The New York Times recently profiled the racial renaissance at Georgia State University, billing the now-sprawling downtown Atlanta campus as an institution reformed from segregated targeting of white businessmen to becoming the nation’s largest producer of African American college graduates. From the NYT:
By focusing on retaining low-income students, rather than just enrolling them, the college raised its graduation rate to 54 percent in 2017 from 32 percent in 2003. And for the last five years, it has awarded more bachelor’s degrees to African-Americans like Ms. Jones than any other nonprofit college or university in the country.
That record is a bright spot for a state that ranks among the 10 worst for graduating black males from high school, according to a 2015 report by the Schott Foundation for Public Education. It has also changed the educational landscape in Atlanta, home to some of the nation’s most renowned historically black colleges. They came into being because the State of Georgia used to reject or neglect black students seeking a college degree. But now a state-funded college is serving as an inspiration for them.
It sounds good for every predominantly white institution (PWI) looking to reinvent itself in the harsh reality that higher education as an industry will not survive unless it gives opportunities to poor and minority students. Georgia State uses analytics to support black student academic success from matriculation to graduation; a digital version of the HBCU professors calling dorm rooms, giving students money to buy food or books, and spending hours outside of class mentoring undergraduates in laboratories, art studios, recital halls and writing rooms all over this country.
It’s no secret – from the University of Maryland – Baltimore County to the University of California at Berkeley, PWIs have perfected the art of HBCU, and black students are happy to have the best resources in facilities, athletics and instruction combined with a simulated-version of HBCU culture lived out through just enough black students and just enough black faculty on campus to let them know at some level, there’s a vibe for black folks on campus.
But there’s one thing white folks, black folks and everyone in between can’t betray; no matter how much money is at stake or how much culture has to be conceded or built to earn it, no one in power ever gives it up willingly.
Georgia State, for every single black person from whom it is willing to take money, couldn’t be less willing to pay it back to black faculty and executives.
In 2016, the number of African American faculty members totaled 192 out of 1,624 part and full-time positions at the Atlanta campus, good for 11% of its teaching and research workforce, and third behind white and Asian American professors.
Non-instructional African American personnel on the Atlanta campus totaled 1,842 out of 3,437 positions; good for 53% of employees in this group but largely represented by the 547 workers who served in office support roles and the 523 workers in service positions who account for 31% of the number.
And then there’s the view of the campus’ executive leadership team. In 2016, here was the profile of GSU’s executive roster.
With the departure of Kelley Alexander as the campus ombudsperson and being replaced by two white appointees, four percent of the pride of diversity in American higher education reflects the 20,126 black students at Georgia State, who while good enough to pour billions into the university as students and consumers, apparently are also part of a group which appears to be unqualified to earn a living running the institution which remade itself in the image of the HBCU tradition.
Black people make up 39% of GSU’s consumer base, 22% of the non-teaching workforce outside of service and support labor, and 11% of faculty. But the HBCUs which have long carried the nation’s water on educating underserved black communities and employing black scholars and executives are still waiting for a non-HBCU Digest headline at which the nation can marvel.
Cue the music.