How the media can destroy or strengthenhigher education in theU.S.
By Dr. Keith Orlando Hilton
Special to USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston
In the mid-1980s, I came to California by way of Long Island, NewYork. My deeper roots are in Virginia (and of course, Africa). I moved to Northern California last summer (1998) to join the facultyat the University of the Pacific in Stockton. Since moving toNorthern California, I refuse to do any jokes about SouthernCalifornia, as in "So what California." Likewise, I don't do NorthernCalifornia jokes, as in "Nothing California". There is so much upsideto being in California at this time. In fact, my friendsfrom my East Coast days will also tell you that I don't tell NewJersey, Pittsburgh or Cleveland jokes either.
With almost one hundred U.S.-African colleges and universitiesthroughout the country, led by such schools as Clark Atlanta, Howard,Texas Southern and Morgan, the African American education enterprisejust seems to be positioned with other top U.S. universities, to be amajor contributor to the economic, cultural and intellectualdevelopment of this nation for years to come. (Hilton is writing asummer critique of these schools.)
This is especially true if the local and national mediacontinue to tell higher educationís stories with finesse andfairness. This especially means telling the stories of people ofAfrican descent in higher education. Higher education covers a littlebit of everything, from politics to crime, economics to racerelations and entertainment to sports. These and other stories areoften ripe and juicy. The challenge is being able to tell the moreengaging ones with skill and honesty.
With an array of news directions like these, the immediatebig questions are: "Can the media destroy or strengthen highereducation in the United States?" And "What should the media's rolebe?"
It is highly unlikely that the media can destroy thenation's higher education enterprise. However, what is certain isthat both need each other as we move into the 21st century.
Today's media are dominated by daily and weekly newspapers(including the Black press), the Internet, bulletin-board and on-linecomputer services, books, magazines, radio, television and the motionpicture industry. These general and specialized media continue to beinstrumental in telling higher education's story to hundreds ofthousands of educated consumers in the immediate region.
We see these stories in such forms as the 1998 movie "Thefaculty"; U.S. News & World Report's annual "America'sBest Colleges" guide; ongoing coverage in award winning daily andweekly newspapers such as The Los Angeles Times, The Times ofLondon and the Miami Times.
The media - especially newspapers - are read by collegefaculty and administrators, as well as by a growing number ofstudents, who are also discovering national issues such as thepresident's recently ended impeachment trial, the 1999 NBA season andother juicy news bits.
According to Alexander Astin of UCLA, "the traditionalactivities of American higher education are research, teaching andpublic service, and the functions of these activities arevaried."
If indeed journalism history is the story of humanity's longstruggle to communicate with each other - to dig out and interpretnews and to offer intelligent opinion and entertaining thoughts inthe marketplace of ideas- then the field of higher education,consisting of over 3,500 colleges and universities, remains anexciting place to be. The Harvards, Stanfords, Michigans andFisks of the world will survive with or without daily mediaattention; so will U.S. African colleges and universities with longstanding traditions in their cities and regions. However, thosecolleges on the margins or with small endowments or enrollments willsurely appreciate the press on a different level.
Hilton, professor at University of the Pacific CommunicationDepartment in California, joined our team in 1998as Contributing Editor of USAfricaonline.com, USAfrica TheNewspaper and The BlackBusiness Journal.