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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Shots fired; GSU campus closes

An all too familiar scene occurred at Grambling State University last Friday as the the campus was locked down at 3:30 p.m. following two fights and three gunshots being reportedly fired into the air. No one was injured, a GSU official reported.
Five people were originally taken into custody shortly after law enforcement officers from throughout the area arrived on campus.

Michael McKinley, Ph.D., executive assistant to GSU President Horace Judson, said the campus would remain in lockdown through the night and no one will be allowed on campus without proper identification.

Of the five arrested, two were issued summons for disturbing the peace by fighting.

"The three others were jailed — two for resisting arrest and disturbing the peace and the third for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute," McKinley said. He did not know the names of those arrested or if they were students.

McKinley said the fights began around 12:45 p.m. and law enforcement had things under control by 2:30 p.m.

Campus officials said during an afternoon news conference that the Firstcall Network that sends emergency text messages to students was activated at 2 p.m.

GSU and Louisiana Tech University implemented the system last month to notify students of campus incidents.

Natalia Stroman, a GSU senior, said she was on campus when she heard numerous gunshots fired earlier this morning.

She said some men got into a fight Thursday night at a local nightclub and again on campus Friday.

"From my understanding, the shooting wasn't at anyone, it was in the air," Stroman said. "It happened before the police got there."

As she talked from her cell phone around 3:45 p.m., screams could be heard coming from students as police herded them into dormitories for safety measures.

Other campus buildings were locked and students were forced outside.

Students said police in bulletproof vests were on campus armed with tear gas and K-9 Units.

"Everything just escalated and they shut campus down," Stroman said.

Monday, April 14, 2008

TxSU regents eye new admissions standards

For decades, Texas Southern University has accepted almost anyone who wanted to enroll, but that may be about to change.

Regents got a preview on Friday, including the possibility that students who don't meet the new standards could be shifted to a community college for a year or two before transferring to TSU.

Other suggestions involved moving the school's best teachers to first-year courses and even making class attendance mandatory.

"We're not talking about closing doors," said James Douglas, interim provost and senior vice president. "We're talking about creating a different structure."

Douglas, a former TSU president and longtime law professor there, briefed regents on the ideas being considered as part of new college President John Rudley's attempts to overhaul the school.

Other options include requiring minimum scores on the SAT and ACT — currently, students don't even have to take the college entrance tests — and requiring those who don't meet the standards to attend a summer program.

Regents will vote on the issue May 9. Even if changes are approved, few could take effect before fall 2009, Douglas said.

Open admissions is a popular way to make college accessible for students from the neighborhoods around TSU. But it also is blamed for the low graduation rate — just 16 percent of TSU students earn a bachelor's degree within six years, compared with 55 percent of college students statewide.

Higher standards could help with that but would probably cause enrollment to drop, as well. And that could mean less state funding.

Board Chairman Glenn Lewis of Fort Worth said the governor's office has seemed receptive to granting a temporary reprieve from any financial repercussions caused by higher standards. Still, there have been no guarantees.

Enrollment has been dropping even with open admission. The number of first-time freshmen dropped from 1,980 students in 2005 to just 1,288 last fall.

Students who didn't meet the higher standards could be shifted to a community college under Douglas' vision. He said talks about the idea have started with several community college systems but nothing has been signed.

He also has recommended strengthening the school's remedial education classes. That, too, could ultimately mean more people graduating from TSU.

"Right now, we have too many students leaving with a debt," he said. "We're not going to remove the debt, but we want to make sure they leave with a diploma."

Monday, April 07, 2008

Ala. A&M fires president

Dr. Robert Jennings, the president of Alabama A&M for a little more than two years, was fired by the school's board of trustees by a 7-1 vote last week.

The board voted to dismiss Jennings immediately, but did not name an interim president.

Jennings had served since January 2006 as Alabama A&M's 10th permanent president. A trustee committee had investigated allegations that he violated school policies in the hiring of an executive assistant in 2006, later paying the assistant for time spent away from campus, and possibly predating a computer memo in the matter.

There were also complaints that Jennings did not provide enough information to the board or communicate well enough with them about a number of major changes he made, and to which some faculty bitterly objected.

Jennings has said, through an attorney, he will challenge the firing in court.

Rather than immediately appoint an interim president, trustees voted Monday to adopt a motion offered by trustee Judge Lynn Sherrod that establishes a "transition team" and plan to run the school for a couple of weeks.

Revolving chaos
For the past several months, a special board committee has been looking into allegations that Jennings had improperly arranged to pay a former executive assistant for time that was actually spent attending a graduate course in Minnesota.

Since 1984, the year Richard D. Morrison retired after leading the university for 24 years, seven presidents have served nine terms as president of Alabama A&M. Over and over again, for reasons ranging from scandal to board dissatisfaction, the president's office at A&M has been no better than a revolving door.

Casual observers suspect A&M problems stem from its board. "It's the board, and always has been the board," said one. During one presidential search, many years before this current configuration of the board existed, I was told that the board was advised by a committee of community leaders it had created who the top candidates should be from a list of possible presidents.