Vanderbilt University Lands Several Big Names in Black Studies

Houston A. Baker, Susan Fox Beischer and George D. Beischer Professor of English and Professor of African and African American studies at Duke University, is leaving Durham to take an endowed chair at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Professor Baker, one of the nation’s leading authorities on African-American literature, has been highly critical of the way the Duke administration has handled the allegations of rape brought by a black woman against three white members of the Duke lacrosse team. However, it has been reported that the negotiation to bring Professor Baker to Vanderbilt was well under way before the alleged rape occurred.

Joining Professor Baker at Vanderbilt will be his wife Charlotte Pierce-Baker, a celebrated scholar in women’s studies who also taught at Duke. The Bakers were personally recruited to come to Vanderbilt by Chancellor Gordon Gee.

The Bakers told JBHE that they are excited about their new positions and were attracted to Nashville in part because it is closer to where their son and grandchildren live.

Vanderbilt also has hired Hortense Spillers to an endowed professorship. Spillers, a very highly regarded scholar in the field of black literary studies, was Frederick J. Whiton Professor of English at Cornell University. Her latest book is Black, White, and In Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture.

Vanderbilt has made two additional hires to further beef up its black studies program. Alice Randall, author of the widely acclaimed parody novel of Gone With the Wind entitled The Wind Done Gone, will be awarded the title of “writer in residence” at Vanderbilt. Ifeoma K. Nwankwo, an associate professor of English and African-American studies at the University of Michigan, will also join the Vanderbilt faculty. He is the author of Black Cosmopolitanism: Racial Consciousness and Transnational Identity in the Nineteenth-Century Americas.


“Israel’s Biggest Ambassador” Is Also the Coach of the Spelman College Basketball Team

LaVon Mercer is a native of Metter, Georgia. Orphaned at an early age he was raised by his grandparents. At 16 he was adopted as a ward of the state when the last of his grandparents passed away.

Mercer went to the University of Georgia where he was a star basketball player. After his athletic eligibility for college basketball expired in 1980, Mercer, who had not received a college degree, went to Israel to play professional basketball. He stayed in Israel for 14 years. While there he became an Israeli citizen and served for two years in the nation’s defense forces. He played on the Israeli national basketball team in the 1992 Olympics.

Mercer as a member of the Israeli Defense Force

Mercer returned to the United States in 1994 and earned his bachelor’s degree in behavioral psychology from National Louis University. He retains dual citizenship and spends much of his time traveling the country promoting his adopted nation as a goodwill ambassador for the Israeli government. As a black man, Mercer is particularly valuable to the Israeli government given the often strained ties between blacks and Jews in the United States. In his role as a de facto ambassador, Mercer visits black churches, community groups, and colleges in an effort to foster better understanding of Israel among African Americans.

Mercer also works as the associate athletic director and head basketball coach at Spelman College, the highly prestigious historically black institution for women in Atlanta. Mercer’s squad posted a disappointing 8-16 record this past season.


“Bill Cosby is one of the most generous human beings I’ve ever met in my life. The man has given tens of millions of dollars to black education, kept certain black colleges afloat. And now he catches all this hell because he just says a few things that make a request of blacks: ‘You’ve got to do better in terms of raising your children.’”

Shelby Steele, senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, in the San Francisco Chronicle, May 15, 2006


Race Is Not a Major Factor in Decisions on Who Is Admitted to College

The annual report State of College Admission from the National Association for College Admission Counseling finds that only 2.3 percent of all colleges place considerable importance on the race or ethnic background of an applicant when making admissions decisions. Another 15.5 percent of colleges and universities place “moderate importance” on race in their decisions. More than three quarters of all colleges and universities say that race and ethnicity have “no importance” on who is, or is not, admitted to their institutions.

Race was more likely to be considered important by colleges and universities in New England, the Middle Atlantic states, and the far western states. Small colleges were more likely than large universities to consider race an important factor. Nearly 8 percent of the colleges and universities that accept fewer than 50 percent of all applicants say that race is of considerable importance in their admissions decisions.


