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Saturday, December 27, 2008

UDC Law students investigate fees

Most students know that the cost of enrollment at college involves more than just tuition. Every year, the University of the District of Columbia charges a variety of additional fees, including the student activity fee. The purpose of the fee is to fund student activities and fund student support budgets.

Some UDC students are concerned the math doesn't add up and that there is money missing from the budgets funded by student fees.

The problem started in 2006, when the UDC Board of Trustees voted to increase student activity fees from $25 to $35 for undergraduates, and from $110 to $210 for law students. Although the fee went up, the amount accounted for by the University's annual budget did not. Over the last two years the fund imbalance has grown to an estimated $2.2 million for the undergraduates, and $60,000 for the law school.

Students have been told by law school administrators that the unaccounted funds are not available to fund the activities of student organizations, because it has been "absorbed" into the university's budget.

Robert Maxwell, UDC Law student, has requested six years of budget history on the student activity fees. These requests, however legitimate, has not been honored. Maxwell has been asked by the law school's Student Bar Association to form a task force of students to pursue this investigation and solve the unexplained budget problems. To accomplish this, he may have to look for answers beyond the UDC administration, since the university's budget is actually approved by the D.C. City Council.

Nevertheless, holding the university accountable for the money is a priority for students. Alexander Beraud, a second-year law student and senator in the Student Bar Association, sees this as a matter of deep concern. "We need to quell the vast outcry among the student body," says Beraud, "and ensure that the student organizations, which represent the interests of students, are properly funded."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Final bell may have tolled at Morris Brown

After enduring the conviction of its president on charges of embezzlement Morris Brown College has managed to endure. It has kept going despite losing its accreditation and seeing its enrollment, once near 3,000, plummet to 56 students.

Now, Morris Brown faces additional challenges to pay $1.5 million in critical bills may not make it.

Stanley Pritchett, acting president of the 127 year-old school said Saturday, they lack money to pay faculty and staff salaries, utilities and other operating expenses.

The school’s financial troubles intensified last week, when the city of Atlanta shut off water service to the campus.

The city said Morris Brown owes about $380,000 in water bills, some dating to 2004. When the school fell behind on a payment plan to reduce the debt, the city cut off the water — and, perhaps, Morris Brown’s future.

The campus simply cannot reopen unless the water comes back on, Pritchett said. “You’ve got to have basic services.”

School officials are scheduled to meet with bankers on Monday, hoping to secure a short-term loan, said Rhonda Copenny, a Morris Brown trustee. The college continues to work on a long-term restructuring of its $32 million debt.

Without “bridge financing,” Copenny said, the school is no more than three weeks away from closing permanently.

Even with a short-term cash infusion, the college faces tough obstacles, court records indicate. Contractors have filed several liens over unpaid bills.

A real-estate broker hired to arrange commercial development on campus has put filed a $230,000 lien. A plumbing company that had already filed a $116,000 lien escalated the case by suing the school Dec. 17.

The city, too, filed liens to prevent Morris Brown from selling property before making good on its water bills.

On Dec. 12, the last day of the fall semester, city officials told the school to pay the full $380,000 immediately or they would terminate water service, Pritchett said. City workers turned off the spigots Dec. 15.

Pritchett said he has appealed for leniency from Mayor Shirley Franklin and has talked with two of her aides, “but as of this date, I have not been able to get any kind of flexibility in resolving it.”

City officials say they gave Morris Brown plenty of chances. Once a customer defaults on a payment plan, though, the account becomes due in full.

“The city doesn’t renegotiate,” said Janet Ward, a spokeswoman for the Watershed Management Department.

Franklin’s spokeswoman, Beverly Isom, said, “This problem has been apparent for some time. I don’t think it’s because they don’t have water that Morris Brown has financial problems.”

This potentially fatal blow comes as Morris Brown has begun something of a rebirth. Last spring, the General Assembly allowed the school to begin accepting students who receive the state’s HOPE scholarship. Enrollment this fall more than doubled to about 240.

“The institution has been a major part of the landscape of this community,” Pritchett said, “and it certainly deserves to remain a viable part of the community.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Lawmakers suggest Elizabeth City consider name change

A NC state lawmaker asked the Elizabeth City State University Board of Trustees to study a possible name change for the university to reflect ECSU’s regional appeal.

State Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank, emphasized that his recommendation is only that ECSU officials study a name change.
“I’m not suggesting anything other than they look into it and weigh the pros and cons,” Owens said.

