Armstrong State University Professor Regina Bradley this semester will begin offering a noncredit course on OutKast, taking a scholarly approach to the hip-hop duo’s musical, cultural and social impact on the genre and Southern lifestyle.
It is a fitting tribute to the group considered by most as the greatest group in hip-hop history. It is also an apparent death knell for Savannah State University, which separated by 10 miles and decades of funding disparities from Armstrong State will now find itself in an even bigger fight with an even bigger school.
University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley is expected to recommend the consolidation of Armstrong State and Georgia Southern University next week, which after hurt feelings subside and financial plans are finalized, will put SSU up against an in-state institutional adversary which will poach students, faculty, athletes, research support and media attention away from Georgia’s oldest historically black campus, and a major economic driver in Savannah.
Savannah State has for decades been the subject of speculation about merger, and the target of legislative proposals for the same. Five years ago, neither school was in the crosshairs for merger, and officials said HBCUs would not be a part of the discussions.
Since then, the state has consolidated predominantly white Darton State College and Albany State University, and while it worked to erase public description of the new institution as an HBCU, relented to public pressure to acknowledge the school’s historic and legal roots within its guiding principles.
With a federal lawsuit in Maryland set to enter remediaton next week on the subject of unlawful HBCU program duplication, no southern state wants to be caught on the bad end of allegations stemming from copying HBCU programs at nearby white schools to draw away students and resources.
But what states are happy to do is to allow HBCUs to languish in their autonomy, while building bigger, stronger, whiter colleges around them.
This is why Maryland authorized and funded a pseudo consolidation between its flagship College Park campus and the University of Maryland at Baltimore; to make for an easier time of funneling money away from Morgan State University and Coppin State University in the name of stronger research and economic development.
It’s why states like Tennessee and Florida, along with six other states, are using performance-based funding metrics and proposals to enhance community colleges to divert funding away from smaller four-year institutions with open access missions; namely, HBCUs.
But in Georgia, the proposition for draining talent and resources away from HBCUs becomes more perilous an example for states like Louisiana, South Carolina and North Carolina which have toyed with consolidation, but have rarely pulled the trigger. A plan that positions Georgia Southern as a larger school with comprehensive degree offerings, a Division I sports program, and an essential satellite campus an hour away from the institution of origin means horrendous outcomes for Savannah State.
Why didn’t Georgia officials duplicate its Albany State plan with Savannah State? Why couldn’t Georgia have two large black colleges in the same way Grambling and Southern station in Louisiana, Texas Southern and Prairie View A&M are stationed in and just outside of Houston, North Carolina A&T and North Carolina Central anchor Greensboro and Durham, and Morgan and Coppin hold down the east and west sides of Baltimore City?
If it is a question of too many colleges and not enough money to evenly divide among them, why not create the new Savannah State, with stronger athletics, facilities and research capacity? Why go an hour outside of town when the best game in town…is in fact, in town?
Seemingly, the truth is because a thriving Albany State in Southwest Georgia is far less of a threat in becoming the little brother institution to the University of Georgia, but a robust Savannah State could become just that with the right kind of attention and resources. So USG officials have it both ways by not merging ASU into SSU and enduring the complaints of white and black folks who would ignorantly oppose it, and by expanding the Ga. Southern brand, all in the name of HBCU autonomy.
And Savannah State gets what most of its supporters have always hoped for; to be left alone. Except, in this economic and political climate, that might be the worst thing we could imagine for public HBCU education.