The Lincoln Review, a Washington-based black think tank, published an article titled "What Does the Future Hold for Historically Black Colleges?" in its September/October 2007 edition. It recalled the experiences of Bill Maxwell, a St. Petersburg Times columnist and editorial board member, when in 2004 he took a huge pay cut to teach journalism at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
He wanted to fulfill a promise he made to professors who taught him during the 1960s at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, and Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, two historically black colleges. He was in for surprise and disappointment.
Professor Maxwell recalls his experiences in the St. Petersburg Times. The first column, "I had a dream" (www.sptimes.com/2007/05/13/Opinion/I_had_a_dream.shtml ) discusses the non-academic environment at Stillman College. His first day in his English class, Maxwell had to shout to get the class to come to order. He assigned a 500-word essay. When he read the essays, he said, "During my 18 years of previous college teaching, I had never seen such poor writing -- sentence fragments, run-on sentences, misspellings, wrong words and illogical word order." One paper read: "In my high school, prejudism were bad and people feel like nothing." In another: "Central High kids put there nose in other people concern."
Maxwell says that only a few students bothered to take lecture notes. He had to teach basic grammar lessons and teach students how to use a dictionary, lessons that should have been learned in elementary or junior high school. The college issued free laptops to students who maintained a passing grade-point average. Some used their computers in class for text messaging. When Maxwell confronted the students, he was met with hostility. A few students left during class to make calls or send text messages. Two female professors were threatened by two male students when they were told to put away their laptops in class.