ATLANTA, GA (WALB) - Some Georgia senators are now under fire from three Georgia historically black colleges, and universities, including Albany State University, after a proposal to consolidate the schools into a new state system.
That proposal, Senate Bill 273, was withdrawn and a new bill Senate Bill 278, created overnight still had tempers flaring among students, supporters, and alumni Tuesday.
The Albany community caught wind of the bill signed by Georgia senators that would consolidate the three universities into the Georgia Agricultural and Mechanical University system, which would govern major decisions at the three schools.
The online backlash led to five senators including Freddie Powell Sims (D-12), to redraw their names from the former bill, stating they were not in agreement with the language and thought they were signing a senate resolution to continue their work to find solutions to move HBCUs forward.
On a Facebook post, Sims said Tuesday’s press conference would denounce the bill.
When alumni and stakeholders arrived, they found only one senator, Lester Jackson (D-2), who said that Senate Bill 273 was revised overnight to Senate Bill 278 — which reads that the universities will not merge and lawmakers will look for feedback from alumni and stakeholders before the new bill becomes law.
Originally, WALB sent a reporter to hear the denouncing of Senate Bill 273 Tuesday but discovered that the bill was not the topic of discussion but new Senate Bill 278 was.
Sims said the other senators were not present as Jackson was the only author of both bills.
Senators said they usually sign hundreds of documents a day and didn’t notice what they were signing which led to Jackson moving forward alone.
Sims said they were never in agreement with the schools consolidating as mentioned in Senate Bill 273, which is why five senators withdrew their signatures.
“This thing has morphed into a bill that all of the signees on the SB 273 have removed our names because that was not our intentions,” Sims said.
The five senators who denounced the senate bill — Sims, Tonya Anderson (D-43), Gail Davenport (D-44), Harold Jones (D-22) and Nikema Williams (D-39) — released the following statement:
The five senators said SB 273 would create a board that would take “full control” of the three universities which would allow Gov. Brian Kemp to select 11 of the 13 board members.
The senators also said the bill undermines the three schools by broadly renaming them to a variation of Georgia Agricultural and Mechanical University.
“Each college has a unique history and provides a specific learning experience that can and should stand alone,” the senators said.
Alumni from Albany State, Fort Valley State and Savannah State showed up to a meeting to get answers after hearing legislators formed a study committee two years ago that morphed into a senate bill recently.
Monica Franklin-Redden, an ASU alumna, said because the merger of Albany State and Darton State College happened so quickly and wasn’t clear, she had to come to the press conference to figure what could happen next since they’ve been left in the dark.
“My first reaction was one I would’ve rather heard about this bill from my institution," Franklin-Redden said. "Secondly, to hear about this bill through social media rather than from my alumni association, I was a little bit disappointed.”
WALB asked Jackson about the study committee and he said he doesn’t know anything about it.
“I don’t know anything about the study group formed two years ago, but our general assembly has continued its work as it concerns HBCU’s," Jackson said.
Jackson said the bill will not pass anytime soon.