Collegiate Desegregation and the Public Black College: A New Policy Mandate

Article excerpt

Introduction

There is a growing corpus of literature that details the contemporary and historical importance of America's black colleges and universities (M. C. Brown, 1999; Brown & Freeman, forthcoming; Foster, Guyden, & Miller, 1999). In recent years, depictions of black colleges and universities have even found a home in popular media outlets (e.g., School Daze, A Different World, The Cosby Show). The national publicity given to the successful capital campaigns at or for private black colleges (e.g., Spelman College, Hampton University, College Fund/United Negro College Fund) has also fueled a broader recognition of these institutions by society. There is however, a quiescence about the unique position of public black colleges and universities (e.g. Grambling State University, Alcorn State University) within state systems of higher education despite this new found celebrity among many private institutions (e.g., Fisk University, Morehouse College). In order to chart prudently the future of public historically black co lleges and universities, research must be framed with a comprehensive and cogent understanding of the nexus between these institutions and collegiate desegregation compliance.

Public black colleges appear to be at a crossroads in their academic history (M. C. Brown, 1995a, 1999; Brown & Hendrickson, 1997). More than forty years of confusing and sometimes conflicting collegiate desegregation compliance initiatives as well as an unjustified reliance on enrollment by policymakers as the measure of compliance have rendered public black colleges the sacrificial lamb in the quest to desegregate public systems of higher education (M. C. Brown, forthcoming). While the issue of collegiate desegregation continues to be adjudicated in 4 states (Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee), state and national policymakers continue to struggle toward developing policies that can guide all 19 Southern and border states involved toward compliance. Consequently, the mandate to desegregate Southern higher education systems presents fundamental policy questions regarding institutional missions, curricula, admissions policies, and fiscal appropriations. Each of these issues challenge the historic mission and character of the public black college.

The limited extant research on how to attain collegiate desegregation compliance may be an acknowledgement of the difficulty of investigating this complex educational and public policy issue. Though it is possible to ferret out the differing perceptions of the courts, government administrators and state policymakers when examining the legal history of desegregation (M. C. Brown, 1999; Preer, 1982), there is an absence of consensus regarding which policies are necessary to overcome the continuing effects of historical segregation in higher education institutions. This void may result from an unwillingness of researchers and policymakers to confront the unique positionality of public black colleges in relation to all public institutions. Consequently, higher education continues to struggle with outlining attainable desegregation compliance activities.

This article documents the scope of collegiate desegregation compliance and explores critical policy questions that persist. The article also identifies policy concerns for future commentary and investigation. As such, it is not intended to advocate the maintenance of public black colleges, but to ask policy questions from the vantage of that distinctive group of institutions which heretofore have been left out of the policy discussion. Following a brief review of the literature, collegiate desegregation compliance will be placed in its proper historic context, examined for critical underlying issues, and then redefined for effective application to public historically black colleges.

Highlights from the Research Literature

The literature on collegiate desegregation includes myriad theoretical perspectives and positions. …