Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

A Shared Responsibility

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

A Shared Responsibility

Article excerpt

Bluefield State's new president makes college's success a community agenda

Dr. Albert L. Walker, the new president of Bluefield State College in Bluefield, W.Va., is a career educator. He has taught in public schools and institutions of higher education since 1967. Previously, he was vice chancellor for academic affairs and a tenured professor at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina.

For a five-year period, 1979-1984, Walker served as assistant commissioner of education, Division of Urban and Teacher Education, Missouri Department of Elementary & Secondary Education. Walker has a bachelor's degree from Lincoln University, three master's degrees from Bradley University and a doctorate in educational administration from Indiana University.

The first thing Dr. Albert L. Walker learned when he began his term as president of Bluefield State College in September was that, in West Virginia, word travels fast.

"One of the advantages when you start a new executive position in an election year is that you have a golden opportunity to meet the legislators," Walker says. But when he attended most of the Democratic and Republican events, he discovered that he was already known." `Oh, we understand you're at Bluefield,'" was most often the response.

Indeed, Walker was not just known -- he was warmly welcomed. On his first trip to the local bank, for example, "The bank president saw me walk in -- we had just met at an event at the college -- and I could hear him yelling across the lobby, `There goes Dr. Walker, president of Bluefield State College! Give him whatever he wants!'"

Those anecdotes, and Walker's lavish praise of the small-town lifestyle he's come to cherish in West Virginia, are quite at odds with Bluefield State's somewhat tarnished public image.

Five years ago, for example, only 6 percent of Bluefield State's student body of roughly 2,700 was Black -- this despite the fact that the college gets a $1 million federal grant each year as a historically Black institution. The professor who pointed out the emperor's state of undress on the falling Black enrollments was fired, although an administrative law judge ordered him to be rehired in 1998. And several other discrimination complaints and controversies marred the nine-year tenure of Walker's predecessor, Dr. Robert Moore.

But since 1997, there has been a significant sea change at Bluefield State, Walker says. Minority student enrollments are more than double the 1997 levels; graduate programs are being explored; and in the region, Bluefield State is leading the way in technology.

BI: Given the serious problems that Bluefield State has had with diversity in the past, what's your assessment of the current situation and where do you think things are headed in the future?

AW: First of all, the problems are really challenges. We know that one of the things we need to do is to keep pushing to get minority students here, to make our programs known by minorities. And...the term applies to international students as well. We're actually doing very well with international outreach efforts.

But you have to remember that we're somewhat unique in that we're a 100 percent-commuter campus. We don't have the dorms, so we are recruiting, for the most part, within driving distance of the campus.

Still, our percentage of minority students is up to 14.49 percent. We're one of the most diverse campuses here in West Virginia, though I can imagine West Virginia State would make a similar claim. But on our campus we have, in addition to African Americans, Native Americans, Asians. There are even 15 or 20 Armenians here, studying education in America. They came here first because we had the diversity and then (given their research interests) the history of the institution made the campus very interesting for them.

So yes, we have diversity, and those who would challenge us, we ask them to count their own diversity. …

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