By Arelya J. Mitchell, Publisher
The Mid-South Tribune and the Black Information Highway
“To: Rep. Barbara Cooper. Please share your response with your colleagues. I don’t give a rat’s ass what the black caucus thinks.”
These infamous words are from an August 22, 2012 email Tennessee State Senator Jim Summerville sent TN State Rep. Barbara Cooper, chairman of the Tennessee Black Caucus, after he had called for a public hearing on Tennessee State University (TSU) which was being accused of changing grades in its pilot math program. For the record, TSU was absolved of all charges in that initial and only hearing on August 23, 2012, and Summerville ended up looking like an idiot when his witch hunt could find no brooms on which to hang allegations.
We bring this up because TSU, known these days by the politically correct nomenclature HBCU, short for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, a term coined post Civil Rights movement, has completed its first century, having been founded in Nashville in 1912.
But this matter with Summerville typifies what is happening to most HBCUs as they fight for survival: A slow process of first being rendered as inferior, then irrelevant, then archaic. Outside of the Black church, HBCUs are the oldest Black institutions to have survived in spite of Jim Crow and post segregation. There are about a 105 of them left on this Titanic called American Education, which has hit this iceberg of whites still simply not wanting their children sitting next to Black children in the classroom—any classroom. It is the racist reason why HBCUs came into existence.
It is further ironic that State Senator Summerville is the author of “Educating Black Doctors: A History of Meharry Medical College” (Alabama, 1983). MeharryMedicalSchool, too, is located in Nashville and is one of the oldest HBCUs in the country.
When The Mid-South Tribune and the Black Information Highway asked about the ‘rat’s ass’ comment and TSU allegations, Summerville responded via email: “In the words of the late, redoubtable William F. Buckley, Jr. ‘a few observations’:
(1) On August 13, members of the Black Caucus received the report of the Higher Education Committee on the allegations of TSU grade changes before this report was made public.
(2) With hardly any time to study the Committee report—to which I and others had devoted many hard hours of works [sic]–some members of the Black Caucus asserted that TSU had been investigated only because it was a HBCU and it should have been found wholly without blame in the matter.
While I should have chosen some other words in my retort to Rep. Barbara Cooper, I am not a professional politician.
The August 13 meeting of the Higher Education subcommittee was its first, and thus far only one. Nothing in the TSU investigation was done on the basis of race. The panel merely looked into the charges made by a senior member of the TSU faculty and presented a fair, judicious statement of its findings.”
For the record during that August 13 hearing, TSU’s interim president Dr. Portia Shields was gracious enough to say: “We applaud Senator Summerville and members of the subcommittee for their willingness to listen to the facts as presented by the University’s administration, the Tennessee Board of Regents and representatives of TennesseeStateUniversity.”
Summerville had jumped the fence when Dr. Jane Davis, a TSU English professor, complained about grades being changed in TSU’s pilot math program to the Governor’s office and that landed the complaint in the Senate Higher Education subcommittee, which Summerville chairs.
From all accounts, it seemed that Summerville 1). Did not bother to see if Dr. Davis had gone through the university’s chain of command to make her complaint known, 2) or why she chose to initially put the matter up for a public hearing.
Keep in mind, Davis is an English professor and the two math pilot programs are—yes—in the math department. In fact these two pilot math programs were approved by the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) which in fact, to reiterate, absolved TSU of any wrong doing. TSU created the pilot math programs to help students who lacked mathematical skills, seeing that TBR was dumb enough to get rid of remedial math classes in four-year colleges. Now considering that math is a problem area most colleges—HBCU or not—are having, wouldn’t it make sense to beef up any type of program remedial or otherwise that would solve a problem that is obviously not being solved in public elementary and high schools? In fact, the nation is suffering because math graduates are a dying species.
And still the question begs: What connection did Dr. Davis have with Summerville that they both were bent on conducting a witch hunt? Did they know each other previously? And let’s be bold: Was it a conspiracy to begin a dismantling of an HBCU to get more funds for the University of Tennessee or any other HWCU (Historically White Colleges and Universities).
Then Dr. Shields lit into Summerville during that hearing: “It was made clear today from testimony during the hearing and through the internal audit report that there was no indication that University administrators ordered, coerced or directly changed the grades of students, but that faculty simply did what was right for the students involved. It is a shame, however, that so much energy has been spent addressing these unsupported allegations; energy that could have been better spent on students as we prepare for the beginning of a new academic year.”
The fight got political when the Tennessee Black Caucus stepped in under Rep. Barbara Cooper’s warrior cry. If Summerville had done his homework, he would have known that Rep. Cooper was an astute community activist long before she was in politics. Then the Young Democrats of Memphis stepped in to support TSU, and in, essence all hell deservedly broke loose.
If anything Summerville owes Rep. Cooper, Dr. Shields and TSU an apology. However, we won’t hold our breath on this, seeing that in Dr. Davis’s case and Summerville’s case a rat would do anything to save his or her own ass.
Summerville learned firsthand the power of the TSU’s alumni and that like most HBCUs, its alumni organization is loyal.
It must also be pointed out that Summerville is a member of the National Association of Scholars (NAS) which states under its official positions as of 2012: “American higher education is facing widespread demands to eliminate the allegedly ‘Eurocentric’ and ‘patriarchal’ bias of the curriculum. While the details vary from campus to campus, these demands tend to focus on four objectives:
- “that the ‘canon’ be revised to include more works by blacks, other ethnic minorities, and women.
- “that the ‘issues of race, gender, and class’ be introduced into a greater variety of courses.
- “that more courses in women’s studies and minority studies be developed.
