the first time in years. Previously, lawmakers had considered placing the school under a university system because of its administrative instabilities and poor bookkeeping. Yet Coleman echoes Brown’s concern about TSU and Prairie View having to raise money before the state match kicks in.
“Whatever agreement OCR and the governor make is the minimum,” Coleman says. “What do we want to do to make both universities whole? I don’t think it satisfies the OCR commitment that we should rely on the schools so much. It’s a good idea to improve fund-raising, but the schools should not be used as part of the agreement. The schools shouldn’t be used to avoid a lawsuit or to resolve one.”
Is the proposed $24 million even a serious start?
“It’s certainly helpful, but not enough to equalize” Prairie View and TSU with their majority White counterparts, says Al Kauffman, regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
In another case, a court had ruled that Texas’s predominantly Latino universities on the Mexican border were not sufficiently funded. Kauffman and MALDEF officials wrote a plan in 1992 asking Texas for $2 billion for program and capital improvements at universities in El Paso, San Antonio and Corpus Christi. Instead, they received $350 million.
“All of these plans need more funding and for longer terms,” Kauffman says.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com