Presidential Transitions

By Taylor, Ronald A. | Black Issues in Higher Education, January 11, 1996 | Go to article overview

Presidential Transitions


Taylor, Ronald A., Black Issues in Higher Education


Higher education rode a roller coaster in 1995, a year of actions that provoked rage and hope, sorrow and joy.

A review of important developments, trends and ideas of 1995 offers a sense of the ups and downs for minorities in higher education.

The Courts & the Classroom

The year was marked by two fresh threats to the drive to achieve racial diversity in higher education.

In one action that strikes at Black access to higher education, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a three-judge panel's decision striking down a scholarship program for Blacks at the University of Maryland.

In May the high court let stand a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in favor of Daniel J. Podberesky, a Hispanic who was rejected for the university's Benjamin Banneker Scholarship program.

The program provides full tuition, room and board to about 80 Black students.

In December, 1995 Podberesky received a check for $32,863, the cost of four years at the university.

The court voted 8-3 to overturn the race-based scholarship, rejecting the university's contention that the scholarships could help remedy the university's past policy of excluding African Americans.

In another key legal challenge for Blacks in higher education, a federal judge rejected an attempt to shut down Mississippi's historically Black colleges and universities and directed the state to equalize admissions policies at its Black and white schools.

The action in the latest round in the United States vs. Fordice desegregation case came on March 7 when U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr. overruled Mississippi's suggested approach to desegregate higher education. State officials wanted to shut down the historically Black Mississippi Valley State University or to merge predominantly white Mississippi University for Women with the white-majority Mississippi State University.

Presidential Transitions

For Black administrators, the year began on a upbeat note with the ascension of Ruth Simmons to the helm of Smith College.

The appointment of the former vice provost of Princeton University marked the first time an African American assumed the helm of one of the prestigious and conservative Seven Sisters colleges.

For African-American women in the academy, the appointment was a seminal moment, according to Deborah Carter, associate director of the Office of Minority Affairs at the American Council on Education.

"A big issue for minorities, especially Black women, is having support from friends and colleagues to help them negotiate in negative times;" says Carter.

"There are more women in those positions now. We're still few in number but women have more difficulty in the positions commanding the kind of respect that men do," Carter said.

But a wave of departures overshadowed Simmons's appointment.

The world of Black higher education was shaken by the announced departure of Dr. Samuel Myers as head of the National Association For Equal Opportunity in Higher Education.

Under Myers's leadership over 17 years, NAFEO's role as the umbrella group for public and private historically and predominantly Black colleges and universities resuited in an estimated $1 billion in federal funds being directed to Black institutions.

Meanwhile, the top slots of historically Black colleges and universities appeared to be located behind revolving doors, to the concern of some higher education scholars. "This is a crisis period for Black higher education," said Dr. James Anderson, chairman of the Education Policy Studies department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The parade of departures in 1995 was topped by the ousters in June of Dr. Barbara Hatton from South Carolina State University and of Dr. Joann Horton from Texas Southern University. Both were fired over management issues. …

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