Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Never Gonna Happen

Haley Barbour cannot surprise me anymore. Been there done that. So when he unveiled his long-term consolidation plan for the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning (MS IHL), better known as our eight state-run universities, it was a very familiar tune.

When I attended Jackson State University, Mississippi's largest Historically Black College/University, it was during the mid-1980s. The Ayers lawsuit, which was brought on behalf of the students attending MS HBCUs, was only a decade long and there was talk about consolidation. Jackson State was suppose to become the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in Jackson, Mississippi Valley State was suppose to merge with Delta State and Alcorn State was suppose to merge with Mississippi State and the Mississippi University for Women.

We had witnessed Utica Junior College, a two-year HBCU, merged with Hinds Community College, and being involved with student government at the time, we would be damned if our alma mater was going to suffer the same fate. Led by our student body president, Thomas Fox, we marched on the College Board and crashed their meeting. We marched on the State Capitol and chased legislators up and down stairs.

In other words, we made our defiant voices heard. Fortunately for us, MUW did not want to be consolidated either, and since a number of the alumnae were spouses of the key players on this issue, consolidation died a timely death. Now, our governor wants to resurrect this idiotic discussion.

Idiotic may be a strong word, but completely appropriate. First, how are you going to justify saving money by maintaining eight physical plants, regardless of what they are named? Second, what federal exemption does our governor think he is going to get by dissolving a historically black land grant school. For those not familiar, during Reconstruction, the federal government donated land to create colleges. In those states that believed that Blacks and whites should not attend school together, land grants were given to open a Black college and a white college. Alcorn State and Mississippi State are our state's land grant institutions.

Third, it is a bad business model. Ole Miss, for example, only receives 30 percent of its budget from the state. The rest is covered by endowments to the school. JSU is just the opposite, receiving 70 percent of it's budget from the state. Why would Ole Miss take that kind of disparity on, putting a strain on its coffers?

Fourth, the Ayers case has been settled. The purpose of the lawsuit was to show that MS HBCUs were capable of being elite public institutions and that they should be given the resources to maintain that standard of excellence. Consolidation would nullify the settlement and probably generate another 27-year legal fight in the Federal Courts.

That is why I say IHL consolidation will never happen. The Legislature does not have the political will to push for it. The alumni of JSU, Alcorn, MVSU and MUW will fight this plan to the very end. And I believe that they will be victorious.

Gov. Barbour got what he wanted, a vigorous discussion about the issue, and coverage on most news, especially the Clarion-Ledger. Surely, I don't think he is stupid enough to believe that consolidation will happen during his last year in office. However, it is now our turn, we must be loud and strongly voice our response to this mess. We must do it for JSU, Alcorn, MVSU and MUW.

Barbour thinks he can erase 100s of years of history at these schools in the name of fiscal management. As Mr. Gump would say, "stupid is as stupid does."