Hospital at a Black College Appears to Have Participated in Eugenics Sterilization Program of African Americans

In 1896 St. Agnes Hospital was established on the campus of St. Augustine’s College, a historically black educational institution in Raleigh, North Carolina. The hospital was built through the labor of black students at St. Augustine’s College. It treated black patients in Raleigh and, in the Jim Crow period, was regarded as the best health-care facility for African Americans between Virginia and New Orleans. A nursing school affiliated with the hospital trained hundreds of African-American nurses. St. Agnes closed in 1961 after racial segregation in health care was no longer practiced in North Carolina.

Irene Clark, a retired professor of biology at St. Augustine’s College, has completed extensive research on the history of the hospital and those physicians who worked there. She has found that at least 11 sterilizations, and possibly many more, were performed at St. Agnes under a North Carolina eugenics program that sterilized 7,600 people in the 1929 to 1973 period.

One of the records Professor Clark found included these details of the person sterilized at the hospital: “Negro, 30 years of age. Is promiscuous with any man who will carry on with her. She would leave her children at night and go out with any man who would come and drink whenever she could get whisky. Diagnosis: feebleminded.”

Records found by Professor Clark found that another 22-year-old black woman was sterilized because she “had inadequate control of her sexual behavior.” Two sterilizations were performed on young black girls under the age of 13. Both black and white physicians were involved in the sterilization procedures.


Ghana’s Open-Door Policy for Descendants of Slaves

The nation of Ghana has one of the largest communities of African Americans on the African continent. It was in Ghana that W.E.B. Du Bois spent his later years. The country was at the center of the African slave trade in the eighteenth century.

Now the nation of Ghana is offering lifetime visas and dual citizenship to African Americans who are descended from slaves. The government hopes to encourage American tourism and investment from African-American entrepreneurs. Lifetime visas for tourists will be readily available. African Americans wanting dual citizenship will be required to live in the country or make a substantial investment in Ghana.


African-American Professor Pulling Up Stakes and Moving to Kenya

Michael J. Laney, professor of telecommunications and chair of the department of communication and arts at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, is going on sabbatical. But Professor Laney is not simply taking time off to do research or to write a book. He is selling his home and using the money to move his wife and two children to Kenya. There he will teach at Daystar University, the largest Christian college in Africa. He plans to conduct research on the effectiveness of sexual abstinence messages in combating AIDS.



In Memoriam

Norma Jean Anderson (1931-2006)

Norma Jean Anderson, professor emerita of education and former associate dean of student and alumni affairs at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, died recently at her home in Shutesbury, Massachusetts. She was 74 years old.

Anderson graduated from high school in Springfield, Illinois, at the age of 15 and then immediately enrolled at the University of Illinois. After graduating from college in 1956 she was the second African American hired as a schoolteacher in Springfield, Illinois. She later earned a doctorate in counseling and organizational psychology at the University of Illinois.

After completing her doctorate, Anderson was named assistant superintendent of schools in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1970 she joined the faculty at the University of Massachusetts. She taught there for nearly a quarter of a century before her retirement in 1994.

As associate dean, Anderson was responsible for creating a more diverse student body at the graduate school. She recruited both Camille and Bill Cosby, who both earned doctorates at the university.



Milton L. Brown was appointed associate professor of oncology and neuroscience at Georgetown University. He was an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Virginia. Dr. Brown is a graduate of Oakwood College. He holds a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a medical degree from the University of Virginia.

Dr. Brown’s research in medicinal chemistry focuses on developing drugs to fight cancer and diseases of the brain.

Brenda A. Flanagan was appointed to the Edward M. Armfield Sr. Professorship at Davidson College in North Carolina. She is the first African-American faculty member at Davidson to hold an endowed professorship. Professor Flanagan teaches courses in creative writing, African-American literature, and Caribbean literature.

A native of Trinidad, Professor Flanagan earned bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from the University of Michigan.



Xavier University in New Orleans received a $500,000 grant from the Pfizer Corporation. The grant will be used to help the university rebuild its chemistry and pharmacology buildings which were heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina last August. As part of the grant, Pfizer will donate $200,000 worth of computers and laboratory equipment to the university.

