By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on January 24, 2023
An Editorial Opinion
From 1981 to 2006, not a single one of Alabama’s 30 historically white public colleges and universities (HWCUs) advocated for awarding equitable state funding to historically black Alabama State University (ASU) and Alabama A&M University (AAMU) in the higher education desegregation case of Knight v. Alabama.
In fact, all 30 of the state's public HWCUs fought equitable state funding to compensate ASU and AAMU for decades of past racial discrimination in their annual state appropriations. They also fought doctoral programs and new undergraduate academic programs for ASU and AAMU.
During the 25-year court fight in Knight v. Alabama, Birmingham Southern College (BSC) stood quietly on the sidelines and never lifted a finger to help ASU and AAMU win the battle for equitable state funding and new academic programs.
BSC’s only noticeable response to the long battle to desegregate Alabama's educational institutions after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation in schools and colleges in the 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education was to literally wall itself off from the surrounding predominantly black Bush Hills neighborhood some 22 years later. Over the course of time, the college turned itself into a white island in a sea of black residents.
In 1976, BSC installed a majestic wrought iron fence around its 127-acre campus after the tragic abduction, rape, and murder of Quenette Shehane, a 21-year-old BSC student. The planning for this fence actually began in 1972 after BSC's attempt to flee the Bush Hills neighborhood by selling its campus to ASU fell through.
The Knight v. James Plaintiffs Won Their Case
After 25 years of intense litigation and massive resistance to the desegregation of Alabama’s public colleges and universities, the plaintiffs in Knight v. Alabama won their case. As a result of their courageous efforts, the plaintiffs desegregated Alabama’s 32 four-year public colleges and universities.
The Knight plaintiffs also won court-ordered doctoral programs and new undergraduate academic programs for ASU and AAMU.
Additionally, the Knight plaintiffs won nearly $600 million in new state funding (beyond the regular state appropriations) for these two HBCUs, which included $90 million in endowment money for each university.
The funding won in the Knight case is a major reason why ASU and AAMU are on sound financial footings in 2023.
BSC is Financially Broke and Collapsing
Today, BSC is financially broke and struggling. The college is on the verge of collapsing. It desperately needs an immediate injection of $37.5 million in taxpayer "bailout" money in order to keep its doors open.
BSC seeks $30 million from the state of Alabama, $5 million from the city of Birmingham, and $2.5 million from Jefferson County to stay afloat.
BSC President Daniel Coleman has tapped state Rep. Juandalynn Givan, state Senator Roger Smitherman, and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, all of whom are Birmingham-area black elected officials, to lead the charge in securing this taxpayer "bailout" money for BSC.
These public officials are BSC's ordained "saviors." What is more, these "saviors" feel compelled to deliver for President Coleman and BSC, at all cost.
None of these "saviors" can tell you how many BSC board members, senior management executive, and faculty members live within the city limits of Birmingham. None of them can tell you how much money BSC has spent with black vendors since Birmingham got it first black mayor in 1979. None of them has ever tried to deliver $37.5 million to Miles College in a single, special purpose, funding campaign.
None of these "saviors" seems to remember that Daniel Payne College, an HBCU that was named after the first black president of a college in the United States, was forced to close in 1979 due to inadequate funding. When this sad event occurred, BSC did not lift a finger to help Daniel Payne survive.
The New "Bailout" Plan is a Money-Laundering Scheme
President Coleman has also reached out to the presidents of ASU and AAMU for help in securing the $37.5 million in “bailout” money. Someone in the mix has devised a plan for ASU and AAMU to get involved in this messy situation.
Just so you know, no BSC president reached out to help ASU and AAMU during their 25-year federal court fight for equitable state funding.
As I understand it, the new plan for saving BSC is essentially a money-laundering scheme. Under the plan, BSC's "saviors" will work within the Alabama Legislature to get a $30 million supplemental appropriation sent to ASU and AAMU, to be divided between them. Both universities will then forward the net amount of this money to BSC after taking their agreed upon "administrative fees" for facilitating the transaction.
The city and county will chip in their share of the"bailout"package on the basis that ASU and AAMU are committed to helping BSC survive, or so they say.
This thinly-veiled money-laundering scheme is a desperate and ill-conceived one. It cries out for a federal criminal investigation by local U.S. Attorney Prim Escalona.
Furthermore, BSC is not worth saving, at least not by this group of wayward elected officials. The college's national alumni members obviously believe the school "lacks educational value." Otherwise, they would be adequately supporting BSC financially.
In 2023, only one of BSC's 32 board of trustees members is black. No black is listed on BSC’s website as a member of BSC's “senior team" of top executives.
Last fall, only 147 black students were enrolled at BSC. They comprised 15.1% of BSC’s dwindling student population.
In the spirit of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, BSC does not offer a distinct, degree-granting, African-American studies program, even though it is a liberal arts college located in a city with a 70% black population.
BSC is pimping a handful of black elected officials to help the college secure $37.5 million in taxpayer "bailout" funding that should be legitimately channeled to HBCUs in Alabama to compensate them for the gross underfunding that these institutions have experienced for over a hundred years.
As expected, BSC’s chosen "saviors" have never led the charge for taxpayer funding for HBCUs in the metro-Birmingham area. Furthermore, they have an established track-record of gladly playing a “sugar-daddy” role with taxpayer’s money for white special interest groups.
It’s time to put an end to BSC’s misery. In the words of former First Lady Nancy Reagan, our elected officials should “just say no” to President Coleman and BSC. The black elected officials who are prostrating themselves for BSC should be more focused on helping Miles College, or ASU, or AAMU acquire the BSC campus out of bankruptcy for pennies on a dollar.
I am amazed at how so many of our black elected officials always want to dance with everybody in the dance hall, except the men/women who brought them to the dance.