by William M. Harris, Sr. and William M. Harris, Jr.
Educational attainment remains the centerpiece for social and economic progress in the United States. Nevertheless, the highest priority held by whites has always been to deny educational opportunities to Blacks. Thus it is clear that whites continue to hold fast to the idea of limiting educational opportunities to Blacks. The recent United State Supreme Court decision rejecting the use of affirmative action in determining admission to college supports that long held bias to limit college admission by Black applicants. This paper offers a viable alternative that will strengthen educational opportunities for Black citizens. That alternative focuses upon roles for Historical Black Colleges and Universities.
The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it: “Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.
The fundamental issue remains white racism. Of course, some will differ about the singularity of white racism. As authors, we are not bothered by such concerns. Our presentation deals with a primary alternative to racism affirmative action policy that offers effective and purposeful social change to racism and affirmative action. In principle, our alternative is to the point. However, the devil is always in the details.
Another basic issue is affirmative action. At a minimum, the concept of affirmative action is to level the field(s) of fairness and justice for those long-discriminated against because of race, color, religion, etc. The concept and its associated practices have been under attack from its early introduction. There is a substantial literature about this topic. We do not intend to engage the matter further except to note its “trigger” that lead the United States Supreme Court to strike down its application in college admissions.
Our paper limits the proposals that relate to a search and recommendation for the most effective response to the ever-growing denial for equal opportunity for Black people in the educational arena. We offer these comments as an invitation for further discussion and research in this important area of public (and private) policies. There is much at stake and Black people must maintain our courage to effect socially purposeful change against the odds and barriers set by systemic (white) racism.
WHERE TO NOW
For Black Americans, the age-old question, since 1619, is the subject of this section. The demonstrated courage, vision, and institutional development are perhaps no better offered than that of the creation and operation of the black college (Historical Black Colleges and Universities…hereafter HBCUs). Massively criticized, always underfunded, and frequently the recipients of physical assaults and attacks by white violence, the HBCUs continued to be the primary producers of educated black men and women in the US. Numbering slightly more than one hundred, these institutions of higher learning have become the central source for the intellectual, philosophical, and academic development of America’s most oppressed and long serving people. The bottom line is that, with support from the Black Church, some white philanthropic organizations and individuals, and the raw courage of former slaves, the birth and sustained support of HBCUs maintain the status of quality of life improvements for all citizens.
Our premise is that the most viable, sustainable response to the recent United States Supreme Court’s decision to outlaw full diversity in college admissions is a return to the HBCUs. Consider, for example, when so many Black college-bound students accepted the token admission to majority (white) colleges, their experiences were characterized as unqualified, unwelcomed, and assaults (especially against leadership, including being excluded in varsity sports) denying leadership development. It was the HBCU community that provided the opportunity and training for community leadership. The quality of this training stood favorably with majority (white) institutional training. The most outstanding contribution of the HBCU has been its sustained efforts to successfully confront systemic (white) racism at all levels as part of its legacy and commitment to justice through education and social change preparedness.
NEW ROLES FOR HBCUs
To adequately meet the challenges forced by the anti-affirmative action Supreme Court, HBCUs must give serious consideration in five areas. It is important to understand that our recommendations are offered as strengthening proposals. We will develop each of these areas in greater detail.
- Expand endowments.
- Increase highly qualified Black faculty.
- Arrange cooperative scholarship in cutting edge science/technology.
- Reconnect with peoples of the African diaspora, especially Africa.
- Secure the future through international recognition and contributions.
Endowments are critical for all HBCUs. Endowments are more than savings accounts. Endowments allow for future “rainy day” problems that have potential for long term negative consequences to the institution. Endowments also have high positive value as an institution plans for future expansion in capital projects, attracting new outstanding faculty, and meeting the ever increasing needs of students. Indeed, there are a number of types of endowment programs. However, the most immediate and necessary for HBCUs is that which allows attracting funds, investing those funds, and using the investment portions upon substantial need.
To be successful in endowment building, the first order of business is the college must have (or hire) a development officer and staff dedicated to the purpose. Yes, this constitutes the initial investment, getting prepared to raise money and other resources. Our HBCUs are relatively poor. Only one has an endowment of one-billion dollars and another (second) with slightly more that 600-million dollars, and (third) with slightly more than 450-million dollars. There are increasing resource organizations that will provide support to HBCUs building endowment programs. Clearly, the litmus test for endurance (long term) for HBCUs is raising endowment support.
Increase highly qualified Black faculty
The most desegregated (by race) faculties in the nation are those at HBCUs. This fact is impressive and affords a model for majority white institutions of higher learning. However, there is a potential problem. The HBCUs need to capture more highly qualified Black faculty who are culturally-secure, productive as researchers and teachers, and serve as strong advocates for the advancement of Black students toward leadership roles. In addition, historically, it has been Black faculties who have made positive, successful efforts to advance the institution as well as performing the usual roles of faculty.
To achieve this end, HBCUs must give strong focus to building and growing within. That means identifying early the most important areas of intellectual and cultural needs of the institution. Equally, it will not be easy to depend less upon white universities for faculty supply. HBCU administrators and senior faculty must provide strong leadership that will produce the most desired outcome for the HBCU. In the past, HBCUs depended upon themselves for faculty development; however, they failed to maintain that orientation and lost the way. The future of HBCUs rests with the efforts of Black faculty and staff who are caring, competent, and courageous.
