Surviving Tough Times: From Administrative Reorganizations to Finding New Streams of Revenue, Some Historically Black Colleges and Universities Are Determined to Stay Afloat

Article excerpt

Overall, historically Black colleges and universities' compassionate and noble mission of educating and nurturing young African American minds has not changed over the years, but leaders at Black campuses are now increasingly having to temper that with tough business decisions. Streamlining, attracting executive leadership and finding new revenue is the name of the game.

Clark Atlanta University, for example, has already gone the way of many corporations during these tight economic times. In October, the university announced its plan to strengthen the 5,000-student campus. Cost-reduction measures included the elimination of staff and faculty positions as well as the phase-out of five academic programs. More specifically:

* Since June, 91 staff positions have been eliminated, 27 others have been left untilled;

* 21 faculty members have taken advantage of an early retirement program; and

* In August, 141 non-tenured faculty members were told that their contracts would not be renewed next year, and that 75 of the 141 positions would be eliminated.

In addition, Clark Atlanta is in the process of phasing out its school of library and information science, the department of international affairs and development, the department of allied health professions, the department of engineering, and the systems science Ph.D. program.

Decisions were made to phase out the particular programs based on factors such as declining enrollment, accreditation issues and the need for additional faculty resources, administrators say.

Phasing out these services will begin next fall and end by 2007, giving the 350 students currently enrolled in them a chance to complete their degree requirements and affected faculty a chance to find other jobs, officials say. Terminating these services is expected to save $8 million to $10 million over the next four years. Clark Atlanta will use this money to strengthen other programs such as its business school, says Clark Atlanta's President Dr. Walter D. Broadnax. The school will also focus on strengthening its biology department, school of education and social work, and department of mass media arts. Overall, the school is trying to reduce expenses by 20 percent.

Named one of the 100 best colleges in the Southeast by the Princeton Review fills year, reaction to Clark Atlanta's bold plan has been mixed, with a few community leaders, alumni and affected faculty expressing anger over the cuts. But Broadnax, who came to the university in 2002, said that some faculty members are privately supportive and that the majority of alumni understand that this is about helping Clark Atlanta stay in business for the duration.

Clark Atlanta also closed Paschal's Motor Hotel and Restaurant, the historic eatery where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders met to strategize during the civil rights movement (see Black Issues, Aug. 14, 2003). The decision raised the ire of many in the community who blamed the university for trying to destroy part of Black history.

According to Broadnax, Clark Atlanta was losing $500,000 a year in operating expenses on Paschal's, while at the same time making $250,000 a year in mortgage payments. The campus had to cut its losses.

He calls closing Paschal's, laying off employees and phasing out programs difficult business decisions, but necessary ones to make the school stronger and more competitive. "We're getting rid of programs that cost the university resources but were not bringing back equal benefit to the university.

"The good news is that the university is going to go forward stronger; that by making these tough decisions, we're improving the quality and the strength of the university," Broadnax told Black Issues.

NECESSITY, THE MOTHER OF INVENTION

According to news reports, 12 historically Black colleges and universities have closed in the last two decades, primarily due to declining enrollments, falling endowments, mismanagement and fierce competition from mainline campuses for talented African American students. …