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Monday, March 31, 2008

Tennessee Regents deny TSU request to grant honorary degrees

Tennessee State University's governing board voted not to grant honorary degrees to students expelled for participating in the civil rights era's now-revered but then controversial Freedom Rides.

The Tennessee Board of Regents denied a waiver that would have granted 13 of the 14 black students expelled from TSU in 1961 the degrees they were denied the chance to earn.

The 7-5 vote — one member abstained — placed Tennessee at odds with at least six Southern schools and school systems that have atoned for politically motivated expulsions.

Regents had concerns about denigrating the value of an honorary degree by awarding so many at one time and recognizing a "one-time act of courage" with what is intended to be a lifetime achievement award.

"There is something sacred about honorary degrees," said Richard Rhoda, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and a nonvoting member of the regents board. "The board, in their judgment, did not feel like this was an instance where you should grant honorary degrees."

The Freedom Rides were orchestrated and often-integrated bus journeys designed to challenge segregation in areas of the sometimes violent deep South unwilling to accept a Supreme Court order calling for the integration of interstate travel facilities.

In 1961, downtown Nashville had already been the scene of mostly student-led sit-in protests. After a group of Freedom Riders from another state were attacked and beaten by a mob, students from several Nashville schools opted to continue the Rides, said Kwame Leo Lillard in a January interview. Lillard was a student at Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State University — as TSU then was known — who helped to organize the Nashville riders.

The Nashville students were arrested in Mississippi and, while still in jail, were sent letters advising them that they would face expulsion under terms of a year-old rule created during the administration of Gov. Buford Ellington — a self-described segregationist who later renounced that viewpoint.

Since the 1990s, at least six Southern schools — including Vanderbilt and Fisk universities in Nashville — have denounced their decisions to expel students for participating.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Unpaid bills force Howard to halt publication of newspaper

Forty eight thousand in unpaid bills have forced Howard University officials to halt publication of the school's student run newspaper the Hilltop. The Hilltop, the nation's only black run daily newspaper, owes the Washington Times more that $48,000 in outstanding printing costs.

Drew Costley, a Howard senior and The Hilltop's top editor for the 2007-08 academic year, said administrators "went against protocol" and independently decided to stop publication of The Hilltop indefinitely after it was revealed that the newspaper owed its printer, The Washington Times, $48,000 for printing during the fall semester.

Costley said the decision to stop publication resulted from an "illegal vote" taken without a quorum at a March 6 meeting of the policy board that governs the paper.

Ron Harris, director of the office of communications, confirmed that publication of The Hilltop has been suspended. "The university administration is not happy that school newspaper is not being published. They're having conversations right now to discuss how did this happen, are there systemic problems, and what do we need to change to make sure it doesn't happen again." Harris also said discussions were underway to determine if the printing bills could be paid.

During the March 6 meeting, Costley said administrators suggested stopping publication, but Costley said he motioned to continue publishing through March 21.

According to Costly of the $48,000 owed to the printer, $20,000 is at least 120 days outstanding and the remaining $28,000 is between 60 and 90 days late.

Costley said in December 2007, he found out that the business staff had not sent out invoices to advertising clients for a month and a half, causing $40,000 to $45,000 in lost revenue.

The Hilltop had a $250,000 budget and a staff of 40 people.