It’s Almost Like Elizabeth City State Students, Alumni Want to Give the School Away

Elizabeth City State University will bump up its plans to install a new chancellor, announcing that a previous June 1 start date for incoming interim chancellor has been scratched in favor of an April 9 first day on the job for Karrie Dixon.

Dr. Dixon has served in a co-chancellor role for the university since October, on loan from the UNC System office from her position as the vice-president of academic and student affairs. She will be the third interim (and soon to be) permanent chancellor installed at the university since 2014 and the second to be appointed with actual or strong ties to the UNC System. And she arrives at the school just months after UNC System President Margaret Spelling said ECSU was ‘turning the corner’ on enrollment, fundraising and improving its infrastructure.

The state’s intention have been clear since the appointment and resignation of former ECSU Chancellor Stacey Franklin Jones, the installation of former Chancellor Thomas Conway without a formal search, and now the placement of Dr. Dixon. The UNC System’s math couldn’t be more blatant; disrupt the historically poor, underperforming black school on the outer regions of the state before it has a chance to actually do something like transform local economy, or increase educational outcomes for white and black students in the region.

We know that’s the system’s game. But what is beyond puzzling is why Elizabeth City State alumni are granting permission to Spellings and lawmakers in the state to all but shut down the great potential of ECSU?

Forget the nuance of how East Carolina University is growing, and how appropriations to ECSU are largely viewed as wasted money in the effort to grow ECU as the region’s go-to college destination. From the News & Observer:

(East Carolina Chancellor Cecil) Staton is taking this case to the legislature. He hopes to win $14 million in state funding to plan a new building for ECU’s Brody School of Medicine and $10 million in increased annual appropriations to grow each medical class from 80 to 120 students. Last year, he said, the school admitted 82 future physicians out of an applicant pool of 1,080. All are North Carolinians, and ECU’s medical school produces mostly primary care doctors, which are in high demand.

ECU also has a $500 million fundraising campaign underway and had brought in $168 million by the beginning of last month.

Forget that the leadership mangling at ECSU would never happen at any of the state’s predominantly white institutions, or that a lawsuit filed in Maryland by HBCU alumni and students looms over every southern state like a pending hurricane. Why is it that students and alumni have said nothing, done nothing, and silently supported this state takeover of their institution?

Nothing about this story, or the way it has transpired is consistent with HBCU history or values. And maybe Spellings and the North Carolina legislature recognize it because there is a reason this particular campus was selected for a takeover. Maybe they recognize what Vikings can’t; that the town is just sleepy enough, the problems still persistent enough and black lawmakers in the state are just scared enough that they will let a multi-million dollar business be railroaded out of its potential, because its own students and graduates won’t speak up about it.

Elizabeth City State isn’t the only HBCU with a new and chronic problem of lethargic students and graduates. Rattlers have stood silently by while the Florida Board of Governors and FAMU Board of Trustees worked together to hire a president who will lead quietly while budgets are drastically cut, debts run high and much-needed support for the campus stays absent.

Morgan State University alumni continue to tolerate a president who attempted to consolidate programs with a proximate white school at the center of the landmark federal lawsuit – the same president who lavishly spent scholarship money, chronically searched for other jobs just two years after arriving in Baltimore, and who led students in filming a rap video on the day that black state lawmakers were seeking to advance a bill that would all but mandate increased funding for Maryland HBCU campuses.

There are plenty other part-time alumni delegations that contribute to this shocking, growing phenomenon of HBCU apathy, but none of them have the chance to lose a school. None of them are facing a blatant state takeover of their campuses. And none of them are as quietly complicit as ECSU is being at this critical moment.

There are exceptions. South Carolina State University alumni are in a public fight for institutional equity and autonomy are among them. From the Times and Democrat:

In a letter to S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster, Concerned South Carolina State University Alumni expressed displeasure over state support to the university and petitioned for increased funding and changes in provisions regulating trustee eligibility and other statutes. As the only state-assisted Historically Assisted Black College and University, its role in higher education is still relevant today when its mission is fulfilled, as it was when the schools were racially segregated.

But what does it say about the HBCU community when the largest protest within our gates has Howard students pitted against their own president, while Grambling State had to essentially condemn a library and has been officially made into a private institution thanks to budget cuts? When state systems around the country pick our presidents like HBCUs are high schools?

What does it say when the best news of the year for HBCUs thus far has been increased funding from the Trump Administration?

It says that we are not only complicit in the destruction of HBCUs, we welcome it.

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