BOTH THE judicial and the political process threaten to undo the nation's black colleges. The federal government has not been a good ally-and we never know what kind of an ally it is going to be."
The speaker is Jesse Stone, president of Louisiana's primarily black Southern University system. Stone is one of many black educators who long have feared that their campuses would end up as victims of justice-that there was no way higher education would be desegregated in this country without obliterating some significant number of the 105 black colleges that were born of discrimination to begin with and, in their often precarious existences, have educated most of the nation's black leaders.
Voluntary affirmative action programs, government struggles to desegregate state university systems-can they mean anything but white-dominated schools being pressed to lure away the most promising blacks and other minorities as students or faculty members? "The comprehensive, traditionally white institutions are siphoning off our best students," says Milton K. Curry Jr., president of Bishop College, a traditionally black private college in Dallas.
It should have come as no surprise, then, when the chancellors of North Carolina's five black state campuses trekked to Washington in February to urge federal enforcers to go easy on the state's desegregation plan, which called for much less than civil rights forces wanted. After all, when the NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed suit in 1970 to force Washington to enforce college desegregation, black college officials filed a brief opposing the NAACP position.
The black chancellors' pleas, of course, were rejected again last week when Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joseph A. Califano jr., once more under pressure from civil rights attorneys, threatened to hold back $10 million to $20 million in federal aid North Carolina's university system next year and to start proceedings that ultimately could lead to a loss of $90 miliion for the state system.
In this case, the state plan was spurned chiefly because if failed to end many duplicate program offerings at black and white state campuses in the same geographic areas, duplications that civil rights advocated argue help reinforce the colleges' separate and unequal status. The nondupliction drive, involving transfers of some programs from black campuses to white and vice versa, is part of a broader "enhancement" intended to help resolve the dilemma facing black colleges. The hope is that offering some attractive programs only at the black campuses will draw more white students to them, while moving others exclusively to the predominantly white schools will lure more blacks. Presto: Double desegregation.
But the North Carolina black chancellors aren' exactly confident that's the way it will work. Rather, they're afraid they will lose some of their best offerings, while those they inherit from white campuses might not receive the same high accreditation or draw many white students when transferred. The black chancellors wanted to add more good programs at their own campuses, atop existing duplications, a proposal HEW apparently might have accepted if North Carolina had been willing to put what HEW considered enough money into new programs.
TO APPRECIATE the black chancellors' apprehensions, you have to understand that black enrollments rose about 30 percent last fall at the predominantly white University of North Carolina, and those at North Carolina State in Raleigh rose 40 percent. But the five traditionally black campuses all lost students.
"Black flight" is also worrying some other black colleges. At mainly white Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, for example, black freshman enrollments about doubled last September, with predominantly white Madison College showing a similar increase. But at mainly black Virginia State? Down 10 percent from expectations. Similar patterns have been reported in Georgia and Louisiana.
Sheer numbers, however, are not the chief woe of most black schools, at least not at present, because the pool of black candidates has expanded dramatically in the past decade. Blacks now account for about 11 percent of all undergraduate students, only slightly below their 13 percent overall proportion in the population, and for 6 percent of graduate students. (Real and anticipated declines in the traditional college-age population as a whole are prompting some historically white campuses to go after black candidates for very practical reasons, regardless of voluntary efforts to "rectify past injustices" or government desegregation pressures.)
Black colleges' student concerns center more on quality, on losing the best and the brightest. In a study by Ford educational journalism fellow Ethel l. Payne, for example, a Dillard University official in New Orleans notes Dillard's problems competing for students with Tulane. If he or she has a combined SAT score above average, they automatically get scholarships that we cannot give and they automatically get the kind of prestige that Tulane has a mainstream school. . . . In short, it means that we compete with Tulane but Tulane does not compete with us."
As a result, black colleges have moved further into a compensatory role, giving special aid to disadvantaged students, "performing a function no one else would perform," as one black educator puts it. Even part of this role, however, is now threatened.
Federal pressure is being brought on mainly white schools to share the compensatory burden by "developing new and different yardsticks for measuring potential." This stricture, put out by HEW's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to help guide desegregation efforts, clearly is intended to encourage chiefly white schools to admit some students who previously might have been rejected for academic reasons. Again, a laudable goal to the civil rights movement raises troubling questions for the black campuses that many of those leaders once may have attended.
Black campuses, of course, do not relish the idea of being largely compensatory institutions. The effort to "enchance" them, in fact, is designed to change that notion, whether under desegregation plans, under a separate federal program for "developing" institutions, or under a January order by President Carter telling all federal agencies to try to help black colleges.
ALTHOUGH BLACK college officials certainly welcome these efforts, they can be forgiven if they are skeptical that desegregation and "enhancement" can ever be reconciled. "I see these as being fundamentally inconsistent," remarks Charles L. Hayes, president of Georgia's predominantly black Albany State College.
If the two ideas seem contradictory in theory, the reality gives even more reason for doubt.