Racial Gap in College Enrollment Rates Is Widening

Nationwide, 68.6 percent of all 2005 high school graduates had enrolled in college as of October 2005. This is the highest overall college enrollment rate in history.

But when we break down the figures by race we find that a significant gap remains. There were 2,147,000 white high school graduates in 2005, and 69.4 percent of them went on to enroll in college. There were 354,000 African-American high school graduates. Of these, 201,000, or 56.8 percent, went on to enroll in college by October 2005.

Furthermore, the black college enrollment rate remained below the level that existed in 1997. But the college enrollment rate for whites was at an all-time high.

Since 1999 the racial gap in college enrollment rates between blacks and whites has doubled from about 6 percentage points to 12.6 percentage points.


Professor Toni Morrison Set to Retire From Princeton University

Reliable sources confirm to JBHE that Toni Morrison, the Robert Goheen Professor in the Humanities at Princeton University and 1993 Nobel laureate in literature, will shortly retire from teaching. The board of trustees at Princeton will meet on June 5 to work out the terms of Professor Morrison’s retirement.

Professor Morrison’s 1987 novel Beloved was recently voted the best American novel of the past quarter-century by a large and diverse group of critics organized by the New York Times Book Review.


African-American College Students Are Less Likely Than White College Students to Work and More Likely to Be Unable to Find a Job While in College

New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 56.7 percent of all white college students hold jobs while attending school. Only 44.2 percent of African-American college students are employed.

For the past half-century in the United States — in both good economic times and bad — blacks have been twice as likely to be unemployed as whites. Unfortunately, this ratio holds true for college students. For blacks enrolled in college, 10.5 percent are actively seeking work but cannot find it. For white college students, only 5.7 percent are seeking work but cannot find a job.


Harvard Maintains Its Level of Black Enrollments and Increases Its Number of Low-Income Students

Harvard College announced that African Americans will make up 9.3 percent of the freshman class that will enroll next fall. This is identical to the black percentage of the freshman class in the 2005-06 academic year, which established a record.

In addition, Harvard’s new financial aid program for low-income students appears to be having a major impact in increasing the economic diversity of students who come to Harvard. The new program eliminates the parental contribution for all families with incomes below $60,000 and reduces the amount of money that has to be paid by families with incomes in the $60,000 to $80,000 range.

Harvard reports that 85.3 percent of all students admitted who were eligible for the new financial aid program accepted the university’s offer of admission. The university estimates that 25 percent of the students in the incoming class will be eligible for funds under the new Harvard Financial Aid Initiative.


354,000  Number of African Americans who earned a high school diploma in 2005.

114,000   Number of African Americans who dropped out of high school in the 2004-05 academic year.

source: U.S. Bureau of the Census


Black College in Memphis Needs Financial Help

LeMoyne-Owen College, the historically black educational institution in Memphis, was placed on probation this past December by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The college’s $6 million debt was one of the main reasons the accrediting agency raised the red flag. If LeMoyne-Owen does not get its finances in order, the college may lose its accreditation, which would make all students at the college ineligible for federal financial aid.

As a sign of the problems facing the college, board chair Jim Bishop recently resigned his position and the college’s faculty issued a vote of “no confidence” in college president James Wingate and senior vice president Sheila Fleming-Hunter.

New chair of the board of trustees Robert Lipscomb has stated that the college must raise $1 million by June 30 to cover current operating expenses.


New Mexico State University Recruits Transfer Students From Black Colleges With In-State Tuition Rates

Blacks are less than 3 percent of all students at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. And more than 10 percent of all black students at the university are football players.

But the trustees of New Mexico State are mounting a firm effort to boost racial diversity on campus. The trustees approved a plan whereby students who transfer to New Mexico State from any historically black college or university will be charged in-state tuition rates regardless of their state of residence.

