How Black Legislators Get Backed Down on HBCU Advocacy

We just don’t know how desperate it can become for black lawmakers when it comes to advocacy for historically black colleges. But now and then, we can get a glimpse into state houses all over the country to see how our elected officials are wrangled in the party line they must tow to keep their jobs.

South Carolina State University heads a long list of examples from this past week alone, showing how easy it is for the best of intentions can be derailed. From the Times & Democrat and its latest report on the university’s effort to pay down state-owed debt and expediting its presidential search:

The House says the institution must also show an increase in enrollment and hire a permanent president by December.

(Orangeburg Democrat Sen. Brad) Hutto’s doubtful that the Senate would agree to the requirement about hiring a president by December.

Govan says he won’t support the condition.

“That’s clearly a violation of SACS guidelines,” he said. “I’m pretty sure that will be taken out.”

That was an issue that concerned the Black Caucus from the beginning, (Orangeburg Democrat Rep. Jerry) Govan said. They considered amending the requirements to remove the condition before voting for it. However, they were concerned that amending the plan could risk it not being passed altogether, so they let it go, he said.

Last week, black lawmakers in Maryland were taken to task for their support of and silence on a bill which strengthens several public predominantly white institutions in the Baltimore-Metropolitan area, while ignoring the persistent inequities at Morgan State University and Coppin State University. From the Afro-American Newspaper:

If it isn’t apathy and outright failure on the job, then how then can the Baltimore City delegation members, and more importantly representatives of Districts 43 and 40, explain their cluelessness about the impact Senate (SB1052) and House (HB1607) bills (the ‘2016 Merger Bills’) may possibly have upon Baltimore City’s historically Black higher-ed institutions Coppin State and Morgan State Universities?

…Is any portion of this $290 million going to benefit anyone impacted by last April’s unrest? Coppin State is but a 10-minute walk from the West Baltimore area of unrest and is surrounded by blight with not a penny spent toward bettering the surrounding infrastructure.  Is it not strange that Maryland’s leaders would rather invest tax-payer dollars in short-term solutions instead of in proven long-term investments that turn around communities like those surrounding Coppin State University?

If Morgan State University is “Maryland’s Public Urban University,” then why are the leaders of the Maryland General Assembly and the Baltimore City state delegation working so hard at keeping Morgan in the shadows and inferior to the largely White institutions under the University of Maryland system?  Why would elected leaders co-sign the 2016 Merger Bills that throw more money at schools in the well-heeled University of Maryland system, that move more segments of that system into Coppin and Morgan’s backyard, and generate unreasonable additional competition for students and resources to the possible detriment of Baltimore’s HBCU’s?

In Louisiana, legislators have revealed a budget proposal for capital construction across the state’s public colleges and universities. The nation’s historically black flagship campus, Southern University – Baton Rouge gets a nod for $3.5 million and Grambling State University receives $2.8 million – both for critical improvements to campus heating and cooling systems, and library maintenance, respectively.

The combined total of Priority I funding requests for the schools equals to just over 10 percent of the legislative ask for Louisiana State University – $57 million. Southern was recently profiled for the decaying condition of its campus, and Grambling State declared a campus emergency to deal with flooding. Combined, the SUS and GSU would rank sixth on the state’s priority list of construction and renovation for higher education. Separately, they rank last among all public four-year institutions receiving funding.

    1. LSU BR $57 million
    2. McNeese $42.4 million
    3. SLU $22.6 million
    4. LaTech $10.6 million
    5. UNO $9.175 million
    6. Nicholls $8.4 million
    7. ULM $4.329 million
    8. NSU $3.105 million
    9. LSU Alexandria $3.08 million
    10. Southern BR $2.885 million
    11. Grambling $2.844 million
    12. ULL $1.18 million
    13. SUNO $650,000

And not one black legislator has publicly condemned or commented on the proposed spending inequities.

One HBCU executive in the state put it best – “Not sure what to make of it – if we lack lobbying, vision to request the things we need, if this is just utter neglect, or all three.”

We would hope that the federal Congressional Black Caucus would serve as a blueprint of making HBCU solvent for state’s and communities. Legislators like Alma Adams, Corrine Brown, James Clyburn, G.K. Butterfield, Marcia Fudge and Elijah Cummings have consistently freed and directed federal funding to HBCUs in their jurisdictions, and have brokered partnerships between HBCUs and private corporations who seek support from federal lawmakers – so why does this not work on the state level?

We understand that black lawmakers have to represent interests beyond those of predominantly black communities in voting districts. We get that a vote or comment on one initiative can cost legislative backing on other important lawmaking, like job creation, health care access, voter districting, and other important issues.

But we can’t understand the lack of compassion and voice on blatant HBCU discrimination. Nationwide, most of our elected black officials, many of whom are graduates or direct beneficiaries of HBCU education and representing a party which fundamentally supports social mobility through spending and flexibility in cultural tolerance, help to design and pass growth-stunting legislation which harms black colleges, and remain silent on the potential and actual effects.

On smaller scales, the same kind of legislative back-turning is happening in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Virginia and Florida. And yet, black lawmakers in these state are continuing to make promises, win votes, earn money and skate by without real inquiry from HBCU advocates.

Maybe it is time to stop questioning ‘how’ and to start asking ‘when’ and ‘who.’ And the sentence goes “when are these jokers up for reelection, and who can we get to replace them?

5 comments
    1. It’s hard for HBCU leaders to speak up – they can be replaced by the will of the state governance. But it is true that alumni and students should be speaking up 24/7.

  1. I think we have to give black legislators some credit as well. SCSU would be closed now if not for black legislators. So while they may not get the results we’d like they are useful advocates for HBCUs.

    1. I’m not so convinced. SCSU is still under state-control with a board comprised of legislatively-selected trustees. State legislators are setting the timetables for when the school selects a president, how it manages finances – who’s to say they won’t step in outwardly or overtly on program development, mergers, admissions and recruitment, etc?

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