Protecting a State’s Only HBI

By Edward J. Graham

The AAUP sent a letter to South Carolina legislators urging them to reject a panel’s proposal to close South Carolina State University, which was founded in 1896 and is the state’s only publicly funded historically black university.

The letter—written by Association president Rudy Fichtenbaum and Cecil Canton, the chair of the AAUP’s Committee on Historically Black Institutions and Scholars of Color—notes that historically black institutions (HBIs) like SCSU came into being as a result of the racism that prevented black students from attending existing white institutions. HBIs, the letter argues, still serve an important purpose: they represent only 3 percent of the nation’s institutions of higher education but award 20 percent of African American undergraduate degrees. However, these institutions have been starved of funding, and tuition has risen steeply.

“Historically black institutions graduate more than 50 percent of African American professionals and public school teachers,” the letter said. “They were created to support African American students, but these institutions of higher learning are no longer exclusively for African American students. Today, HBIs have a significant percentage of African American students, but also serve Asian, Hispanic, international, and white students. Unfortunately, most HBIs have been starved of the necessary funding since their inception and now find themselves caught in the crosshairs of an austerity movement aimed at defunding higher education as part of a larger push to dismantle and privatize public services.”

The AAUP urged the South Carolina legislature to keep SCSU open and provide appropriate financial support to protect and sustain its legacy for future generations of South Carolinians.

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