ATLANTA, GA (WALB) - WALB is taking a deeper look at a bill that could greatly impact Albany’s only state university.
WALB News 10′s Asia Wilson has been tracking the controversial legislation and the withdrawn senate bill (SB 273) along with a new bill (SB 278) that has been proposed.
Senate Bill 273 indicates the names of three historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, would change to a uniform name. They would be called the Georgia Agricultural and Mechanical University System (Georgia A & M).’ Now, under the new version, Albany State, Savannah State and Fort Valley State universities would keep their names but operate under the new system.
You may remember us telling you Tuesday about five senators withdrawing the bill, including Freddie Powell Sims, because they did not want the schools’ names changed.
The new bill states the Georgia A & M System will still stand and include a government-appointed team to make annual visits to the schools and inspect them regularly.
We're working to get clarification from the bill's author on who will make up that team.
Georgia A & M will have the power to appoint and remove professors, consolidate or suspend institutions, merge departments and more.
The bill’s author, Senator Lester Jackson, said that right now, the Board of Regents has lobbyists from schools in the University System of Georgia, voicing issues at the Capitol every day, but not for HBCUs.
Senator Jackson said the Board of Regents and the University System of Georgia currently have one African-American out of 19 people on the board.
Jackson said this led him to drafting the bill to bring more attention and conversation about the needs of Albany State, Fort Valley State and Savannah State universities. He wants to form the Georgia Agricultural and Mechanical University System.
Senator Jackson said the five drivers pushing this proposal are decline in enrollment, historical under-funding, low endowment, lack of student and alumni involvement with the selection of presidents and lack of equity compared to other universities.
“Our main avenue is to work with the university system. We want to be included in the university system but we want equity. We want the same things that the other institutions are getting. We want help in recruiting the best and brightest,” said Jackson.
Jackson said the schools combined only have a little over 12,000 students, which is why he wants a board of trustees for the state historically black college system that models after other states like North Carolina A & T and Florida A & M.
This has caused quite a stir all over the state.
In fact, Albany State representatives, who would not to go on camera or give a written statement, said they were not a fan of the original bill and said they’re still unaware of the new version written before a press conference on Tuesday.
“We don’t feel like there is the trust and transparency in the legislative body. And we feel like you all are trying do what you can do, but you all are pretty much facing like, political puppets,” said Lawrence Malloy, alumnus from Fort Valley State University.
Over two dozen alumni from three historically black colleges in Georgia came to a press conference thinking they would hear the denouncing of Senate Bill 273, a bill that almost changed the names of their schools. But instead, they heard something else.
“To hear about the bill being switched to bill 278, which was not available or made available to us here, at this press conference, I was not comfortable or satisfied,” said Monica Franklin-Redden, alumna from Albany State University.
Franklin-Redden was furious over the movement of the last bill and more upset that the new proposed bill will head to the Senate Urban Affairs Committee to be considered during a future legislative session.
“The original bill had an issue with the naming of the schools and it was a clerical error,” said Jackson.
Jackson said he drafted both bills to bring more attention to the needs of Albany State, Fort Valley State and Savannah State universities. He wants to form the Georgia Agricultural and Mechanical University System similar to North Carolina A & T and Florida A & M.
“It’s disingenuous to think that the state of Georgia wants the same thing and you’ve not engaged the alumni, you’ve not engaged the presidents,” said Powell-Sims.
The big reason alumni are angry is because they said they’ve been left in the dark from the start.
“So, I’m just hoping for transparency at this point. That way we could make an educated decision and have an educated conversation about the actually Bill 278,” said Franklin-Redden.
Jackson said this is just a proposal at the moment.
WALB was told the Urban Affairs Committee will most likely have a hearing this summer about the proposed legislation.
If ultimately approved, it would take effect January 1, 2023.