Opinion: Lt. Gov. Burt Jones doesn’t like Black stuff

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones talks with Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, in the Senate chambers during Crossover Day at the Georgia Capitol on Monday, March 6, 2023, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones talks with Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, in the Senate chambers during Crossover Day at the Georgia Capitol on Monday, March 6, 2023, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

The former president of Dillard University in New Orleans, Walter M. Kimbrough is the interim executive director of the Black Men’s Research Institute at Morehouse College.

He also served as president of Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas, and held leadership roles in student affairs at Emory University, Georgia State University, Old Dominion University and Albany State University.

In this guest column, Kimbrough questions why the first area of higher education suggested by Georgia Lt. Gov. Burt Jones for cuts are programs promoting diversity, equity and inclusion.

Kimbrough suggests a few other options to Jones.

By Walter Kimbrough

Apparently, Georgia Lt. Gov. Burt Jones took issue with University System of Georgia Chancellor Sonny Perdue’s criticism of the cuts to higher education. Perdue noted that the $66 million cut exacerbates the problems being felt by the smaller, regional institutions which have experienced drops in enrollment. The schools have grappled with ways to manage enrollment losses, from not filling vacant positions, to actual cuts of faculty and staff.

It is fair to ask if there are other cost savings available to the USG institutions. Jones could have suggested a deeper dive into all costs to determine if there were such possibilities, or maybe the funds requested are needed and the budget should be amended to replace the proposed cut.

Instead, Jones went to the newest fad of those with neo-Confederate ideologies.

Let’s get rid of the Black stuff.

In a diverse state like Georgia, one that is becoming more diverse like the entire nation, it makes sense that colleges and universities supplement core educational concepts with greater emphasis on soft skill development, skills more employers request from college graduates. Being able to work in teams with diverse people is key for Georgia and the nation.

Walter Kimbrough

Credit: Contributed

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Credit: Contributed

Jones is clearly a culture warrior. His platform stated that he would “ban critical race theory in schools and instead emphasize more civics-based education that focuses on unity and an understanding of our country’s founding principles.”

I’m sure he can’t provide a clear explanation of critical race theory, and I wonder if the founding principles he wants students to understand include slavery or the three-fifths compromise.

Jones is a sixth-generation Georgian. If I go back six generations, you’ll find a different reality. But to folks like Jones, it really doesn’t matter, because his point is clear.

Get rid of the Black stuff.

The problem with focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion programs is that it represents a small percentage of what many schools spend. Let’s look at Florida, headquarters for DEI attacks. In January, Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered every public institution to provide a list of funds spent on DEI initiatives. The total for the 12 universities was $34.5 million. This total represented 1% or less for each institution. Eliminating DEI isn’t a money-saving technique.

It’s just a way to get rid of Black stuff.

Jones and I do have something in common. We’re both graduates of the University of Georgia, integrated by court order in 1961, a place my father could not attend (thinking again about those founding principles). Jones was a four-year football letterman at UGA, captain, and SEC champion. He definitely knows football much better than I do, so instead of trying to end diversity programs … how about getting rid of football?

Think about it. Only one Division I athletic program in Georgia makes money. Without subsidies from the institution, government or student fees, everyone loses money except the University of Georgia. And I mean a LOT of money. Using the Knight-Newhouse College Athletics Database, we learn that Georgia Tech lost $10 million in 2022, Kennesaw State and Georgia Southern each lost $19 million, and Georgia State $21 million. Football is the largest expense, anywhere from $2 million to $20 million.

There are seven Division II football programs in Georgia. The NCAA researched Division II athletic programs from 2004-2019 and learned the median net revenue generated by football schools was a minus $6.1 million, with the best performer losing $1.3 million. But we’re addicted to football, so even having a losing team losing money is seen as a justifiable expense.

Jones makes diversity a problem, in Georgia, by citing what an administrator at Stanford, in California, did by participating with students in shouting down a speaker. But I would argue that diversity, equity and inclusion are needed in Georgia based on events … in Georgia.

Jones was silent when state historically Black colleges and universities received bomb threats. He’s been quiet whenever there is a new racist incident by a UGA fraternity. He didn’t raise concerns when UGA Black and Latino students protested because discrimination complaints appeared to be ignored. Georgia’s higher education community, like all higher ed, has work to do to create what our most famous native son, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., envisioned as the beloved community.

We never question the cost of football because of a belief that it builds community, whether you’re a two-time national champion or a perennial cellar dweller. But it is an expensive program just to give hope each year. Diversity, equity and inclusion programs also give hope that we can be better, and it is much less expensive. We just have to want to be better.

And it starts with not seeing diversity, equity and inclusion as Black stuff. It’s for us all.