It’s unknown what type of reception Owens will get. Already, four key alumni leaders have signed a letter opposing changing the school’s name.

The school’s name has changed a couple of times in the past. After starting out in 1891 as a Colored Normal School, the school was renamed Elizabeth City State Teachers College in 1937 before again being renamed Elizabeth City State College in 1963. In 1969, the college’s name was changed again — this time to ECSU.

Although one proposed name for the university is the University of North Carolina at Elizabeth City, others such as Northeastern North Carolina University have been suggested, Owens said.

The lawmaker said other campuses in the UNC System have benefited from name changes. When Pembroke State University, for example, changed its name to UNC-Pembroke the school saw a dramatic increase in enrollment, Owens said. A similar change for ECSU might make it easier to raise money and to recruit faculty and staff, he said. ECSU trustees should talk to UNC-Pembroke about its experience with the name change, he said.

ECSU is making great strides in the past few years, adding master’s degree programs and growing the enrollment, Owens said. He added the school had benefited from $100 million in capital improvements during the last several years. Owens said he wanted to see both ECSU and College of The Albemarle continue to grow and become stronger. City Councilwoman Betty Meggs, a member of the university’s Board of Visitors, said Saturday she hadn’t made up her mind about the proposal to study changing ECSU’s name. “I can see pros and cons in it,” she said. Meggs said she had heard the argument that a name change might make it more likely that someone from, say, Chicago might choose to attend the university.

“Nobody knows where Elizabeth City is if they’re from way off from here,” Meggs said.

Travis Faulcon of Littleton, one of the graduates at ECSU’s commencement ceremony Saturday, said following the ceremony that the name of the university wasn’t important to him.

“It doesn’t matter to me,” Faulcon said. “I got the best education possible here. So the name change — it doesn’t matter.”
Faulcon earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and plans to become a public health director.
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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Morehouse takes on saggy pants, cursing

Morehouse President Robert Franklin, who was named president last year, instituted the practice of giving every freshman a tie and a blazer in the college’s primary color, maroon, as a tangible symbol of the image of a gentleman in higher education.

Morehouse is one of several historically black colleges taking action recently to improve dress on campus. Overt dissent on the Morehouse campus has been minimal, but a smattering of bloggers nationally have suggested that schools might be trying to take away students’ freedom of expression.

Profanity and exposed boxers are not exactly part of the stereotype of Morehouse, whose distinguished alumni have included actor Samuel Jackson, director Spike Lee, theologian Howard Thurman, Olympian Edwin Moses, former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan, current Morehouse President Franklin. And, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sagging pants seem inconsequential in comparison, but dress and language help create the campus atmosphere, Franklin said.

“The fact is a significant percentage of our students arrive at Morehouse with a preppy orientation and understand the importance of presentation of themselves,” Franklin said. “Some of the students themselves are surprised to discover a small number of students who arrive with a different, almost thuglike, orientation in dress, speech and social behavior.”

Some students don’t seem to be aware of their language, said William Tweedle, director of Hubert Hall at Morehouse. “They don’t know they’re cursing. They don’t know they’re using the n-word the way they use it.”

Likewise, Tweedle said, “I understand that baggy pants and a certain level of sagging is part of culture, but showing your drawers, your underpants, is unacceptable.”

Tweedle and Franklin’s efforts predate the recent presidential election. But President-elect Barack Obama’s win has boosted the backlash against the sartorial and linguistic byproducts of the hip-hop culture.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, an activist, former presidential candidate and radio host, is among those taking note. Sharpton, long a critic of vulgar rap lyrics, recently told the Chicago Tribune, “You can’t be using the b-word, the n-word, the h-word when you have Barack Obama redefining overnight the image that black people want to have.”

“Obama Won; Now Pull Up Your Pants” was the headline on a post-election column by Justin M. LaGrande, lifestyle editor of The Gramblinite, the newspaper of the historically black Grambling State University in Louisiana. “Obama isn’t sagging his pants,” LaGrande wrote.

Obama himself said in an MTV interview shortly before the election that he opposes laws and ordinances — such as one proposed by an Atlanta city councilman last year — that would control dress.

“Having said that,” he added, “brothers should pull up their pants. You are walking by your mother, your grandmother, your underwear is showing.”

Morehouse freshman Gregory Brito, 18, looks to the president-elect as a role model, but he is struggling to live up to the image.

Brito, who is from New York, doesn’t wear sagging pants but, he said, “I’ll be honest. I curse. I say ‘n…..’ I need to have time to transition from using the word to not using it. I come from an urban area. That’s the way we talk.”

