When the Southern University Board of Supervisors meets tomorrow, its agenda won’t feature an appeal to fold Grambling State University into the system, an idea floated recently by SUS Board Member Tony Clayton.
Clayton, whose role as Supervisor is believed by many to be driven by personal business and political agendas, once stood with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal at a press conference on the idea of pilfering Southern University at New Orleans from the SUS and merging it with a nearby PWI.
That idea eventually turned into a proposed bill, which went on to die in state legislature. Regrettably, Clayton’s ambition and mission to hand-deliver Southern to Jindal are alive and well, and have sharpened to now include Grambling in an effort to minimize, and inevitably end historically black higher education in the state.
Race, money and politics make for a witches brew in Louisiana, especially when it comes to the direction of its historically black colleges. Like clockwork, Republican legislators rotate the three for the grounds to justify and mobilize against the existence of Southern. Every other year, it seems, there’s a claim that racism and discrimination are defeated in Louisiana, or money and resources are too sparse to adequately support HBCUs, or that the political will of the people is stronger than ever against the Southern System and its autonomy.
But there’s a major difference between being burned and being burned to the ground. The Jaguar nation has been reactive enough to prevent the razing of the System, and now struggles to manage it with ravaged funding and support.
Now Clayton, Jindal’s man for inside baseball on everything Southern and operative to mobilize anti-Southern rhetoric in the Louisiana business community, seeks to bring Grambling into the mix. There’s some legitimacy to his claims about Grambling being better served in the Southern System than in the University of Louisiana System. In a legislature chock full of racists, and with a black citizenry plagued by systemic economic and educational limitations, a sensible argument could be made for one system that serves the academic and research needs of Louisiana’s black population.
But Grambling moving into such a system should be of its own volition, and not forced by the hand of government or peers in the historically black academic community. Grambling serves a different region of the state with different developmental goals and needs from those of Baton Rouge, Shreveport or New Orleans. Even if limited by the UL leadership, there is value in Grambling and its constituency making the case for their own mission and objectives, and not having those objectives prioritized within the Southern context.
At the very least, Grambling should want to avoid being under the leadership of Tony Clayton, who with this latest stunt appears to be jockeying for another appointment to the SU board in the short-term, and angling for a gubernatorial cabinet appointment in the long-term.
When Grambling and Southern meet Saturday in the Bayou Classic, they will bring two distinctly different fans to the Superdome. They will bring different traditions, legacies, allegiances and cultural brands. Both are vital to the state’s sports and entertainment profile by way of the Bayou Classic, and the state’s
phantom effort to increase access and opportunities for its residents. More importantly, both play an important role in combating the ill local and national perspective that all HBCUs are the same and do the same things.
It is true that HBCUs are stronger together than they are separately, but stronger only in their ability to collaborate academically, dialogue on cultural advancement, and willingness to work for political leveraging. Beyond those partnerships, they should be left to choose their own fates by way of leadership and vision.
And as long as HBCUs can avoid leaders like Clayton, they will have a brighter future ahead of them.