Currently, in-state tuition at New Mexico State is $4,206. Students from outside of New Mexico pay $13,560. A similar waiver of the outside tuition cost is being offered to community college students in Oklahoma and Texas who transfer to New Mexico State for their junior and senior year. Many community colleges in Texas and Oklahoma have large numbers of black students.


Kappa Alpha, an Organization With Ties to the Old South, Plans to Build a New Fraternity House in a Black Neighborhood of Athens, Georgia

The Kappa Alpha fraternity chapter at the University of Georgia is building a new three-story, 18-bedroom mansion on a six-acre lot off campus. The new fraternity house is located in the predominantly black Hancock neighborhood of Athens.

But black residents of the area are not happy about having the fraternity as a neighbor. Until 2000 the Kappa Alpha chapter at the University of Georgia flew the Confederate battle flag outside its fraternity house. Until this year the fraternity held its annual Old South parade with fraternity members dressed in Confederate outfits.

Kappa Alpha chapters at other universities have been suspended for racist behavior. Despite the record of bad publicity in the late 1990s, there have been no race-related incidents involving Kappa Alpha chapters over the past five years.

The fraternity was founded in 1865 at what is now Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.


Jackson State University Partners With China’s Shaanxi Normal University

Jackson State University, the historically black educational institution in Mississippi, has entered into a partnership agreement with China’s Shaanxi Normal University. Shaanxi, located in the city of Xi’an, is known in China as the “cradle of teachers.”

Under the agreement, the two universities will participate in student and faculty exchange programs. Jackson State also has cooperative agreements with Charles University in Prague and Wroclaw University of Technology in Poland.


Troubles for Nursing Schools at Two Black Colleges in North Carolina

Nursing students nationwide are given the National Council Licensure Examination. Almost 87 percent of the nursing students pass the examination on their first attempt. Nursing schools are required to have a pass rate of 75 percent to ensure accreditation.

But new data shows that two nursing schools at historically black universities in North Carolina are not meeting the minimum standard. At North Carolina Central University in Durham, the passing rate has been 65 percent the past two years, the lowest rate of any nursing school in the state. At North Carolina A&T State University, the examination passage rate dipped to 69 percent in 2005 from 81 percent in 2004. The two nursing schools must improve their passage rates or face action by the state nursing board. Loss of accreditation would be a possibility if low passage rates persisted for several years.

At Winston-Salem State University, another historically black institution, 87 percent of nursing students passed the licensing examination in 2005. But this was down from 97 percent in 2004.



George Henderson, the Sylvan N. Goldman Professor of Human Relations at the University of Oklahoma, has announced his retirement. Henderson was a leading civil rights figure in Oklahoma when he was named to the university faculty in 1967. Two years later he became the first black person in the state to hold an endowed professorship. In 1996 Henderson was named dean of the College of Liberal Studies, the first African-American dean in the history of the university.

Henderson is the author or coauthor of 28 books. In his 1999 book Our Souls to Keep, he revealed that his life mission has been to “help as many white people as I can to learn more about black Americans.”


William Massey, the Edwin Wiley Professor of Operations Research and Financial Engineering at Princeton University, was named the winner of the Blackwell-Tapia Prize. The prize, bestowed every other year, honors mathematical scientists who have made significant contributions to their field and have served as role models to students from minority groups.

The award will be presented at the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications in Minneapolis this coming November.

Ken R. Harewood, professor and director of the Julius L. Chambers Biomedical/Biotechnology Research Institute at North Carolina Central University, received the O. Max Gardner Award from the board of governors of the University of North Carolina. Professor Harewood was honored for his research on racial disparities in health care and for his work to increase the number of black and minority students pursuing careers in the natural sciences.

Professor Harewood is a graduate of New York University. He holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the City University of New York.

Philip Simmons, who received no formal education after the sixth grade, received an honorary doctorate from South Carolina State University. As a young man, Simmons, now 92 years old, worked as a blacksmith shoeing horses. He later turned his attention to making ornamental gates and other iron adornments for homes, parks, and businesses. These works of art can be seen throughout Charleston and other South Carolina cities.





Copyright © 2006. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. All rights reserved.