UB administrators need to hear black students’ cries for help

UB says it’s a “diverse” and “inclusive” learning environment.

But the number of black tenure-track faculty has decreased 49 percent since 2004.

The Educational Opportunity Program’s future is in question.

And the African and African American Studies program is struggling and virtually hidden on the top of Clemens Hall.

UB administrators need to address and fix these glaring problems instead of pretending they don’t exist or making excuses.

On Friday, the UB Black Law Students Association Pre-Law Chapter took a stand in the middle of the Student Union. Students demanded UB allocate more resources to EOP. They also demanded UB pay more attention to the AAS program and make AAS classes mandatory for new students. They called on UB to hire more black faculty and for UB to remove the name of Millard Fillmore, who signed the controversial 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, from campus.

The Spectrum stands with these students. 

Cartoon by Ardi Digap

The demands they made mirror those of student demonstrators in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Fifty years ago, students fought to create the Black Studies department (now the African and African American Studies Program); now they are fighting to keep it. The Spectrum has covered these issues for two years, but there’s been little response from faculty. UB administrators have flocked to Alumni Arena to enjoy the recent success of the majority-black UB men’s basketball and football teams. Will UB administrators show the same dedication toward our black community off the court?
 We haven’t seen it.

Transnational Studies department chair Cecil Foster told The Spectrum that his department came up with an idea for a diversity education and training program. He said UB administrators went to SUNY and proposed funding for a new diversity program soon after but now, the department isn’t part of that program. We think this is sad and speaks volumes about how UB treats the department.

Student demonstrators on Friday exploded with pent-up, unsolved issues. From 2008-17, UB’s black tenure-track faculty fell from 61 to 33. In 2018, it fell to 31. 

Demonstrators cited a Spectrum interview with UB President Satish Tripathi from 2016. Tripathi said UB’s number of black faculty in 2016 was “not a good situation” and said hiring is dependent on the pool that’s available. He added we should think about “how many [black people] are actually going through college and finishing high school.” UB spokesperson John DellaContrada said the quote was referring to Tripathi’s “support” for programs and institutions that increase the number of black graduates. 

Still, demonstrators were appalled Tripathi got away with saying this.

We’d like the chance to discuss this topic with Tripathi and hear him clarify his views. 

We believe thousands of people of color are qualified to be faculty members at UB. The English department just hired two. The solution shouldn’t be increasing graduation rates, it’s hiring tenure-track black faculty.

The Spectrum also thinks mandatory AAS classes would be a great resource for students, but only if UB correctly manages its diversity curriculum. Last April, The Spectrum wrote about the Pathways curriculum, a curriculum which allowed STEM majors to take “Communication Systems I” –– a course about transmitters and receivers –– toward an “Understanding Racism” requirement. This is absurd for a campus that bolsters diversity.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state legislators have a responsibility to allocate funds to economically disadvantaged EOP students, too. These students bring immense value to the university and we would like to see the UB community engage with Buffalo’s high schools more often.

If UB administrators really care about diversity and inclusion, they should campaign harder to increase funding for EOP. Honoring Arthur Eve — who pushed to create the EOP program in 1969 — with a building isn’t enough. UB must also honor his vision and commitment to economically disadvantaged students. 

The Spectrum also agrees with the demonstrators’ demand for the Fillmore name to leave campus.

Fillmore said he detested slavery, but his approval of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act said otherwise. Fillmore was UB chancellor when he signed the act, which required northerners to capture and return black people to southern slave owners.

UB administrators should seriously consider a new name, perhaps of a person of color with a strong UB or Buffalo connection.

The Fillmore issue, and the other issues, are not just a “black” concern. 

They should be UB’s concern.

They should be Student Association President Gunnar Haberl’s concern, since SA’s logo appeared on the student demonstrators’ flier.

They should be the concern of President Tripathi, the only person of color in history to be UB’s leader.

The Spectrum applauds Friday’s demonstration and wants UB to care about its students of color as they cry out for help.

The editorial board can be reached at opinion@ubspectrum.com.