For the third time in less than three years, Elizabeth City State University will be searching for a new chancellor. And for the second time over the same period, HBCU advocates in North Carolina and beyond are left to worry about the fate of ECSU, into the near and distant future.
Make no mistake — the resignation of Chancellor Stacey Franklin Jones was a forced dismissal. UNC System officials picked Jones because, not in spite of, her record of short executive stays punctuated by infighting with faculty and staff, along with a startling lack of acuity for higher education management.
And because she has left ECSU worse than she found it, Elizabeth City State is in prime position for a merger with East Carolina University, a school less than 100 miles to the southwest of ECSU and founded 16 years after the establishment of ECSU, but lightyears ahead of ECSU in state investment, development and programmatic appeal to the region.
There is no reason to trust the UNC system to support autonomy for Elizabeth City State, when just a year ago, legislators moved to close the school outright on the grounds of underperformance and leaner spending. And especially when the system’s press release braces us for what we all expected would come sooner than later:
At the request of Interim Chancellor Conway, East Carolina University will assist ECSU and its leadership team by supporting collaborative system efforts to build greater capacity throughout ECSU’s student support and operational units. Fayetteville State University, NC A&T State University, NC State University, and UNC Charlotte will provide supplemental assistance in collaboration with ECU, as requested by ECSU.
And so we’re left to believe that an incoming interim, hours after being selected to replace a “resigning” chancellor and without any reported approval from the ECSU Board of Trustees, independently clears a path for the state to consolidate Elizabeth City State and East Carolina through a pilot program of shared campus services and operations?
It is sad that the UNC system and the rise of conservative bullying against the state and its citizens will try to make ECSU one of its first real victims in a new way forward for higher education in the state. But what UNC officials haven’t, or don’t care to account for, is the reality that several states have been federally sued and defeated for these same kind of race-based shell games with publicly-funded historically black and predominantly white institutions.
They must have missed the cases in Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, and most recently, Maryland; where state governments have been forced to collectively pay billions to erase vestiges of ‘separate but equal’ doctrine from higher education funding and capacity building. Here’s hoping that UNC moves forward with action against ECSU, so another 20-year lawsuit will not only create more support for ECSU, but maybe, deliver for our children a merger of UNC-Greensboro into North Carolina A&T, or UNC-Pembroke into Fayetteville State — or both.
It is insulting to know that outgoing UNC system President Tom Ross, who was forced to resign last January in the first phase of North Carolina’s conservative higher ed takeover, would allow his hand to be forced into starting a merger process during the Christmas break; as if students and alumni are too busy shopping to notice or to mobilize against an effort to destroy an HBCU which never got a fair chance to thrive.
Ross had no problem letting the world know that he was being politically muscled out of his job, but with a week left in it, he stays silent on a school and a community being adversely impacted within the same political machinations?
The Grinch himself couldn’t have dreamed up a better way to steal Christmas. Now its up to the national HBCU-ville community to speak out on this latest effort to snuff out a part of our economic well-being, and our history.