Do not be easily swayed by what looks like good news for HBCUs in North Carolina; bad news is coming, and if alumni do not take it seriously and aggressively to state legislature, there will be no reversal for changes that lie ahead for Elizabeth City State University and Fayetteville State University.
Do not be easily convinced by UNC System President Margaret Spellings and her visits to state campuses, and notably, Fayetteville State. Even if Spellings has personally changed her philosophy about the value of HBCUs and the communities they serve, it does not mean that she would want to change the politics which make for marginalized and underserved populations in the first place.
Her role, in the early days of her administration, is to appear as affable and open to diversity as she possibly can, so that when the political knife is plunged into the heart of the institution, she can give the shrugged shouldered “it wasn’t me” look at alumni and social justice empathizers.
But the knife is still out, and daily, those who wield its life-ending potential draw closer to HBCU communities in the hopes of striking while we look away at other distractions and small victories.
UNC-Chapel Hill as a number one seed and Duke as a four-seed are distractions. Proposals to change Fayetteville State’s name and mission are distractions, even though they provided FSU Chancellor James Anderson the opportunity to magnificently brief the state and the nation on the bad intentions of legislators and higher ed power brokers in North Carolina against public HBCUs.
Connect NC is a distraction. While there is much to celebrate about higher education receiving much-needed financing to make colleges and universities more attractive in the state, is there really a major victory in the people forcing the state to borrow $2 billion against the wishes of its current political leadership? What do we expect conservative lawmakers to do to repay that debt servicing? What cuts or closures will result, and where will they start?
As usual, a good place for conservatives to find savings and “economic streamlining” is to look at public HBCUs, where misguided opponents can always attempt to make the public case against poor graduation rates, low marketability when measured against predominantly white peer institutions, deficiencies in leadership, and of course, the social value of limiting tax-payer funded racially-segregative education. That’s why we must look beyond the $190 million coming to North Carolina’s five public black colleges, and look to see exactly what the investments are.
Three of the five HBCUs will receive new facilities under the Connect NC plan — North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central and Winston-Salem State University. Fayetteville State and Elizabeth City State will receive money for renovations — not a bad investment for campuses which have been in the news for merger and or closure for the last four months.
Alumni cannot wait for legislation calling for the merger of FSU or the closure of ECSU to begin the public rallying cry of support for these schools. Our HBCU leaders have to take a “wait and see” strategy with our enemies in the midst because their jobs depend on it, but most of ours do not. HBCU alumni are a force which opponents in states all over the country recognize as inherently under-informed, apathetic, and latent until a word leaks about a school being threatened with merger or closure.
So they don’t let the word get out about their plans — they just make them and execute them right before our eyes and call them victories. If we don’t smarten up and become publicly active in media, in churches, in communities and on our own campuses about saving black colleges, we will be the worst kind of co-conspirators against HBCUs; the kind who see danger coming but underestimate its impact until the damage is done.