Mayor's Race 2019: How Would The Candidates Help Nashville’s Historically Black Colleges? | Nashville Public Radio

Mayor's Race 2019: How Would The Candidates Help Nashville’s Historically Black Colleges?

Jul 23, 2019

Fisk University, Meharry Medical College, Tennessee State University and American Baptist College: Nashville is home to more historically black colleges and universities than almost any other city in the country. But in a city known for its institutions of higher education, they often struggle for attention and resources.

So a curious listener asked WPLN to ask the four leading candidates for mayor: What specific policies would they implement for the city's HBCUs?

None of the candidates has made HBCUs a central issue in the campaign, but several have been courting black voters in North Nashville, where all four schools are located.

Mayor David Briley pointed to his track record, saying his office has already met with leadership from the four schools.

"Each one is unique in its needs. From ABC to TSU, Meharry, Fisk. They're all different in terms of what their needs are," he says.

For example, the city has discussed giving $10 million to TSU to develop some nearby land and has tried to help improve the relationship between Meharry and nearby General Hospital, Briley says.

State Rep. John Ray Clemmons also stressed the importance of monetary support. But he says the focus should be on funding from the state or federal level.

"As a Metro government, we should be better supporting them working with our congressmen and the state to get more funding into these schools," he says.

He adds that TSU gets a "disproportionately low share of funding" from the state. But in fact, while TSU receives the lowest amount of funding in terms of dollars among public universities, it also has the smallest student enrollment. So, the allocation per student is about average.

Councilman John Cooper says helping these schools requires boosting the neighborhood around them. Three — Fisk, Meharry and TSU — are in the heart of North Nashville, along Jefferson Street. The neighborhood has long been economically disadvantaged but now is experiencing heavy interest from outside developers. Cooper's idea is to create a redevelopment plan for Jefferson Street that highlights its century-plus-old institutions. 

"That's going to require … all of these separate campuses connecting to this plan, that in the future people are going to go, 'Wow, that is the greatest street in the South.' And of course it always was," he says.

The only candidate without a specific policy for HBCUs is former Vanderbilt professor Carol Swain. She's hesitant to make campaign promises and cautions there are limits to what she could do as mayor. But she says, she's open to suggestions: "There are certain organizations that may need special help, and my ears would be open to their concerns," she says.

The schools will be waiting to see if the next mayor will really listen.

Correction: A previous version of this story called Meharry a “medical center” rather than a “medical college.“