Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Recent Trends

By Gasman, Marybeth; Baez, Benjamin et al. | Academe, January/February 2007 | Go to article overview

Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Recent Trends


Gasman, Marybeth, Baez, Benjamin, Drezner, Noah D., Sedgwick, Katherine V., et al., Academe


The report that follows, prepared by a subcommittee of the Association's Commitee on Historically Black Institutions and Scholars of Color, was approved in November 2006 by the committee for publication.

The nation's historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are diverse. Although we discuss them as a category based on their historical racial makeup, these institutions are in fact quite different from one another. According to the government's definition, black colleges are bound together by the fact that they were established prior to 1964 (the year of the Civil Rights Act) with the express purpose of educating African Americans. These institutions, of which there are 103, are public, private, large, small, religious, nonsectarian, selective, and open-enrolling. They educate 300,000 students and employ over 14,000 faculty members.1 Some black colleges are thriving, others are barely making ends meet, and many fall in between. Regardless, most of them are providing a much-needed education to African American students (and many others).

In January 1995, the AAUP's Committee L on Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Faculty of Color (since renamed the Committee on Historically Black Institutions and Scholars of Color) published a report about the state of HBCUs in Academe entitled "A Future in the Balance." Our 2006 report highlights developments at HBCUs since 1995. We have included an overview of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision in the Fordice case, an analysis of shared governance and academic freedom issues, and a review of accreditation concerns. We conclude by examining the recent influx of white students on black college campuses-an influx that may result from the desegregation provisions of Fordice, the low tuition at these schools, their well-regarded academic programs, or the convenient locations of many of them.

Fordice: A Final Decision

In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision in the long-litigated case United States v. Kirk Fordice, first filed in 1975 by African American James Ayers on behalf of his son. a student at Jackson State University in Mississippi. Its ruling required states to eliminate policies that perpetuated segregation among their public colleges. As part of that decision, the court returned the case to the federal district court (whose earlier decision, declaring that Mississippi had fulfilled its obligations of desegregation, was overturned by the Supreme Court) to determine specific remedies for the ongoing inequities in that state.

In 1995, the federal district court issued a ruling intended to remove overt racial classifications from the state's eight public universities. Steps to be taken included standardizing the admissions requirements across all eight schools (prior to this, the five historically white institutions had stricter standards than the three historically black universities) and enacting policies to ensure a certain minimum racial diversity at each of the universities. The plaintiffs and the U.S. Department of Justice appealed this ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. In 1997, the Fifth Circuit ordered the federal court judge to reconsider parts of his 1995 ruling but upheld the new admissions standards. This decision was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1998 refused without comment to hear the case. In 2001, after months of negotiations, all parties agreed to a $503 million settlement. The federal court approved the settlement in 2002. Later that year, some of the plaintiffs appealed the settlement in federal court, arguing that it did not go far enough to remedy the effects of segregation. When this appeal was denied, the plaintiffs appealed to the Fifth Circuit, which in late January 2004 issued its rejection of all counts of the appeal. In May 2004, the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in October refused, without comment, to hear the case, thus ending the thirty-year legal battle and rendering the 2002 settlement legally binding.

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