Opinion: The University of Michigan-Flint Turns Its Back on African Americans

Opinion:  The University of Michigan-Flint Turns Its Back on African Americans 

By Charles H. Winfrey

By their very nature, colleges and universities everywhere prefer to appear innocuous and non-controversial.  The University of Michigan-Flint is no exception. Its campus is tucked away in an enclave that stretches from what used to be Willson Park in the City of Flint to the banks of the Flint River, and from Saginaw Street to Chavez Drive.  All of the buildings on the original campus face inward as though the college is turning its back on the rest of the city.  Appendages to the campus were added later that had no choice but to peer outward.  From the exterior, the campus looks serene and tranquil.  But some would say that, internally, the pot is boiling over.            Flint’s African American leaders say the University of Michigan-Flint not only figuratively turns its back on the city, but in a city that has a majority African American population, it does so literally as well.  The numbers don’t lie.  In a city with a 56.6% African American population, only 11.26% of the UM-Flint’s student population is Black.  Of the top ten local schools supplying students to the University of Michigan-Flint, neither Beecher High School, Hamady High School, nor any high school in the Flint School District, are listed among them.  Only 13% of the college staff is African American, and only 9% of regular faculty members are African American.

The college turned insult into injury regarding its relationship with Flint’s African American community when, without explanation, its leadership unceremoniously walked their long-term employee (more than 19 years) and highest ranking African American staff administrator off of the campus.  Mr. Tendaji Ganges created the Office of Educational Opportunity Initiatives at the University of Michigan-Flint 19 years ago at the request of then Chancellor, Dr. Charlie Nelms.   Officials would only say that Mr. Ganges was on “administrative leave.”

Some African American leaders state Mr. Ganges ‘ abrupt and brutal departure is merely a tipping point for a number of longstanding grievances and concerns articulated by students, past and present; faculty, past and present; and administrators and staff, past and present.  Indeed, the university has had a history of neglect and non-responsiveness to the needs of the African American community and its people, an extreme departure from the gallant and much heralded stance of the University as plaintiffs in the Affirmative Action case that went before the nation’s Supreme Court in 2003.   Programs like Africana Studies have been relegated to step-child status, under-funded, under-marketed, and under-staffed.  Recruitment of African American students is virtually non-existent, and programs like Mr. Ganges’ Office of Educational Opportunity Initiatives, have been constantly under siege.

On the flip side of the coin, African American leaders in the city seemingly deferred to UM-Flint’s hands-off posture.  Backs had been turned and heads had been placed in the sand.  Problems that, perhaps, could have been nipped in the bud at their outset, have been allowed to fester and grow.  The callous treatment of Mr. Ganges, however, appears to have awakened the asleep.  Fearing that inequality and oppression will loom on campus even larger if something isn’t done now, a group of African American leaders are meeting regularly to address many of the concerns voiced here.

“The Struggle Continues…”

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