Arrange cooperative scholarship in cutting edge science/technology
Historically, the primary curriculum of HBCUs has been the liberal arts, teacher education, and some fine arts. These small to medium-sized institutions have produced graduates in these areas who were completive with those of majority white schools. Now, the world’s demand for competent people who lean toward areas of stem (science, technology, engineering/electronics and mathematics). HBCUs must expand into these areas and must do so with dispatch. Faculty members and students must work to conduct and publish research outside the confines of white, established, exclusive journals and publishing houses. There can perhaps be no more incentive than the work of early Black historians who were refused publication of their work by exclusionary white presses.
In addition to the stem areas, HBCUs must continue to teach ethics, philosophy, and the arts. The nation continues to demonstrate a serious lack of human will and capacity to avoid calculated harm to the poor, marginalized, Blacks, and children. These may not acquire the heavy research funding as stem, however, these individuals may save the nation from self-destruction. They are, after-all, the wellspring of civilized behavior and sustained advocates for democratic human systems. Of course, HBCUs must continue to make the contributions of their past; however, HBCU endurance demands making changes that the environment post for the future.
Reconnect with peoples of the African diaspora, especially Africa
The world’s future is Africa! Europe is old, war-worn, lacking in humanity, and moving too slowly to meet the challenges of the coming centuries. Crippled by four centuries of slavery and political domination, the Old World cannot recover. The old alliances are no longer viable for reliable decision making, Europe, and most of the Pacific Rim, are entrapped in unsustainable regeneration. Required are the fresh, creative, courageous approaches that are available to HBCUs.
HBCUs must move with great dispatch to re-seal its historical commitments and arrangements with black Africa. To achieve this end, the boldness of meeting new challenges will become commonplace. The evils of the old masters must be avoided. To reengage with black Africa is to meet the population (youthful, resource rich, and growth potential without domination of neighbors) explosion and leadership sophistication of the continent’s revival. HBCUs are afforded an opportunity not imaginable a few decades ago. That is why HBCUs cannot wait! In addition, perhaps no more salient encouragement and advice can be discerned than that of Elaine Brown.
The case has been made as to the prescription required for HBCUs to provide a viable alternative to the racist court rulings and public policies that seek to deny Blacks the full opportunity for educational attainment. However, HBCUs need the fiscal support, political advocacy, and enrollment of students to endure and thrive with the prescription provided.
First, HBCUs must have a significate influx of fiscal resources that will enhance their abilities to meet the prescription. Educating “our people” is the responsibility of every Black person. Expanding endowments, producing scholarship support for students, making improved opportunities for faculty research and sabbaticals, and attracting administrators who are at the top of managerial best practices require massive levels of new monies from the Black community. Gifts may be modest or very large. The level of each gift from our Black community must be a measure of our confidence in higher education as a positive trigger for our future. To expand and grow HBCUs will require new thinking and radically different orientations to investment behaviors in our Black communities. The Black community must set very high goals for our HBCUs…and then exceed the goals.
Second, HBCUs need the strong political advocacy of the Black community. This advocacy must be salient, focused, and powerful. Political advocacy has to come from elected officials (all levels from local to international) to guide HBCUs to new levels of legitimacy, visibility, and creditability. The Black community must not have ‘friends’ who refuse to support HBCUs, our students, and faculty. Political advocacy may come in the forms of public policy, private philanthropy, and international investors. Building upon the historical achievements of HBCUs, in spite of lack of adequate funding, Black political advocacy must move with dispatch to ensure the prescription is realized.
Third, every Black student must be made aware of the values of HBCUs. These students should be taught that historically, Black graduates of HBCUs have made immeasurable contributions to this nation and the world. Black students headed to college must be advised by parents, school counselors (politicalized by Black advocates), and HBCU recruiters that a strong, positive path to intellectual growth, increased leadership, and national/international calling is to be found at HBCUs.
The authors are a father-son team. William M. Harris, Sr. is a retired faculty member. William M. Harris, Jr. is a long-time resident of Charlottesville.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church (United States Catholic Conference, Inc., 1994), No. 1935, quoting Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, No.29.
- W.E.B. Dubois pointed out, “The problem of race in America is the color line.” See W. E. B. Du Bois. The Souls of Black Folk, A.C. McClurg, Chicago, 1903.
- Burns, Prue and Jan Schapper – 2008 – Journal of Business Ethics 83 (3):369-379.
- Lovett, Bobby L. America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities: A Narrative History, 1837-2009, Mercer Publisher, 2015.
- The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education. 2022.
- Gasman, Marybeth. “The Talent and Diversity of HBCU Faculty,” Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University. 2021.
- See a summary of “stem” education at STEM Education Research Center, firstname.lastname@example.org, 2021.
- See Carter G. Woodson’s founding of the Associated Publishers, 1920, that open doors to Black researchers.
- Fanon, Franz, The Wretched of the Earth, Francois Maspero, 1961.
- King, Jr., Martin Luther. Why We Can’t Wait, Victor Weybright, 1964.
- Brown, Elaine. “Seize the Time,” Vault, 1969.