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Blacks seek top positions at US colleges

Black administrators on American university campuses are rallying their collective forces to protect their jobs. Furthermore, they say more opportunities should be open to them, and they've organized an agenda to address the issue of their professional progress.

''Slowly, but surely, our gains are being eroded,'' says Clarence M. Williams , assistant to the Paul Gray, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He says the number of black professionals on predominantly white campuses is declining.

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Black administrators ''want to move into the mainstream of campus life and want to achieve top offices - chancellor and president,'' he adds.

These issues were examined in detail recently at an MIT conference entitled ''Issues facing black administrators at predominantly white colleges and universities.'' More than 800 blacks attending the conference returned home with clearcut recommendations in hand:

* Form an ongoing organization - possibly a networking body or loose federation of state and campus groups.

This organization - which would also relate to blacks in primary and secondary education - would meet in 1986. Other activities would include a jobs bank, workshops on college finances, and a study of graduate-school admission policies.

* Conduct national and local crusades to recruit and encourage blacks to enter the administrative tenure track on campuses.

* Reach below the college level to attract high school students into studies that will lead to careers as college administrators. Some delegates suggested a youth forum at future conferences.

* Seek to convert ''dead end'' jobs - some cited were affirmative action officers, student affairs posts, and black-studies assignments away from the mainstream line of promotion - into teaching and research positions that lead to offices such as department chairmen.

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''As our first major project we are completing a directory and survey of black administrators and their duties and goals at public colleges of Illinois, '' says Charles Morris, vice president for administration services at Illinois State University.

''We feel that other states can do the same.''

In a nutshell, conferees said they want a nationwide system for exchanging information among black administrators; a means of bringing blacks and potential jobs together; and a forum for ideas on upgrading blacks to top-level positions.

''Our ultimate goal is to develop a model, through example, that can be used to stimulate positive working relationships among black and white colleagues in all of higher education,'' says John B. Turner, assistant dean of the MIT graduate school.

The most serious obstacle to black goals, Dr. Turner says, is a series of recent court decisions that broadly appear to support a ''last hired, first fired'' policy toward blacks in job cutbacks.

He cites as ''most serious'' a ruling earlier this month by the United States Supreme Court that permits the Memphis police department, because of budget cutbacks, to fire black officers hired to desegregate the force, while retaining white officers with more seniority. Although police beats and college campuses seem far apart, there is concern that the Memphis decision could have far-reaching effects.

At Harvard University, MIT's neighbor in Cambridge, protests over throughout the 1983-84 school year over affirmative-action policies prompted President Derek Bok to assign a special task force to develop a program to bring more black administrators and faculty members to the campus.

MIT black officials - with President Gray and white administrators joining black administrators and planners - offered MIT's own program, which is still developing, as an example of how a university can effectively encourage blacks and whites to work together in administration.

Gray offered three ''powerful forces for change'' as he encouraged delegates to commit themselves to change in universities: commitment to highest quality education; belief in ''ourselves and each other;'' and a ''shared vision of what our institutions can and should be.''

Blacks have permitted themselves to become too ''narrowly defined'' on campus , says Price E. Cobbs, author of ''Black Rage.'' His advice: ''Work with all faculty and staff members regardless of race. Call the university 'my school.' ''

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