Will Georgia Take the ‘HBCU’ Out of Albany State?

It is hard to believe that the University of Georgia System would trouble itself to make one of the largest historically black colleges in the country, only to insist that the HBCU label, and all the historic leverage and funding that comes with it, disappear like moonlight through the pines on the verge of a morning dawn.

But many alumni and stakeholders at Albany State University are worried about this very prospect, and to its discredit, the new administration at ASU and members of the state system have done very little to ease those fears.

System officials will meet tomorrow to pass through a new mission statement for the ‘new’ Albany State University, a spinoff of the ‘unsinkable’ historically black university and Darton State College, a historically two-year institution which in the last decade grew to four-year status before system officials realized it was far less expensive and far less illegal to avoid continued duplication of Albany State’s programs by merging the two.

Georgia is taking a historic lead on something that has only happened once in the nation’s history – absorb a predominantly white college into a historically black college to make the HBCU the flagship public institution of access in the region or state. Tennessee developed Tennessee State University this way, but only after a landmark federal lawsuit.

Georgia, to its credit, is doing the same before a lawsuit can be filed, lost, and serve as a precursor to an inevitable merger with costs that would run into the billions.

So it’s understandable that the state would run into some stumbling blocks, like backlash from DSC alumni and community members who support the merger, but only if the new school distances itself from surface-level HBCU designation and identifiers. And that’s not their fault; after all, this is still America and Georgia is still very much steeped in the Bible-thumping, Obama-hating, gun-toting, chicken fried culture of the South.

But the best and most educated within that culture, the appointed leaders of the UGA System, do not have to buy into that rhetoric. They do not have to manage the fiscal and cultural logistics of a historic higher ed transaction like they are disavowing a known hate group. But it seems like the might be headed that way, if you look at the board’s proposed new mission statement for the ‘new’ Albany State.

Albany State University, a proud member institution of the University System of Georgia, elevates its community and region by offering a broad array of graduate, baccalaureate, associate, and certificate programs at its main campuses in Albany as well as at strategically-placed branch sites and online. Committed to excellence in teaching and learning, the University prepares students to be effective contributors to a globally diverse society, where knowledge and technology create opportunities for personal and professional success. ASU respects and builds on the historical roots of its institutional predecessors with its commitment to access and a strong liberal arts heritage that respects diversity in all its forms and gives all students the foundation they need to succeed. Through creative scholarship, research, and public service, the University’s faculty, staff, students, and administrators form strategic alliances internally and externally to promote community and economic development, resulting in an improved quality of life for the citizens of southwest Georgia and beyond.

That’s not a far cry from the language in a proposal made six years ago in Georgia legislature which sought to merge ASU into Darton State, and Savannah State University into nearby Armstrong State University. That plan was widely condemned. This plan was met with far less resistance, which may be the perfect cultural shell game to give the appearance of HBCU expansion, while eliminating the cultural identifiers which make it appealing to the population of Southwest Georgia and the nation.

Here is the mission statement developed the work committees from the two schools, presented in February at the last joint meeting.

Albany State University is a large, comprehensive, public, four-year member of the University System of Georgia, dedicated to providing educational access to and facilitating student success in a broad array of associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and education specialist’s degree programs. The University offers courses in an equally broad array of academic disciplines, including signature academic programs in select fields of high regional and state significance. ASU is committed to educating underserved populations, and the University embraces diversity in all its forms. ASU engages in highly supportive, student-centered, and innovative approaches to serving all its students as it seeks to enhance educational attainment rates in southwest Georgia and beyond.

The achievement of excellence in teaching and learning, inside and outside the classroom, is the primary mission of the University. Toward that end, ASU seeks to prepare students to be effective contributors to a society that is increasingly global in its perspective, technologically advanced, diverse in its makeup, and sophisticated in its required knowledge and skills for personal, professional and career success. In that process of educating students well, the institution is strongly committed to the facilitation of successful student recruitment, retention, progression and graduation.

