It is Time for Defunct HBCUs to Stop Defrauding Black People

The Oregon College of Art and Craft, Hampshire College and Green Mountain College are three of a growing group of colleges and universities nationwide which have closed or will be closing in the next year. All three are part of a shared institutional DNA; small liberal arts schools with falling enrollment, rising debts and few partnerships or academic prospects which can easily reverse the trends of their demise.

Trustees at Green Mountain have been up front about the challenges leading to the school’s inoperability, and in a recent report in the Times Union, took the extra step of addressing how closure meets the moral obligation of serving their students, faculty and alumni.

School trustees have said they can’t in good conscience continue to operate and collect future tuition payments knowing that they can’t pay their bills. The group trying to save the school has raised about $200,000 but keeping the doors open would require quadrupling all the donations that have come in during the last two years.

Supporters: Save Green Mountain College – Times Union (Rick Karlin)

And then there’s Morris Brown College, which this week announced Kevin James as its interim president.

There is a line between black defiance and defrauding black people, and while it is difficult to pinpoint which year that Morris Brown transitioned from one to the other, the school is firmly engaged in the latter. MBC, Knoxville College, Barber-Scotia College attract support with the currency of a comeback story, knowing well that there will be no reclamation of sustainability for either of these campuses.

And then there’s Rutgers University Professor Marybeth Gasman, whose habit of providing bad advice, incomplete insight and sparse research on HBCUs leads her to an unsurprising endorsement of black hope exploitation for the sake of saying “we won’t give up.”

But while we aren’t ‘giving up,’ other black people and organizations who could potentially invest in the land and facilities of these ghost HBCU campuses are being blocked from recreating jobs and learning opportunities for black people, while international businesses yield the short-sale benefits. In the last two years, Saint Paul’s College and Concordia College of Selma’s properties and assets were respectively sold to Chinese and Korean companies, with neither offering plans to extend their use as educational assets to black communities.

The actions of white colleges and white people are not the standard for how black institutions and black people should conduct business, but all are part of a shared ecosystem of higher education as an industry. They all face similar challenges in enrollment and finance and have but a few options in addressing these challenges.

We look to schools like Paul Quinn College as the model for a school that can grow out of the depths of financial despair. But what is missing from the narrative is how much latitude was given to the PQC President Michael Sorrell in the early days of his tenure to do the tough things which today position the school as ‘America’s HBCU.’

Few boards will allow a president to cancel football, convert athletic space into agriculture space, and kick out underperforming students by the dozens. Few presidents are willing serve as campus CEO, Director of Admissions and Recruitment, Director of Development, Athletic Director and Dean of Students for years until the college reaches a point of self-sustaining operation.

Paul Quinn is not the example. It is the exception. Other schools should not point to it to bolster false narratives of their own survival, particularly when they know they are not able or willing to do even a portion of what Sorrell and the Quinnite Nation was willing to do to build the school’s brand and functionality.

Hundreds, if not thousands of colleges around the country are facing closure, but three of the most vulnerable in the HBCU sector, three percent of the sector at large, are hanging on literally for the sake of showing people “we’re hanging on.” There are many other HBCUs which are about one to three years away from being the next Morris Brown, and they too will likely mislead the public about their institutional end of life strategic planning.

The question is if we want to be misled about the certain demise of some of our HBCUs, or are we willing to do the hard work of rebirthing our once-proud HBCUs into something we can again develop for our own racial and economic autonomy?

18 comments
  1. Visit MBC doing Homecoming week, not just Homecoming weekend. Sit in on the meetings and other functions during the week and hopefully you will have a better appreciation of what the effort is all about.

  2. It never fails. Anytime that Morris Brown makes ANY progress, other “black folk” speak out in opposition. This is a clear indicator that we are on the right track. Be sure to write an article when we complete our renaissance.

