In Georgia, a Pioneer of Integration Guides the Merger of an HBCU and a 2-Year College

February 07, 2016

Albany State U.
Arthur N. Dunning

Seeking Strength as One

"In our part of the country, under the old Jim Crow system," says Arthur N. Dunning, "we had, from the late 1870s to 1964, systems that were separate by law." So now, he says, he’s glad to report that the University System of Georgia’s in-progress merger of two institutions, across the remnants of that imposed color line, "hasn’t raised unexpected issues."

The system’s seventh merger in recent years has provoked some controversy, in part because it involves markedly different institutions: Albany State University, one of three historically black public colleges and universities in Georgia, and Darton State College, whose 5,470 students, about half of them white and half of them African-American, are enrolled in open-access, two-year programs.

In 1967, Mr. Dunning, Albany State’s president, was among the first students to integrate the University of Alabama and its football program. He encourages critics of the merger to take a historical perspective on segregation and its continuing reversal. "I’m surprised when I talk about that to community groups, how many people come up to me later and say, ‘You gave me a history lesson; I didn’t realize any of that.’ "

Mr. Dunning became Albany State’s interim president in late 2013; from the next fall to the fall of 2015, enrollment dropped from 3,910 to 3,492. In 2015 he fired four financial-aid officials when an audit implicated them in the misuse of federal funds.

Now, after being named in November as permanent president at Albany State, which is the lead institution in the merger, he faces the challenge of increasing enrollment. In late 2015, university officials said they planned to suspend new admissions to 10 degree programs there that were considered low-performing because of small enrollments by the fall of 2016. Those included core programs like English, history, and music. That plan has not gone into effect and is still under review.

To capitalize on the presence of a large U.S. Marine Corps supply base near Albany, the university will begin offering, this spring, a bachelor’s degree in supply-chain management.

That, says Mr. Dunning, exemplifies the emphasis on jobs that he hopes will appeal to potential students in and around Albany, which has one of the highest poverty rates in the country. Mr. Dunning, now in his 29th year with the Georgia system, says creating a larger, consolidated Albany State will permit the gradual addition of more such programs.

"The idea of a more educated population tied to economic development," he says, "is something that we are deeply passionate about." — Peter Monaghan

A Dive Into the Bay of Pigs

Courtesy of Karen Talentino
Karen Talentino (back row, second from right) led students on a trip to Cuba in January.

The diplomatic embargo with Cuba had not yet been lifted when Karen Talentino was approached with the possibility of leading students to go scuba-diving in the communist country. Ms. Talentino, vice president for academic affairs and a biology professor at Saint Michael’s College, in Vermont, was intrigued.

The invitation came from Patricia González, director of the Center for Marine Research at the University of Havana. Ms. González was visiting Vermont as a guest of the Vermont Caribbean Institute — a nonprofit that arranges partnerships between organizations in both locations. She suggested that she and Ms. Talentino collaborate on an ecology course that would involve underwater research in Cuba’s Bay of Pigs, which has some of the healthiest coral reefs in the Caribbean.

"I was very impressed with Dr. González — I just liked her a lot and could imagine working with her on a course," says Ms. Talentino. "And I thought that from a cultural standpoint it would be great to take the students to a country that none of them have ever visited and that not many Americans have visited."

Over the next year, Ms. Talentino created a two-credit coral-reef ecology course at Saint Michael’s, traveling to Cuba to scout the reefs and develop the curriculum. Her efforts were paid for by the college’s Dr. A. Francis Politi International Fund, which sets aside about $150,000 each year for study abroad. Ms. Talentino led her first trip, with 11 students, at the end of 2013, and her second, with 13 students, in January. Helping her guide this year’s group was the college’s vice president for student affairs, Dawn Ellinwood.

This time around, all students who wanted to dive were certified in the skill before the trip, Ms. Talentino says; their work involved measuring the diversity of organisms in the reef.

The second group was also "more comfortable having political conversations" than the first was, she says. "The students were amazed by how open people were to talking about the challenges, and joys, of living in Cuba." — Angela Chen

San Francisco State U.
Steven Choe
Violence and Wellness

Steven Choe, an associate professor of cinema at San Francisco State University, is interested in darkness and light: how narratives are used to justify violence in both film and the outside world, but also how they might spur forgiveness instead.

Mr. Choe joined the university last fall as a member of its new research cluster on violence, trauma, and health. The interdisciplinary group, one of two the university created to focus on topics important to society, also includes professors in psychology and kinesiology.

He says his new job offered an opportunity to widen his work from writing on theory and aesthetics to testing his ideas in real-world situations.

"I’m very interested in how individuals justify violence against another," says Mr. Choe, who studies stories of revenge, especially in German and Korean cinema. He would like to take his inquiry a step further: "How can these narratives of violence be interrupted so individuals aren’t committing these acts?"

Mr. Choe had been on the faculty of the University of Iowa for seven years. His second book, "Sovereign Violence: Ethics and South Korean Cinema in the New Millennium," is set to come out this summer.

Daniel Bernardi, interim dean of San Francisco State’s College of Liberal and Creative Arts, helped create the proposal for the cluster. What makes it unusual, he says, is its examination of the effects of violence and trauma on wellness. The university explores community wellness through its Health Equity Institute, which is working with the cluster.

The other two faculty members in the cluster, Melissa Hagan, an assistant professor of psychology, and Charmayne Hughes, an associate professor of kinesiology, have expertise in children and trauma, and the effects of trauma on the body.

How all three of their fields might fit together for specific projects is the question the three colleagues are working on now. "It is a challenge," Mr. Choe says. "I’m trying to stay open." — Kathryn Masterson

Ness Book Award Winner

Michael S. Roth, president of Wesleyan University, received this year’s Frederic W. Ness Book Award. The Association of American Colleges and Universities presented him with the prize at its annual meeting in January in recognition of his book Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters (Yale University Press, 2014). A committee of higher-education leaders that was chaired by Johnnella Butler, a professor of comparative women’s studies at Spelman College, selected the winner.

Obituaries: Computing Visionary

Marvin L. Minsky, a professor emeritus of media arts and sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an expert on artificial intelligence, died on January 24. He was 88.

Mr. Minksy built the first wired neural-network simulator, Snarc, in 1951, while studying for his Ph.D. in mathematics at Princeton University. He joined MIT’s department of electrical engineering and computer science in 1958. There he helped found the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and was a founding member of the university’s Media Lab, where he taught until recently.

Among his inventions are visual scanners and mechanical hands with tactile sensors. His books include the seminal Perceptrons, which he wrote with Seymour A. Papert; The Society of Mind; and The Emotion Machine.

Other deaths:

Richard C. Gilman, a president emeritus of Occidental College, died on January 15 in California. He was 92. During his tenure, from 1965 to 1988, the college’s endowment increased from $11 million to $130 million, and its national reputation rose.

Carolyn Wright, a poet and a professor of English and literary arts at Brown University since 1983, died unexpectedly on January 12. She was 67. Ms. Wright was named a MacArthur fellow in 2004. Her collection of poems One With Others won a National Book Critics Circle Award for the 2010 publishing year. A new book of poems, ShallCross, is slated to be published by Copper Canyon Press this year. — Anais Strickland

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Correction (2/9/2016, 7:55 p.m.): The original version of this article stated erroneously that, in late 2015, Albany State University suspended new admissions to 10 degree programs that were considered low-performing. No suspension of the programs has occurred, and the plan is still under review by the university and the University System of Georgia. The article has been corrected to reflect that.