Historically Black Bluefield State's Ironic Situation: Desperately Seeking Black Students and Faculty

Article excerpt

Bluefield, W. Va. -- When a historically Black university fails to sustain, say, a ten percent African American student population, People are bound to start talking. Well, they have.

Even friends of Bluefield State College are concerned because the campus hosts a meager 7.7-percent African American student population. Additionally, this fall for the first time in its 102-year history, there are no African American faculty members.

The college is still listed as a historically Black university in the Higher Education Amendment, which allows it to be eligible for Title III funds reserved for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). In Bluefield's case, that amounts to $1.1 million a year.

According to a spokesperson from the Department of Education, HBCU's are "defined in statute as those institutions founded before 1964... with the precise mission of serving African American students." So while Bluefield's statistics may have changed dramatically, it remains an HBCU according to federal government criteria.

Still, the figures disturb Bluefield officials. That's why the institution's president, Dr. Robert E. Moore, formed an eleven-member task force last month to advise the school on the recruitment and retention of minority students and faculty.

"This task force is comprised of respected and knowledgeable African American leaders from our service area," Moore wrote in a position paper. "The members will further investigate minority recruitment strategies employed elsewhere, along with the success of those strategies."

J. Franklin Long, an attorney and vice-president of the West Virginia NAACP, is a member of the task force. While the committee has not yet formally assembled, Long is confident that Moore has assembled a proficient group of people.

"I have a lot of respect for the people on the task force," he said. "They are very capable and dedicated people who will do what is needed to turn things around."

Long said that Bluefield should offer incentives that make the school more attractive to African American faculty and administrators.

"I think the real key is to have a fund available so that the salaries will attract people to come here," he said.

When asked how realistic salary incentives are, considering Bluefield's economic situation, Long responded, "It's a matter of setting your priorities."

Bluefield officials recognize the fact that their salary offers can't necessarily compete with even neighboring colleges. It was one of the reasons that Moore cited for the lack of African American faculty.

Another reason, he explains in his statement, was a decision by fifteen employees -- including the last three remaining African American's on the faculty -- to participate in a severance plan that offered one-half salary over two years, plus benefits.

In addition, recruiting African American faculty has proved difficult because, as Bluefield spokesperson Jim Nelson put it, "West Virginia is not exactly a bastion of culture. …

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