ATLANTA — As Georgia faces a potential $2 billion budget deficit, a state senator has created a stir with a plan for reducing education spending: merge two historically black universities in Albany and Savannah with nearby mostly white institutions.
The proposal was made this month by Seth Harp, a Republican who is the chairman of the State Senate Higher Education Committee, and quickly drew condemnation from many black educators, politicians and alumni.
But supporters say the plan would not only save millions of dollars but also reduce racial segregation in state-run universities.
“Institutions supported by taxpayers should be diverse, educating men and women of all colors and creeds,” wrote Cynthia Tucker, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial page editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who is black. “There is no longer good reason for public colleges that are all-white or all-black.”
The plan appears unlikely to be adopted by the Georgia Board of Regents, in part because of the vocal opposition from black educators.
“Historically black institutions play a vital role in the community, the state and the nation,” said Dwayne Ashley, the president of the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund, which supports black colleges. “They provide educations to a number of young men and women who might not otherwise attend college.”
Research suggests that black students often perform better academically at historically black universities. These institutions, which are legally required to admit students of all races, achieve graduation rates similar to mostly white universities, even though they often admit students with less preparation, said Marybeth Gasman of the University of Pennsylvania, an expert in black higher education.
Mr. Harp’s plan would merge the historically black Savannah State University with Armstrong Atlantic State University, and the historically black Albany State University with Darton College. In both cases the black schools would keep their names.
“When you look at Savannah and Albany, those communities really need only one school each,” Mr. Harp said. “The fact that two of these schools are historically black has less to do with my proposal than the economics.”
But he added, “We really need to close the chapter of segregated schools and create a unified system.”
The Board of Regents is not seriously considering the plan, said John Millsaps, a spokesman for the board. “It’s not really on the radar screen,” he said. “There’s not a lot of traction. It’s mainly a proposal by one individual.”
But that did not stop an outpouring of opposition. Alumni and faculty members of the black universities sent letters of protest to the governor, and Ruby Sales, the founder of SpiritHouse Project, a social justice organization, drafted a petition to save the black schools.
“This proposal would continue a long history of white officials implementing an economic plan that disintegrates institutions in the black community,” Ms. Sales said. “Black educational history has been decimated under these types of desegregation plans.”
Mr. Harp’s proposal is not without precedent. During desegregation, white and black schools were routinely merged, including the landmark 1979 union between the historically white University of Tennessee campus in Nashville and the black Tennessee State University.
But Peter J. Sireno, the president of Darton College, said in a statement that the school was “surprised by the idea suggested by Senator Harp.”
“It is my understanding that discussion of institutional mergers is not on the Board of Regents’ agenda at this time,” Mr. Sireno said. “If and when it is on the agenda, we will address it at that time.”
*Courtesy of NYT