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NCCU Goes on Offense: We’re Not a “Poor Cousin” to Duke

In its coverage of the Duke University men’s lacrosse rape story, the media for months has contrasted the elite, privileged world of Duke with the struggling-to-get-by image of the historically Black North Carolina Central University, where the alleged rape victim is a student. 

While physically only a couple of miles apart, the manicured expanse of Duke — which has an endowment of $3.8 billion — is psychologically far removed from the functional brick buildings of NCCU, which has an endowment of just $22 million. That such differences exist between a mostly White institution, built off of plantation money, and a mostly Black institution, created in 1910 when Blacks were denied entry to other schools, has raised questions of lingering inequalities.

Yet in the months following the alleged rape, NCCU Chancellor James Ammons Sr. has stuck by his wealthier neighbor, appearing often with the Duke President Richard H. Brodhead. But last week, Ammons went public with concerns that the highly publicized scandal is tarnishing NCCU’s reputation. 

In an op-ed piece he e-mailed to dozens of national publications, Ammons lashed out at the public’s “unfavorable comparisons” between NCCU and Duke, and at being “tagged with stereotypical labels.

“References in news stories to North Carolina Central as ‘scrappy and willful’ or ‘a poor cousin to Duke University’ create a picture of an institution that is financially strapped, lacks sophistication and is devoid of excellence,” wrote Ammons. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

While maintaining that relations with Duke are stronger than ever, Ammons and other administrators said NCCU was being victimized and its image distorted by the public and the media, who have broadened the lacrosse scandal into a case of haves and have-nots between the schools.

That is ironic, administrators point out, because NCCU’s funding and enrollment have recently increased. After decades of under-funding, the state Legislature has allotted more than $121 million in new programs and renovations to the university in recent years. Part of that funding went towards constructing a new state-of-the-art structure for the NCCU School of Law, considered one of the best HBCU law schools in the country.

“Do we have as much money as Duke? No. And God bless them — they deserved it; they raised it,” says professor Raymond Pierce, dean of the School of Law. “But to call us a poor cousin of Duke’s? We have nothing to do with Duke. We’re public and they’re private. 

 “I just got a new building, so I’m not complaining and I’m not looking over at Duke,” he adds.

The negative portrayal of NCCU has not come from Duke, but from outsiders, NCCU administrators say. They point to newspapers such as The New York Times, which ran a front page article May 1 that called NCCU “Duke’s Struggling Cousin.”

A spokesman for Duke says Brodhead recently read Ammons’ op-ed piece while traveling in Asia and sent Ammons a message complimenting him on it.

“He was pleased to see it. They have been working very closely together in past months, meeting regularly and talking regularly,” says spokesman David Jarmul.

Long before the March 13 incident, in which a Black stripper and NCCU student accused members of the Duke lacrosse team of raping her at an off-campus party, the two universities have partnered on projects. According to a Web site set up specifically to publicize Duke/NCCU partnerships, scientists from the two schools work together on research projects involving health care, cancer, nursing and women’s health. Political science professors at the two universities recently collaborated on a civil rights project.

Many programs allow students to take classes at either of the universities, and professors also teach classes at both schools, which are a five-minute drive apart in Durham.

In his op-ed piece, Ammons pointed out that while Duke and NCCU share much, “Our institutions have entirely different missions because of societal gaps, economic disparities, institutionalized racism and other hindrances to higher education. Historically Black institutions still shoulder the responsibility for educating a significant number of college-bound African-Americans.”

Enrollment at NCCU continues to grow and is up to 8,500, up from 5,400 five years ago. Annual tuition at the university is $8,000 for North Carolina residents, compared to $44,000 at Duke.

Ammons also pointed out that NCCU contributes to the state’s strength, having produced 11 members of the North Carolina General Assembly and more than 50 state judges. Alumni include former NCCU Chancellor Julius Chambers; Gov. Mike Easley; attorney Willie Gary; Andre Leon Tally, editor-at-large of Vogue magazine; Bishop Eddie Long, senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church; and George Hamilton, president of Dow Automotive, a business unit of The Dow Chemical Co.

Almost all of NCCU’s students are from North Carolina, and tend to stay in the state after graduation. Only 13 percent of Duke’s student body is from North Carolina, and many move to big Northeastern cities after receiving their degrees. 

At NCCU, administrators say they look at themselves as an educational institution with a mission much deeper than raising big endowments and being nationally recognized.

Dr. Jarvis Hall, director of the political science department at NCCU, attended North Carolina A&T State University as an undergraduate. He says he grew up in a rural town in the the state and might not have been able to rise to such academic success had he not attended small, nurturing institutions. Now, he sees his role at NCCU as doing the same kind of work in building a stronger Black middle class. Approximately 60 percent of NCCU students receive financial aid, and 81 percent are Black.

“I’m very proud to be here. There’s a real sense of mission,” Hall says. “I’m trying to reach people who ordinarily wouldn’t have the opportunity for a good education.”


— By Christina Asquith

Reader comments on this story:

There is currently 1 reader comment on this story:

“Thank you”
I thank you for this article.  You have articulated what I have felt for months.  As a graduate of both the undergraduate and law school, I never felt my experience was lacking. I flourished in the love, brotherhood and security that NCCU’s community and familial environment provided me.  Contrary to what has been presented in the mass media, students at NCCU want to be at NCCU.  When I was in school, I lacked nothing.  I am encouraged by NCCU’s growth and I will always love my school.  Again, thank you. 
-Daron Satterfield

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