Last weekend people were blowing up my phone and email with the news that Grambling’s football players and members of the marching band had refused to compete in Jackson State University’s homecoming game.
If you didn’t hear the story (and how could you have missed it?), only 22 players showed up to board the bus to Jackson, Mississippi, where they were scheduled to play on Saturday, October 19. Jackson State officials announced the cancellation of the game and that tickets would be refunded. Now, a lawsuit from Jackson State against Grambling is a possibility.
The media was all over it. A spokesman, GSU safety Naquan Smith, explained some of the team’s grievances including the school’s poor conditions, the long bus rides and, of course, the firing of former coach Doug Williams, who is also reportedly suing Grambling.
I’m sure those were very real concerns, but the problems at Grambling go much deeper. In fact, asking to clean up the athletic facilities and rehire Doug Williams would be like putting a band aid on the forehead of a severe migraine sufferer.
Grambling, like most HBCUs, is in big trouble. But public colleges in Louisiana have it worse than some others. They have been hit with budget cuts resulting from Gov. Bobby Jindal eliminating $690 million in state funding from colleges and universities.
Grambling’s President Frank Pogue, who has been doing damage control throughout the ordeal, tried to get to the heart of the problem on our show. “It’s not the football team, it’s money,” he told Roland Martin. The school is bleeding out to the point that they’re on the verge of financial exigency—meaning the university’s funds may be insufficient to support its academic programs, pay its faculty or both. This means the school’s very existence is at stake.
The revolt by the football team actually gave President Pogue a national platform that I hope will lead to some serious action and not just more talk about financial problems plaguing HBCUs. Southern University, Fisk, Wilberforce, Howard, Florida Memorial, just to name a few, are all hurting for all kinds of things including payroll, keeping existing academic programs going or establishing new ones, building maintenance, operational costs, and on and on and on.
If I pulled out any of my old HBCU commencement speeches, I’m talking about back 10 years ago or more, you could tell the handwriting was on the wall in big capital letters. I would say, if mainstream colleges and universities that were hurting had a cold, HBCUs had the flu, the chicken pox, and a bad foot.
It was becoming clear that schools were finding it more and more difficult to compete with other four-year institutions, online universities, community colleges and even the military. I say that not to say “I told you so,” but to put a timeline on this problem and to say that survival is even more difficult now when you add the recession, cuts in funding and the change in the federal loan requirements that have denied many parents depending on Parent PLUS. At one time, it might have been more feasible to add to the curriculum, invest in technology, and give the campuses a facelift, but too many presidents and boards waited too long to act. Now, most college leadership is forced to try to run the schools and raise funds just to keep the doors open.
Grambling needs our money. We rally together for all kinds of causes but now is the time for a well-thought-out plan for raising the funds to not just keep the doors open but to make it viable again.
Members of the alumni and everyone who loves Grambling or any HBCUs should feel the urge to act immediately. One of the problems with asking for donations when things reach this stage is that people are afraid that the money will be mismanaged or not used the way we want it to be used. We have to get past that.
Grambling’s football team played on Saturday and while football is crucial to the school’s legacy, it can’t fix this massive debacle that’s bigger than football and bigger than Grambling, even bigger than the whole HBCU system.
Our efforts can start with Grambling, but they can’t end here.
How bad are we going to let things get?