Willie D. Larkin, Ph.D.

Our venerable institution is alive, strong and doing well, and we will continue to grow stronger in the days to come. Ignore those who speak ill of Grambling State University. Ignore those who say ours is “just another HBCU” on its way to extinction. HBCUs and GSU are neither dead nor dying. We will not move over. We will not step aside. We will not give up. We will make progress. We will survive. We will thrive. Grambling State’s best years are ahead.

Higher education is central to individual and community success, and we must continue to see it as a central element for our young people and those seeking to get ahead. Education must be at the core for those pursuing achievement. But consider higher education a sinking ship for a moment. History has taught us that as a ship begins to take on water, the least valuable resources get thrown overboard. Let me not mince words, without more, stronger support, higher education is taking on water and the ship is starting to sink. Those unfamiliar with HBCUs and some who do not know our phenomenal institution might wish to see us as a resource not worth saving. Some of them suggest merger, or even closing, as a means to save the higher education ship. The problem is not with HBCUs and GSU. The problem is that we lack significant support. We are culturally and intellectually rich resources.

Year after year, it is reported that many Americans are becoming less committed to and less confident about the relevance and importance of colleges and universities. There is a decreasing knowledge and understanding of the worth of HBCUs. Some of this is our fault as academics, educators. Too many of us sit in ivory towers removed from the root causes of decreasing support for higher education, especially federal and states support and also including faculty, staff and alumni support. As state funding of public HBCU continues to be shaky or decreases, we are allowing elected officials to escape with little pain as our students and their families absorb rising tuition, fees and other costs. Students and their families feel the pain as those who should be responsible for supporting this public good shrink from their responsibilities.

Nationally, there has been a shift in higher education. States are spending 28 percent less per student on higher education. Even in our own beautiful state of Louisiana, proposals have been made for the 2016 budget to be cut by $141 million, an amount that will likely devastate the state economy and certainly hurt higher education. None of our state universities can afford additional funding cuts.

There is a clear difference between the “public good versus private good.” Higher education helps individuals improve their stations in life and helps families build on previous generations’ socio-economic status. This is true across the board for people of all ethnicities, races and cultural backgrounds, but it is especially true for African American families and communities.

HBCUs like Grambling State rely on wit, ingenuity, creativity and generosity to thrive, prosper and stay afloat. As government funding shrinks, it is important that we make the most of the resources we have as we do our best on campus and show others off campus that we can make a convincing and compelling case about our value, importance, and raison d’être, our reason for existence.

HBCUs like GSU know how to help the under-resourced in our communities, students with K-12 educations that may not have best prepared them for higher education and those with challenging family situations. No institution knows better how to sow a seed in dry soil to cultivate the planting and bring forth a rich life. Historically, HBCUs have been a vital, essential part of the American agricultural landscape.

For resourceful HBCUs like GSU, working hard to weather financial storms is part of what we do, so we make difficult decisions, and we call on our alumni, faculty, staff, students and other stakeholders to continue to work on our behalf by triggering a resurgence of federal and state support based, in large part, on a value-added proposition that we offer to Louisiana and the United States.

Grambling State University has a strong legacy, a rich heritage and wonderful traditions. However, it is the intellectual strength that will ensure our future. Grambling State University is well poised in Louisiana to be uniquely positioned to establish a stronghold as a leading land-grant institution with a value-added specialization focusing on agricultural training from the perspective of the African diaspora. This unique niche would allow us to be a regional and state partner in the world food industry. No land-grant institution in the U.S. has a core mission to help teach the world about agriculture from an African diaspora perspective, but Grambling does.

Meanwhile, as president of this iconic jewel, I promise you that we will not go gently into the night, we will not become a statistic, and we will not let our future generations down. We will do the job that needs to be done. We will prove that, like many HBCUs, we deserve to survive and thrive.