Some African-Americans have argued that by using the racial epithet themselves, they take away its power to be used against them. To Brito, it’s just a slang term of address.

But since being at Morehouse, and especially since Obama’s election, he said, he would prefer not to hear or say it.

“African-American men and men of color can’t make excuses anymore,” Brito said. “It’s hard, though.”

Ray Hayes Jr., a 20-year-old Morehouse junior from Chicago, said he gave up sagging pants and the n-word in high school.

“A lot of guys use profanity here,” he said. “A lot of guys sag their pants. They say it’s a fashion statement.”

Hayes disagrees with some observers who say the vestiges of hip-hop culture were already going out of style.

“I don’t think it was going out of fashion at all,” he said. “I think it was going to get worse as time went on. Guys who weren’t doing it would fall into the trap and start doing it.”

The Morehouse campaign is effective, said freshman Paul Daniels, 17, of Raleigh, because it is linked to the college’s illustrious legacy.

Franklin, he said, “doesn’t condemn the n-word or sagging or cursing. … He’s teaching us why we shouldn’t do it.”

When freshman Ryan Hobbs, 19, of Fayetteville wears his maroon blazer, he’s conscious of its message. Receiving it was a rite of passage, he said.

“The blazer and the tie made me feel like I was really a man of Morehouse, accepted into the brotherhood,” he said. “Morehouse has produced great, great individuals. I want to be another added to that list.”
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Monday, December 08, 2008

Norfolk State joins Apple's ITunesU

Norfolk State University is now on Apple iTunes U, which allows users to easily search, download and play course content. NSU is the first institution in the Commonwealth of Virginia to be listed in the universities and colleges directory on the main iTunes U site.

Students, faculty and staff can access the latest news and events, lectures and student productions on the iTunes U store front. Using computers or media players, the campus community can connect to NSU at anytime from any location. Learning can take place inside or outside the classroom—on-the-go or from the comfort of a residence hall, office or home.
Currently, the site offers training tutorials, 90-second lectures from NSU faculty, appearances by guest lecturers and the Spartan Report, the university’s weekly Webcast.

You can visit Norfolk's ITunes site by clicking here

Monday, December 01, 2008

Georgia Senator recommends merging two HBCUs

The chairman of a key state Senate committee wants the University System to consider merging historically black public colleges with nearby white-majority schools to save money.

Georgia Senate Higher Education Committee Chairman Seth Harp to recommending merging two of the state's three historically black public colleges as cost savings move. Harp suggested Savannah State University be merged with Armstrong Atlantic University in Savannah, and Albany State be merged with Darton College, both in Albany.

“I think it’s a bad idea,” said Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), who has taught political science at two historically black private colleges, Morehouse and Morris Brown.

But Harp said the University System, which has 35 public schools and a $2.3 billion state budget this year, will have to make some hard choices to come up with budget cuts that could top $200 million.

And he said in two cities, Savannah and Albany, white- and black-majority schools are part of the legacy of segregation.

“The white schools were begun as segregation schools. It’s time Georgia closed that ugly chapter,” Harp said during a hearing on the University System’s budget Monday.

Consolidating the schools would reduce administrative costs and potentially cut duplication of similar academic programs.

System Chancellor Erroll Davis (an African American) said the decision won’t be based solely on financial considerations.

“You can make obvious arguments about the economics of it, but I don’t think economics will drive the decision,” Davis said. “It’s going to be a political decision, not an economic decision.”

Davis said if the “body politic” wants the Board of Regents to look at mergers, it will.

Fort asked why Harp doesn’t suggest merging Georgia Tech and Georgia State University, since they are so geographically close.

He predicted Harp will get a stiff fight from the alumni of historically black schools if the idea moves forward.

“Alumni associations for these blacks schools are very protective of their legacy,” he said.

Michael Lomax, the former Fulton County Commission chairman who now serves as president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund, said the idea of merging colleges is not a “thoughtful or timely suggestion.”

State leaders should be trying to see that every college is operating at capacity, Lomax said.

“Fill up those seats and you have fewer beds to fill in jail,” he said. “Fill up those seats and you have fewer people seeking public assistance.”

The idea has come up before. Twenty-five years ago, former Gov. Joe Frank Harris suggested the state consider merging historically black colleges with other nearby state colleges to achieve court-ordered desegregation.

The state instead made a commitment to make other changes including enhancing facilities on the three historically black campuses and encouraging students at the two-year Darton College to transfer to Albany State for four-year degrees.