A good case in point is the federal desegregation drive, one of the most tangled and long-running of Washington's civil rights battles. Among numerous problems: While efforts by white schools to recruit more blacks have been under way for over a decade, enrolling more whites in black colleges has lagged. In fact, HEW has told the states to sit idly by on this score, at least until next September, even if black schools have been losing students (and, of course, state and federal funds that are tied to enrollments). Goals for enrolling whites at black schools "must be preceded by an increasing enrollment of black students in the higher education system and at the traditionally white institutions," says a 1977 OCR directive.
Larry Velez, OCR's information officer, explains that OCR wants to avoid precipitous desegration of black schools: "We want to avoid what happened in the South's elementary and secondary schools, when some systems used desegregation as an excuse to put a lot of black educators out of work." Threats to black educators' jobs are surely a critical part of the black college equation, but the consequences of the OCR policy can be bizarre.
In Oklahoma, for example, Langston University, the one predominantly black state school, suffered from steadily declining enrollments since 1969, with state officials acknowledging that to a significant degree this has been due to the lure of white institutions. Yet the state at one point withdrew its goals for white enrollment at Langstone and said it was awaiting "that time when advised by the Office for Civil Rights that sufficient progress has been made in the desegregation of the predominantly white institutions that attention may now be focused on the desegregation of Langston University."
That can happen, OCR says, after the "accomplishment of specific steps to strengthen the traditionally black institutions, eliminate program duplication, locate new programs at black institutions . . ." But the strengthening of black school programs has moved slowly, where it has moved at all.
"The states are putting abysmally little money into the implementation of their plans," says Jean Fairfax of the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund. Leonard Haynes III of the Institute for Services to Education, who has been following the situation closely, says, "In Arkansas, they're producing a lot of bauxite, but not one geology course is being taught at the black college [the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff]. At Norfolk State, with all that water, why no course in marine biology?"
Wade Wilson, president of Pennsylvania's predominantly black Cheyney State College, complains that while a relatively large number of programs have been added there, they aren't courses with "dynamic appeal" that are likely to attract many students.
In scarcely any case does one find a state planning the kind of major changes and funding that would put black colleges into a favorable position compared with the best traditionally white institutions.
The Merger Question
NOR CAN THE black campuses take too much comfort from the separate "developing" institutions program, which includes many black campuses, or the Carter order for all agencies to help these colleges.
The developing institutions program is small-it has spread relatively modest sums among 800 institutions over 12 years-and it is in some trouble. A General Accounting Office study recently concluded that it is a program still in search of its purpose and with many cases of "questionable expenditures, inadequate controls over payments to service providers, and improper reporting and documentation of the use of grant funds."
As for the Carter order, it tells agencies, among other things, to consider ways to give some small, noncompetitive research grants to black campuses, to make sure these schools have a chance to compete for other contracts and grants, and to set targets for greater black college participation generally in their programs.
While this may well ultimately help some schools, the problem is that most black campuses are not research centers. "The predominantly black colleges are not thought of as research centers and aren't being given opportunities to become research centers," remarks Cheyney State's Wilson.
Indeed, in Nashville recently, when it appeared that the traditionally white George Peabody College for Teachers-which contains the John F. Kennedy Center for Research on Education and Human Development-might merge with chiefly black Tennessee State University, there was great concern about the prospect in general. In the end, Peabody chose to merge with Vanderbilt University.
Speaking for Kennedy interests on Peabody's board, Sargent Shriver said: "The Kennedy center has to compete for grants with the most prestigious institutions in America, and the only way to do that is to have a high-caliber faculty at the center and be associated with high-caliber people at Vanderbilt. I'm not suggesting that we couldn't continue at TSU, but it would be very difficult, because they haven't gone in the research direction."
Tennessee State is already scheduled to merge by 1980 with the mainly. White Nashville campus of the University of Tennessee, the result of a federal court order. In general, mergers of black campuses with white schools are another concern of black educators.
"This would almost certainly eliminate that which is black and assimilate in into that which is," says Dr. Charles A. Lyons Jr., president of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education and also head of predominantly black Fayetteville State University in North Carolina. "We want the chance to demonstrate that an institution doesn't have to be headed and controlled by whites to be good."
Some have criticized black college officials' expressions of fear about federal desegregation efforts. One NAACP official, Michael Meyers, has said: "Their outcry of emotionalism, ethnic chauvinism and paternalism in defense of traditionally black colleges has distorted the basic issues underlying the racial organization of America's educational institutions."
On the other hand, in stressing the special value and history of black campuses, Benjamin E. Mays, president emeritus of Atlanta's Morehouse College, has remarked: "Had Martin Luther King Jr. received his BA from Harvard instead of Morehouse, it is very unlikely that he would have gone on to become the great civil rights leader he was."
Whatever one's view on this issue, a good number of black colleges surely will survive, while others, as with some troubled, predominantly white colleges, may be merged or ultimately disappear. What there is no doubt about is that the country owes a deep debt to these schools, campuses that took on large burdens with meager resources, educatiing generations of blacks who were never allowed past the gates of white institutions. As Elias Blake Jr., president of Atlanta's Clark College, puts it, America still has "a fundamental piece of unfinished historical business with its black colleges."