I graduated from Central State University a while back. My years at CSU were great. I had professors who were nationally, if not internationally known. One of my science professors had worked with Fermi at the University of Chicago. The first year I taught high school history I taught from a textbook co-authored by my CSU mentor Dr. Wilhelmina Robinson.
About the end of my time there as student integration ramped up in higher education and the star professors from HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) began to be siphoned off by the more affluent, predominantly white institutions. Many HBCUs lost faculty of a status they would have difficulty replacing due to their funding levels.
When I retired from UNC and came back to Wilberforce in 2013, I offered to teach one class for them in the School of Education. I ended up teaching three. I was not happy with what I found at my alma mater. I enjoyed the students who also enjoyed me, but the organizational and instructional lapses I observed made it impossible for me to continue.
In 2015 I was elected president of the Wilberforce Community Property and Voter’s Association. I had been told that the previous WCPOVA administration had not had a particularly good relationship with the current administration. I decided it made no sense for the community, we have about 300 homes in the village, many occupied by retired CSU employees, to not get along with the college leaders. While it is true “town and gown” troubles are not uncommon, it does not have to be so.
My efforts to smooth the waters, and to share my concerns about some of the issues I had encountered as an adjunct professor were unsuccessful to say the least. I even offered to try to help ameliorate some of the academic and systemic problems I had observed at CSU by using my college administrative and academic experiences for free. That was declined. The administration was not interested in anything I had to say or offer mainly because the residents and WCPOVA members, were and are, firmly against the annexation of CSU by Xenia.
For the past five years CSU has not been a good neighbor to the Wilberforce Community. They have not communicated with the residents, have not alerted residents to plans or projects or events that impact our quality of life. They have tried to have zoning changed to build things in neighborhoods that would be disruptive and impact property values, they have held “community” days where only people from Xenia, were invited. They have been steadfast in ignoring questions, letters, phone calls from residents.
When they finally acceded to my suggestion to put the botanical garden on one piece of property they had been trying to get rezoned, no details of the plan or schedule were shared. During the construction the citizenry had to put up with machinery, dust, dirt, and noise and uproar, culminating in the construction company accidentally burning down the garden shed they had just finished building and leaving the burnt hulk there for weeks. At no time were any residents communicated with or checked on to see if we had damages.
There is a new president at Central State now, Dr. Jack Thomas. I am hopeful for change. I have communicated some of the community’s concerns to him. I am hopeful that we will have a prompt and thoughtful response. Although neither the president nor most of the faculty and staff choose to live in Wilberforce, they do still spend a lot of time here and make their living here.
As Hesiod said: “A bad neighbor is as great a calamity as a good one is a great advantage.”
Cookie Newsom is a Greene County resident and columnist.