Two college presidents in Southwest Georgia resigned last week. Everette Freeman from historically Black Albany State University and Peter Sireno from predominantly white Darton State Colllege.
Both resigned abruptly with little to no time to say goodbye to the campus community. But only one of them made an ominous suggestion about the futures of both institutions.
In a letter, Sireno applauded change coming to Albany’s signature institutions of higher ed, and alluded to a term which simultaneously frightens and enrages HBCU supporters nationwide: merger.
“Many exciting changes and challenges are in store for Darton State in the months and years ahead, among them a merger. Although I will not be here with you to meet these challenges, I know you will continue to support Darton State College’s higher education mission.
The merger mention lends itself to previous legislative discussions about Darton and Albany State merging, which typically inflames constituents on both sides and causes the issue to eventually die down.
But this time, with leadership at both schools in flux and state budgets buckling under the pressure of continuing economic instability, the merger talk may grow stronger and more substantive in the next few months. It may become inevitable that the two schools will merge in a cost-saving, culture killing initiative by Georgia legislature and the UGA system of higher education.
If the ASU-DSU is all but a done deal, it would be wise for Albany State and HBCU constituents in the state to quickly and comprehensively advocate for Darton State to be absorbed by Albany State, and for all of its appropriations and support mechanisms to come with it.
Sure, the move will anger some in the region and will cause racial divides that would make even the most closeted Dixiecrats in Georgia legislature blush. But if Albany State alumni and supporters take a “wait and see” attitude on this issue, they will be behind the press and public consensus on what is best for Southwest Georgia.
And what is best for the region is for the older, better branded and more industry compatible Albany State to be granted more resources and students to grow its imprint in the state.
Albany State has enough historic and political clout to survive the initial backlash and reticence from residents who will outright refuse to attend or support a historically Black college. And that group isn’t just limited to closed-minded white folks; it includes Black folks who consider HBCUs inferior or having outlived their usefulness in what they perceive to be a post-racial society.
But given Albany State’s mission of access, its growing profile in academic and professional support for Albany and its legacy of influential alumni who remain connected to the campus and city, Albany, GA stands a chance to emerge as a great college town with opportunities available to a wide cross section of its citizens.
Albany State has proven its value to the community with key partnerships and articulation agreements with neighboring two-year schools to fortify the city’s criminal justice, emergency management and business sectors. ASU has brought culture and entertainment to the region with its fine arts series and athletic success.
All of the things you could ask for an HBCU to mean to its surrounding community, Albany State has delivered. And to continue that legacy of service and empowerment for Southwest Georgia, ASU must be empowered to grow and expand its mission.
That expansion probably won’t happen without a merger, and its time for ASU supporters, students and alumni to make the case now before an alternative is developed on their behalf.