ASU’s mission also encompasses creative scholarship, applied research and public service, which are strongly oriented toward supporting and reinforcing the economic development of Southwest Georgia as well as the quality of life and well-being of the citizens in the region. Toward those ends, a wide array of collaborative relationships and partnerships with external entities as well as community engagements are sought, expanded, and maintained by the university’s faculty, staff, administrators, and students. ASU strives to be an integral part of and contributor to all of the communities it serves.

Albany State University operates in keeping with its core values of providing access to educational opportunities for all people, facilitating student success, honoring human diversity, uplifting underserved populations, responding to regional and state needs, serving communities, and having a lasting and positive impact on the lives of others. ASU honors and builds on its institutional predecessors and their historical roots as it grows and evolves into an expanded, progressive, highly diverse, and increasingly powerful institution of higher learning in Southwest Georgia

And here’s Albany State University’s pre-consolidation mission statement.

Albany State University, a historically black institution in Southwest Georgia, has been a catalyst for change in the region from its inception as the Albany Bible and Manual Training Institute to its designation as a university. Founded in 1903 to educate African American youth, the University proudly continues to fulfill its historic mission while also serving the educational needs of an increasingly diverse student population. A progressive institution, Albany State University seeks to foster the growth and development of the region, state and nation through teaching, research, creative expression and public service. Through its collaborative efforts, the University responds to the needs of all its constituents and offers educational programs and service to improve the quality of life in Southwest Georgia. The primary mission of Albany State University is to educate students to become outstanding contributors to society. Offering Bachelor’s, Master’s and Education Specialist degrees and a variety of non-degree educational programs, the University emphasizes the liberal arts as the foundation for all learning by exposing students to the humanities, fine arts, social sciences and the sciences. Global learning is fostered through a broad-based curriculum, diverse University activities and the expanding use of technology.

Notice how the further you go back in time, the blacker and more Afrocentric the mission statement gets. Before consolidation, you couldn’t go two sentences deep into the school’s reason for existing without running into the terms ‘historically black’ and ‘African American.’ Those terms are now replaced by fleeting references to diversity and community, none of which reflect a true sense of Albany State’s creation story, and none of which will help the ‘new’ Albany State attract more white students from the same Bible-thumping towns which not-so-privately cheered for the school to be wiped off the map just a few years ago.

But as you move through the generations of struggle, the years of plotting by Georgia legislators and higher education officials, and up to the penultimate years forcefully nudging HBCUs across the nation into oblivion in the name of financial streamlining, you realize that the strategy may have changed just slightly enough for us to let our guard down, and to surrender our hopes for real equity.

Real diversity is when tax dollars from all citizens can be invested in historically black space and mission to help all of those same tax paying citizens. Real consolidation is when a black community can keep its economic engine without aborting the racial pride and identity which shifts it into gear.

Real courage is when white officials in the UGA system can own up to the notion of disavowing HBCU nomenclature for its ‘new’ Albany State, without forcing ASU president Art Dunning, a black man, to be Southwest’s Public Enemy #1 for ‘suggesting the new mission statement.’

No one knows if Georgia officials are bold enough to ask the federal Department of Education to remove Albany State from its list of official historically black universities. No one believes UGA officials are stupid enough to turn down federal money that comes with HBCU labeling, or the opportunities presented to the state and the region by limiting what would be, one of the nation’s largest HBCUs with comprehensive offerings in key industries like public health and criminal justice.

But if UGA wants to continue the path they’ve created towards being a model southern state in racial tolerance and reconciliation, then recalibrating the ‘new’ Albany State’s mission to reflect its true history and purpose is priority one; not meeting the will of the angry, soon-to-be racial minority.

1 comment
  1. I am ok with merging Darton State College into Albany State U. but I am not ok with changing the mission statement. But give GA credit for thinking of a way to save both schools.

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