MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - If a white professor is successful in his recently filed lawsuit alleging that Alabama State University is guilty of racial discrimination, it won't be the first time. Decades ago, ASU was found to have discriminated against white faculty and staff members by none other than the late federal Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Johnson's landmark court rulings broke down many racial barriers that had kept blacks from enjoying their full freedoms under our Constitution. But many readers probably don't recall that Johnson also found in a 1978 ruling that the administration at ASU had discriminated against whites in hiring and promotions from the date the university was desegregated in 1967.
Asked about that early "reverse discrimination" ruling, Johnson said in a later interview that "discrimination against whites by blacks is just as unconstitutional as whites discriminating against blacks."
Because of that ruling by Johnson, ASU operated for years under a federal court order not to discriminate against whites or non-black minorities in hiring and promotions.
But recently Dr. John Garland, a white professor, filed a discrimination suit in federal court that claims university officials targeted him and his gay partner after they complained about what they believed were racially discriminatory practices.
Garland maintains in his lawsuit that ASU officials made racially discriminatory statements, including statements to the effect that ASU existed to serve black students and that "black students are best taught by black faculty members."
Anyone can claim almost anything in a lawsuit, so the public should keep an open mind on whether the myriad claims of racial discrimination by ASU officials contained in this latest lawsuit will hold up.
But if they are true, ASU officials would do well to remember the words of the late Judge Johnson, who said ASU's discrimination against whites at that time was "just as bad, just as illegal and just as unconstitutional" as whites discriminating against blacks.
ASU still under SACS microscope
Late last year Alabama State University officials publicly tried to minimize the impact of an inquiry by its accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. ASU officials responded to SACS concerns about improper actions by university trustees and questionable contracts by issuing what amounted to an outright denial of all the allegations.
SACS seemingly moves at a glacial pace. After its inquiry last October and ASU's response in December, it took SACS until last week to finally act. And even then, SACS just placed ASU under a six-month warning and said it would send a team during that six months to check to ensure that the problem areas were being addressed.
But just because a glacier moves slowly doesn't mean the results of that movement aren't powerful. A glacier can scour out valleys and shift huge boulders for miles. If SACS isn't satisfied that ASU officials are addressing those problems it cited, the accrediting agency could come down even harder on the university.
Based on President Gwendolyn Boyd's statements concerning SACS in an interview with me and other WSFA journalists several weeks ago, it appears that she will do her best to ensure that SACS is satisfied. But the question remains whether the ASU board of trustees will allow her to do what is necessary to allay the fears of SACS and the public about issues that have been raised at ASU.
It is, after all, the board itself that is at the heart of several of the issues in question.
The stakes are huge. SACS conceivably even could remove accreditation from ASU. While such harsh action is highly unlikely, if it did occur it could devastate the university. Accreditation is linked to the ability of students to receive federal aid, and about 80 percent of ASU students receive federal grants or loans.
But it should never come to that. The trustees and administration at ASU should do everything in their power to cooperate with federal and state investigations at ASU and to ensure that SACS is satisfied that any and all issues it has raised have been fully addressed.
Ken Hare was a longtime Alabama newspaper editorial writer and editorial page editor who now writes a regular column for WSFA's web site. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.