When the Texas Southern University Physics Department was on the chopping block, Dennis Golden, a member of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, tried to defend the university’s president by stating that when he arrived, the school looked more like a prison than a college.
The program was still cut because it only produced one graduate in five years.
But Professor Byron Price, chair of the Texas Southern University Faculty Assembly, did not take Golden’s words lightly. In an open letter to Golden, he questioned the racial undertones of Golden’s remarks.
The letter read:
Dear Mr. Golden,
In your attempt to come to President Rudley’s defense as the Board deliberated whether to cut Texas Southern University’s low producing programs (i.e., the Physics degree), the following statement is ascribed to you by the Houston Chronicle:
“That when [President] Rudley took over three years ago, he inherited a deeply troubled institution that looked more like a prison than a college.” This characterization from a public official entrusted with higher education curriculum and funding decisions is extremely problematic and requires an explanation from you in respect to the message you were trying to convey. This characterization by you forces me to question your fitness to serve on a board with such a critical mission. Your statement has a racial element to it, and I question your ability to be objective when it comes to evaluating the ethnic minority-serving institutions in Texas.
Although I was dismayed by the board’s decision to cut the STEM programs at TSU, I do not think the decision was a racial one. At the end of the day, the number of graduates and the inability of the leadership to convince the board that the program should not be cut won out, I believe. However, your temerity in describing TSU as a prison demonstrates an extremely egregious lack of sensitivity and political naiveté.
I have several questions I would like to pose to you: What did you hope to accomplish by describing TSU as a prison? What features of TSU specifically make it look like a prison? Have you ever been to a prison? Have you ever been to TSU?
Let’s assume you have been to a prison and to TSU; what is it about TSU that resembled the prison(s) you have visited? As the Chair of the Faculty Assembly/Senate, on behalf of the TSU community, I would like you to account for your categorization of TSU as a prison and the socio-cultural perceptions this description ascribes to the university. I look forward to your rejoinder.
Byron E. Price, Ph.D.
Texas Southern University