The Year in Review in Black Colleges: Challenges and Shifts

In 2012, Black colleges saw upheaval from a death at Florida A&M and a number of changes in presidencies.

Posted: 12/19/2012 09:19 AM EST
The Year in Reviewin Black Colleges: Challenges and Shifts

The year 2012 saw some highly challenging moments for historically Black colleges and universities as well as a number of changes at the helms of many colleges.

There was also huge student participation in voter registration for this year’s presidential election and what many describe as a high level of energy regarding the presidential race.

The most notable challenge was at Florida A&M University, which dealt with the fallout from the hazing death of a member of the school’s famed marching band the year before. Robert Champion, the 26-year-old drum major, was beaten by band members who used drumsticks, bass drum mallets and their hands to hit him as he walked to the back of the bus in a hazing ritual.

Champion’s death focused the nation’s attention on the culture of hazing and led to investigations that exposed some financial and administrative shortcomings at the university, specifically related to the famed Marching 100 band.

In the aftermath, the university’s president, James H. Ammons, resigned; the band director, Julian White, was fired; and 12 band members were charged with felonies in the death of Champion. Meanwhile, other hazing activity was exposed, including an incident in which a young woman’s leg was broken.

However, there was some good news for historically Black colleges and universities in the form of federal funds. Earlier this year, the Education Department awarded $228 million in grants to historically Black colleges and universities.

The five-year grants went to schools in 19 states plus the District of Columbia and the universities are able to use the money to expand their campuses, acquire science equipment, develop counseling programs and train faculty.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the grants will enable historically Black colleges to help students who grapple with financial challenges as they pursue post-secondary education.

Meanwhile, there were some significant shifts in the leadership of some of the nation’s historically Black colleges in 2012.

For example, Bennett College, the historic women’s school in North Carolina, saw its president, Julianne Malveaux, step down after five years of running the school. Malveaux is one of the nation’s most-respected economists, writers and commentators. She said she wanted to pursue other interests, saying “Five years is the longest time I’ve ever held a job in my life.”

Similarly, there was a leadership shift at Morehouse College, the renowned men’s school in Atlanta. John S. Wilson, who served as director of President Obama’s House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, was named as Morehouse’s 11th president.

Wilson succeeds Robert M. Franklin, who served as president of Morehouse for five years.

At Bethune-Cookman University in Florida, president Trudie Kibbe Reed retired after leading the college for seven years. Reed presided over the school being upgraded from college to university. However, she also presided over the school while it was censured by the American Association of University Professors over its firing of faculty.

The school named as interim president Edison O. Jackson, a longtime college administrator who most recently served as president of Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn for 20 years.

Students at Bethune-Cookman made headlines during the elections by participating in a march to cast their votes and to advocate the importance of voting. In fact, this year saw a wave of student activism that focused on voter registration and advocacy, urging their fellow college students to go to the polls.

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(Photo: Jason Getz/AP Photo/The Atlanta Journal & Constitution, File)

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