- “that courses in women’s studies and/or minority studies be required of all undergraduates.”
NAS expounds: “The National Association of Scholars is in favor of ethnic studies, the study of non-Western cultures, and the study of the special problems of women and minorities in our society, but it opposes subordinating entire humanities and social science curricula to such studies and it views with alarm their growing politicization. Efforts purportedly made to introduce ‘other points of view’ and ‘pluralism’ often seem in fact designed to restrict attention to a narrow set of issues, tendentiously defined. An examination of many women’s studies and minority studies courses and programs discloses little study of other cultures and much excoriation of our society for its alleged oppression of women, blacks, and others. The banner of ‘cultural diversity’ is apparently being raised by some whose paramount interest actually lies in attacking the West and its institutions.”
Notice that NAS refers to “alleged oppression of women, blacks and others…” Alleged? Surely, NAS jests or it has developed some metaphysical fog about reality. A further interpretation of NAS’ position is that it is all right to have ethnic studies et al as long as these studies remain in a subordinate position as to not dilute the overall subject. For example, it is okay to have a women’s study class or a Black history class as long the women’s class does not dilute the field or take over the field of sociology or it’s okay to have Black history class as long as Black history doesn’t dilute the field of American history. Pedagogically, what NAS fails to realize is that American History has always been incomplete and sanitized because if one were to read most junior high, high school, and college textbooks, slavery is barely mentioned or the ailments of Reconstruction or the economic contributions Blacks made to make Cotton king—not to mention other economic contributions post slavery. Even the 1940’s through 1960’s civil rights struggle or the turmoil women had to go through to get the constitutional right to vote, and so on are barely mentioned. The reasons for these Black and women courses developing were not arbitrarily done but rather because they had never if seldom been taught as integrated legitimate disciplines within the American history and socio-economic curricula.
If you look long enough and hard enough on NAS’ website, there is not one photo of an American Black citizen to be found. Sure, there are some Black scholars who contribute (not many), and they are more than likely to describe themselves as Black conservatives, which is neither here nor there. Because these Black scholars and professors should be there not to necessarily agree with NAS’ philosophical propensity to assert that ethnic studies, Black studies, and women studies somehow dilute ‘legitimate’ Euro-centric or WASP-centric curricula but to invade NAS, because when an organization believes that ‘white’ is intelligence rather than a biological nomenclature, it needs to be invaded ‘by any means necessary’ just to keep it from settling into mediocrity.
In fact, this ethnic-cleansing of curricula could and can extend to Summerville’s problem with a Historically Black institution of Higher Learning: If it’s Black, it can’t be worth much because it is Black. It seems that Summerville has conveniently forgotten that HBCUs developed because whites (not just in the South but also in the North) did not want Blacks to attend ‘their’ universities. They did not want their white college students sitting next to Black college students. They did not want Blacks educated period. No other ethnic and/or immigrant group was discriminated in this manner.
When cutbacks are made in the area of higher education, Black colleges and universities will receive the cuts and historically white institutions will receive the ‘backs’. You can expect in the future as funds get tighter HBCUs will be on the chopping blocks and that prison construction will increase to take the place of HBCU classrooms and dormitories. And be aware: It is unlikely that Summerville or those in his ilk will give up the fight.
We revisit the Summerville fiasco to point out TSU as an example to other HBCUs that it is time to mobilize, politicize and fight fire with fire.
We see this anti-HBCU faction growing by even recruiting some Blacks who feel that HBCUs are no longer relevant; therefore, no longer needed. But what hurts most of all is the assumption that because an institution is Black, it is inferior to its white counterpart. When you turn out the best and brightest on air and prayer during Jim Crow and post Jim Crow, you’ve got to be damned good! Instead of this sub rosa drive to annihilate Black colleges and universities, there should be a drive to enhance them with more funding, with raising salaries of teachers and staff, with recruiting those students who are drowning in their own intellectual frustration because of their skin color. Yes, there are young Black geniuses out there– young Black scientists, young Black mathematicians, and young Black technologists. And they would be grateful to get into these fine institutions now called HBCUs. Yes, there are also those poor white geniuses, those poor white mathematicians, those poor white scientists out there just as there are those poor Latinos, poor Hispanics, poor Asians, poor Native Americans who can be given the opportunity to be educated at these fine institutions of higher learning.
America is in dire needs of brains and talent. This is one of the main reasons for trying to pass immigration legislation. And since there will undoubtedly be an immigration bill, HBCUs need to recruit these new students.
As TSU settles into its second century, it goes under the leadership of Dr. Glenda Baskin Glover who was approved by TBR on November 27, 2012.
Dr. Glover is a TSU graduate, a licensed attorney and certified public accountant.
She received her MBA from ClarkAtlantaUniversity, another HBCU; and her J.D. from GeorgetownUniversityLawCenter, and her Ph.D. in business economics and policy from GeorgeWashingtonUniversity. But what is also most noted is that her Bachelor’s degree from TSU is in mathematics.
Yes, State Senator Summerville, there are African American mathematicians. They really do exist. So whatever TSU develops in a math program, the good senator might want to enroll along with his sidekick, Dr. Jane Davis, to personally monitor the progress before they begin another witch hunt.
To backtrack: It is imperative that Black Americans regardless of what college they attend or attended to say: “Hell No, We Won’t Go!” to those who are trying to undermine and eventually destroy the only institution (outside of the Black church) that has lasted for over a hundred years: The Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
We cheer and congratulate Dr. Glover in her new endeavor; and we appreciate Dr. Portia Shields for holding down the fort with the determination of a relentless bulldog.
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