03 Nov Dr. Jonathan Cartu Announces – The UAPB spirit
Anyone familiar with the rich history of the Southwestern Athletic Conference knows that a fall Saturday afternoon is about more than football. It’s about the bands, the dance squads, the food, the fellowship. It’s a party.
The chance to soak up some of that tradition in what’s commonly known as the SWAC was why I spent the final Saturday of October on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. As I pulled up to Simmons Bank Field on a misty gray afternoon, the UAPB band was already lined up in the parking lot, about to begin its march around the stadium. Across the way, buses carrying the internationally known Grambling State University band were parked. What was about to occur was, in essence, a four-hour concert that began an hour before the game and lasted until darkness had begun to descend.
The football wasn’t bad, either. UAPB, much improved from recent seasons under second-year head coach Cedric Thomas, was 5-2 coming into the game. Trailing 39-33, the Golden Lions had a chance to win when an interception was returned 19 yards to the Grambling 11 with 3:11 left on the clock. On fourth-and-five, however, the Golden Lions threw an interception, and the visitors from Louisiana held on to win.
Given the progress that has been made since last season, no one seemed too upset. It’s hard to be upset after so much good food and music.
Two other member institutions of the University of Arkansas System (the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the University of Arkansas at Monticello) recently changed chancellors in the face of daunting financial challenges, but UAPB plugs along under the steady leadership of Chancellor Laurence B. Alexander.
In his seventh year at the school, Alexander has developed a strategic plan titled Growing the Pride, and implemented many of its goals. Prior to joining UAPB in 2013, Alexander spent 22 years as a professor and administrator at the University of Florida.
Alexander, a New Orleans native, received a bachelor’s degree from the University of New Orleans, a master’s degree from the University of Florida, a law degree from Tulane University and a doctorate in higher education from Florida State University. I told Alexander the first time I met him that I knew there was a reason I liked him and found out what that was–he’s a former newspaperman who worked at the Houma Courier in Louisiana, the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Still possessing the curiosity of a journalist, Alexander wasted no time learning about the history of Arkansas and UAPB’s place in that history.
In 1875, what was known as Branch Normal was established as a branch of Arkansas Industrial University (now the University of Arkansas). The objective of Branch Normal was to educate black students to be teachers. Pine Bluff was selected as its site due to its large black population and the fact that it was the economic center of southeast Arkansas. Joseph Carter Corbin was selected as principal at a salary of $1,000 per year.
According to the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas: “The first class consisted of seven students. During the year, 75 to 80 students were enrolled, but the average attendance was 45 to 50 the final three months of the school year. Rumors about high fees and the school being a political experiment made recruitment of students difficult.
“A policy was developed that allowed two types of students to enroll and attend–beneficiaries and pay students. The policy provided for each county to send one to 14 beneficiaries to Branch Normal, and students were appointed by the county judge. Admission required a commitment from each student that he or she would teach in Arkansas for two years after graduation. Pay students were charged a one-time tuition fee for admission.
“Several setbacks occurred that delayed the opening of the school. The first building was a frame house in need of much repair, but repairs were delayed because of illness among the workers. Lumber and furniture were ordered for the new building, but the boat carrying them sank in the river.
“Because Corbin saw that the need for basic education was crucial, he set up a preparatory department for those who were academically unprepared for college. He was the only faculty for several years, but the enrollment grew to 145 in 1881. Realizing that he could only do so much, he utilized the more advanced students as teaching assistants. His annual request for a full-time paid assistant was not granted until 1883.”
Corbin spent 27 years as principal. Congressional passage of the Morrill Act of 1890 made the school a land grant institution for black students. The institution in Pine Bluff was chronically underfunded despite its land grant status.
In 1921, the Legislature changed the name to Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal School. Six years later, the name was changed to Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College, and the school was made independent of the UA. Gov. John Martineau appointed a board of trustees.
Lawrence Davis Sr. became president of Arkansas AM&N in 1943. A bill during the 1971 legislative session made AM&N a part of the University of Arkansas System. The merger was completed on July 1, 1972, and the name was changed to UAPB. Davis became chancellor and served until 1974. His son, Lawrence Davis Jr., was chancellor from 1991 until his retirement in March 2012.
In a letter to alumni in the current issue of the university’s magazine, Alexander writes: “Because of our student success drive, we’ve increased our retention rate to 71 percent, which is fourth among the 10 public four-year institutions in Arkansas. We also have increased our four-, five- and six-year graduation rates. We are also moving forward intensively in our recruitment efforts to ensure that enrollment growth is in our near future. UAPB also is making major strides in optimizing efficiency. We have significantly reduced energy consumption and eliminated much of our paper processing with computer software.”
UAPB and Southeast Arkansas College, a two-year institution in Pine Bluff, have launched a collaborative program that allows students to earn an associate degree at SEARK and a bachelor’s degree at UAPB concurrently. The agreement allows students to enroll full time and earn a minimum of 12 credit…