Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Separate and Unequal

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Separate and Unequal

Article excerpt

Historically Black Central State says Ohio's inadequate funding of the university violates 1998 agreement to close federal discrimination complaint

WILBERFORCE, OHIO

Central State University and some Ohio legislators want the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights to reopen its 25-year-old investigation into the state's treatment of Ohio's only public HBCU. But the university's initial request was rebuffed, and state officials in late June went ahead with cuts to CSU's core funding over the next two years.

The state's treatment of Central State has left the university's president, Dr. John W. Garland, and members of the school's governor-appointed board of trustees seething. Trustee Michael L. Nelson Sr. says state officials "seem to be deaf, dumb and blind to what we're talking about," and says it may be time for CSU supporters to "consider the merits of filing a formal federal lawsuit" to try to force the state to provide what trustees believe is adequate funding for the university.

Garland and trustees believe that the state budget signed into law June 30 by Gov. Bob Taft violates a 1998 agreement that closed - but did not completely settle - a federal discrimination complaint from 1981. That year, the OCR concluded that the state had violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because Ohio was "maintaining Central State University as an institution for Blacks and has dissuaded White students from choosing to attend the institution."

Similar cases in southern states resulted in groundbreaking settlements that boosted the coffers of many public HBCUs, but Ohio officials never negotiated a full settlement with the Education Department. But in 1998, the civil rights office "closed" its active Title VI investigation based in part on assurances from then-Gov. George Voinovich (now a U.S. senator) and other state officials that Ohio would continue to rebuild and renew Central State.

In a December 2004 letter to the OCR, Garland contended the state "has failed to comply with important pledges it made" to the OCR, citing evidence he says proved the state "failed to enhance Central State University to make it as attractive as and comparable to other public universities in Ohio."

The school's facilities are not on par with other state schools, its programs and resources are lacking and its faculty salaries at all ranks are "substantially lower" than those at other state-supported universities, Garland says.

In March, CSU received a disappointing response from James F. Manning, who at the time was serving as the Education Department's acting assistant secretary for civil rights. While promising to continue to monitor the state's compliance with the agreement to close the Title VI case, Manning said the OCR "will not reopen its investigation."

Central State officials were somewhat encouraged two months later when the OCR, in a May 12 letter to the Ohio Board of Regents, requested extensive data and reports on how CSU was being treated. But the request appeared to have no impact on state legislators who hammered out Ohio's budget for the next two years: The budget reduces the state's core funding for Central State by more than $800,000 in 2006, or 4.75 percent-the largest percentage cut among Ohio's 13 public universities. The state also eliminated $125,000 in support for the school's water resources program, and in the second year of the two-year budget, cuts an additional $463,000 from CSU's funding. …

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