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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.


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