TEXT OF COMMENTARY
KAI RYSSDAL: Today, we’re going to wrap up the conversation we’ve been having this week about the economic challenges facing African Americans, and we’re going to be talking education. Specifically, the state of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. A lot of them are facing the facing the same budget problems other schools are, including Jackson State University, in Jackson, Miss.
Jackson State President Dr. Ronald Mason says it’s time for those colleges to adapt or perish.
Dr. Ronald Mason: Historically black universities were one attempt to restore opportunities lost to slavery, segregation and discrimination. They continue to stand as the primary social, economic and educational foundation for the future of black people in many states, including Mississippi.
But today, many are poorer than other schools. Years of under-funding and lack of access to wealth have taken their toll. The gap between many of these schools and other institutions of higher learning continues to widen across the nation. In addition, “post-racial” America questions the need for these majority black institutions. Even black people are raising the question, if not with their voices, then with their school choices and tuition dollars.
For the sake of African American children, I think that it is time that these struggling black colleges and universities find ways to join forces. The move would create a new model to coordinate the facilities, programs and services of historically black schools. It would also create schools large enough to compete with other major mainstream universities.
Here in Mississippi, my institution should join with Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State universities. A united front would be greater than the sum of the parts. We could better weather the storm of deep budget cuts, hire better paid people, support more black contractors, play better football, raise more money and have a unified alumni and political base.
This is the blueprint for the next generation of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, a way to uplift black people that could truly take root. It’s also a 21st century response to the legacy of institutional oppression of African Americans.
The conversation will be painful for many alumni, students, faculty, staff and friends of these universities. But it is necessary. It is important that we survive and compete at a higher level, for African Americans, for Mississippi and for America.
Ryssdal: Dr. Ronald Mason Jr. is the president of Jackson State University. It’s in Jackson, Miss.
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