    #IAMMORRISBROWN

  3. When I was attending college in the early 90’s, the HBCU diarrhea wrote negative articles about Morris Brown. Morris Brown was thriving at the time… In fact, Morris Brown had a higher enrollment than one of the other AUC colleges… Oh well, we all know what opinions are…

  4. ” other black people and organizations who could potentially invest in the land and facilities of these ghost HBCU campuses are being blocked from recreating jobs and learning opportunities for black people”

    The person who wrote this knows nothing of the politics and the economics surrounding the land where Morris Brown is located. If MBC were to give up, under no circumstances would that land be re-developed into an investment in the Black community in any way. Instead, it will be turned into pricey condos and townhomes and boutique restaurants of which many Black people will not be able to afford.

  5. What’s worse than black on black crimes?
    Black Ignorance on Black Intelligence. There are those who have never believed and then there are those who never doubted. It is better to believe, says Harriett Tubman. If not, escaping from slavery would’ve only have been a dream.
    #morrisbrowncollegealiveandnotdead

    “A threat to black intelligence anywhere, is a threat to black intelligence everywhere.”

  6. You can’t speak about Morris Brown College if you have never experienced Morris Brown. Our college is full of history and legacy that your magazine should be reporting about. We aren’t going anywhere. Morris Brown pride will prevail in the end. Hbcudigest get in line with the rest of the haters and watch are faith and perseverance lead us to VICTORY!!! Go Brownites, Go MBC.

  7. What you think about MBC is irrelevant because you never had the MBC experience. I’d like to know what gives them authority to judge. I judge your paper as GARBAGE.

  8. The #IAMMORRISBROWN crowd is understandably in their feelings but haven’t provided any info or evidence of a turnaround. That “a change gone come” pie in
    the sky rhetoric might fool church folks, but obviously not those with the resources and connections to fix the problem and restore MBC to its’ zenith.

    The sad reality is some of our HBCU institutions may serve us better as museums, mixed use facilities, retirement communities or testimonies on how NOT to
    run a college.

  9. It may be true some colleges both HBCU and other may need to consider redirecting their efforts to save their institutions. Yes, true. I must disagree with the assessment of Morris Brown College. The institution will gain its accreditation, revitalize, and become a beacon of hope for generations to come. The new “greater” MBC will probably not look like the campus filled with 2500 students, an amazing Marching Band, and on campus housing. The new MBC will have a strong online presence, large enrollment of commuter students, and with a bulk of her students coming from Georgia and the AME church. MBC sits on the highest point of land in Atlanta and the campus is basically downtown. One of the salient reasons revitalization has not fully occurred is because developers and politicians would want the land for their economic development plans. Alternatively, this is also one of the reasons why MBC will enjoy a rebirth as an example of how the ingenuity of a cadre of Believers galvanized the business, higher education, civic, and faith communities came together to continue a great legacy started by a group of Black people committed to educating Black people in 1885.

    Respectfully, Mr. Carter prior to sharing your opinion regarding any HBCU I suggest conducting your research. As it relates to MBC, please feel free to contact me and I will assist you with understanding the realities of the institution.

    Barrett-Osahar Berry
    574-339-7836
    boberry@post.harvard.edu

  10. Before you write anything about Morris Brown , please contact any of the alumni, The school has some of the most brilliant people who could have gone to many other schools. I am a graduate of Morris Brown if it not for this school and the classmates who took me in like family. Yes all schools must do a better job in who they put in leadership!!! Yes schools must have accountability!!!. But to say that our ongoing efforts is a fraud, that is a slap in the face to the alumni. It is my hope that you take a more holistic approach when writing on matters such as this. This article defames the efforts of all that are in this fight. I must understand that Morris Brown has taken intellectual coal and turn it to a dimmond, feal free to contact me James Outler 954-534-3520. Thank you for this platform. And want all HBCU alumni to get behind their school and hold them accountable. Thank you!! James Outler

  11. The author is spot-on about Barber-Scotia. The institution is simply not going to be reborn in its previous form and place. Trustees should sell the land and buildings to Cabarrus County Schools before the school system changes its mind. The proceeds could be used to reinvent BSC either online or in a modern space that looks like it is part of the future, not a decaying past. No matter how nostalgic the alumni feel about the hallowed halls, the “customers” paying tuition for a future BSC are teenagers. Teenagers don’t mind historic-looking buildings if they are nice and high-tech inside. But getting BSC back to that will take MILLIONS that are not coming in. Rebirth BSC as something your teenage customers are willing to buy.

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