Tuesday, April 18, 2006

One Town, Two Campuses

When former political candidate and businessman Erskine Bowles was sworn in last week as the 16th president of the University of North Carolina – and just its fourth since the modern UNC system was created in 1972 – he picked an unusual place. Not only is Greensboro his hometown, the place his mother still lives and the site where the Bowles name gained political prominence in the 1960s and ‘70s. (His father, Hargrove "Skipper" Bowles, served in the legislature, was a cabinet member under Gov. Terry Sanford and was the 1972 Democratic nominee for governor.)

Greensboro also has two university campuses that have changed in significant ways since their founding -- one of them for women, the other for black citizens. (Two other N.C. cities have two campuses: Winston-Salem, which has Winston-Salem State University and the N.C. School of the Arts, and Durham, which has N.C. Central University and also the N.C. School for Science and Math, a residential high school that has been associated with the UNC system and may become a more formal part if the legislature approves.)

The inaugural itself was held at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. A dozen blocks or so to the east lies N.C. Agricultural and Technical State University. For much of Erskine Bowles’ life, those two campuses served distinct audiences. UNC-G, as it came to be renamed, was long called Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (and once was State Normal College for Women). Its student body for much of that period included the region’s smartest women, who were not eligible for first-year admission to UNC Chapel Hill unless they were nursing students. Many others wanted only to go to W.C. for its fine academics and had no interest in transferring.

And at A&T (once called Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Colored Race), generations of students came there for their college training because they couldn’t attend UNC Chapel Hill or N.C. State or other predominantly white public universities because of segregation. A&T is one of five historically black universities in North Carolina. The others are Winston-Salem State, Fayetteville State, Elizabeth City State and N.C. Central in Durham. The state also had a campus in Robeson County primarily for native Americans – the school now known as UNC-Pembroke.

The university system has changed in major ways since Erskine Bowles’ boyhood days. UNC-G has long been open to anyone and A&T long ago was freed from the rigid practice of segregation that restricted its students and its future. Now Bowles is running a system that, were it still in the design phase today, probably wouldn't contemplate building two university campuses of the same system in Greensboro. The new president may ponder from time to time the money that would have been saved and the duplication avoided had not the state been forced to have separate campuses for women, for black students and native Americans. It is a reminder that the excellent university system we have today came to us by a most curious route through some of this state’s most difficult days.


Jimmy Mac said...

So Jack are you suggesting that we sweep the historical facts about Jim Crow and racism under the rug?
And pretend that none of this happen?

Jack Betts said...

Of course not. If we're to learn anything from history, we need to understand what happened, and why.

Jimmy Mac said...

There is a consolidation movement out here to do away with the ideal of "Historical Black Colleges".
That was my concern,I also have no problem with a consolidation of dupicate programs in cities such as Greenboro who have more then one UNC System School.
But I'm a big believer in preserving history be it good or bad.

Anonymous said...

Aren't Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, Barber-Scotia College in Concord, Livingstone College in Salisbury, and Shaw University also historically Black institutions of higher learning in NC? The blog only mentioned five; perhaps only public universities were being referenced?

Jack Betts said...

Yes, I meant to refer to the historically black universities in the UNC system. There's also Bennett College in Greensboro, which I think is unique in being the only college in America for African-American women, or was at one time.

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