Suit Threatens Status of Georgia's Public Black Universities

By Towns, Gail Hagans | Black Issues in Higher Education, April 3, 1997 | Go to article overview

Suit Threatens Status of Georgia's Public Black Universities


Towns, Gail Hagans, Black Issues in Higher Education


ATLANTA--Alumni and supporters of

Georgia's historically Black public colleges

and universities are beginning to mobilize in

reaction to a law suit filed last month that

seeks to increase white enrollment at those

schools.

The suit claims that Georgia's three Black

public universities--Albany State, Fort Valley

State, and Savannah State--remain in a

second-class status. It cites a

disproportionate number of remedial students

attending the Black institutions while a

disproportionate number of high achievers

attend predominantly white schools like

Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia.

It calls on the Board of Regents to admit

more whites to the three campuses and offer

preferential admissions to students based on

socioeconomics, not race.

The schools, which are more than 88

percent Black, should be more integrated,

maintains attorney Lee Parks, the lawyer who

helped dismantle the former

majority-Black congressional district of U.S.

Representative Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga.

"We believe the correct approach to this long

term problem is not to close the Black

colleges, but to integrate them," Parks said in

a letter he sent to Georgia's higher education

officials.

Parks also argued that the Regents must

simultaneously commit to a significant

increase in Black student enrollment at

predominantly white schools, via a "uniform,

systemwide admissions policy."

Filed in U.S. District Court in Savannah,

the suit is lust an extension of the

anti-affirmative action wave sweeping the

country says Fort Valley State alumnus and

former congressional aide Thomas W. Dortch.

"What they want to do is keep setting

fires," he said. The minute we're busy putting

one fire out, here comes another one.

Dortch has joined forces with Georgia

Rep. Calvin Smyre, chair of the House Higher

Education Committee. They met with State

Attorney General Mike Bowers, who last

year wrote a letter to university system

chancellor Stephen R. Portch demanding that

all race-based policies in the

system must end. That letter echoed the

U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision

made in the Hopwood vs. The State of Texas

case, which threw out an admissions policy

that gave preferential treatment to students

applying to the University of Texas School of

Law.

"We'll have to wait and see how this

plays out," said Smyre, who is also a Fort

Valley State alumnus. To me, it's a situation

where it will be hard to maintain the

integrity of Georgia's higher education and for

us to be a model higher education state

without addressing some of these issues

raised." Smyre said he hopes the suit will be

mediated.

When the chancellor surveyed the

system's schools, he found only one--the

University of Georgia, where Blacks account

for approximately 6 percent of the

enrollment--that uses race as one of its

fifteen criteria for admissions. The school's

Black faculty, according to Parks, was at 3.4

percent for the 1993-94 term.

On the flip side, according to Parks. Fort

Valley State's white enrollment hovered

around 7. …

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