• Our 360 Staff

Auburn makes big change in football program, but alumni say diversity and inclusion changes too slow

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

Auburn, Ala. - Auburn University has fired head football coach Gus Malzahn after eight seasons and will pay the coach more than $20 million in severance pay. Auburn says it hopes to move quickly to name a replacement. It is one area where the university is reportedly showing urgency.

In a scathing report from Inside Higher-Ed, students and alumni say the university is moving much slower to address their diversity and inclusion concerns and paint a picture of Auburn dragging its feet in order to placate donors. What’s the issue

Auburn is the state‘s second largest university with more than 30,000 students. However, its Black student population is one of the lowest in the state at only 5 percent, and has decreased by more than 300 students since 2011. That population is nearly double at the state’s other flagship school: the University of Alabama‘s Black student population is about 10 percent. In response to the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, a group called the Coalition of Black Alumni began meeting over the summer to push Auburn for substantive change in how it recruits, attracts, and promotes students of color on the Plains.

Some of the issues raised by the coalition included increasing scholarships, Black faculty and staff; and changing building names. Auburn’s administration had several meetings with the coalition and created a task force over the summer to address the issues. In September, the Auburn Plainsman wrote an editorial about the many buildings on campus still named in honor of Confederate and KKK icons. It stated that Auburn pays “perpetual lip service” and “thumb twiddling“ in addressing racism. Four of the five students who attended the weekly meetings quit in November, pointing out that the process was moving too slowly and the administration was more concerned about alumni who were upset about the process existing at all.

What‘s been done

In November, Auburn renamed its student center after Harold D. Melton, who served as Auburn’s first Black SGA President in 1987-1988. Melton now serves as the Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. The report indicated many alumni feel it was a political move as Melton—a conservative justice—appealed to donors upset over the larger Black Lives Matter movement and focus on diversity. One student told Inside Higher-Ed that she believes the administration is simply waiting for activist students to simply graduate and move on.

In a statement issued to Inside Higher Ed, Auburn President Jay Gogue said in part, "Auburn continues a very thorough process to study issues related to equity and inclusion. Our philosophy has been to take action at the right time and for the right reasons after all facts are gathered, input is received and a process that can hold the test of time is implemented. We have had more than a dozen meetings with our stakeholders—including African-American students, faculty, staff, alumni and others—to gain insight and facts...We continue to work to make our university the best it can be for everyone we serve today and in the years to come.”

Our 360 News has reached out to Auburn University regarding specific initiatives ongoing or planned to increase and retain its Black student population. Any response received will be included in this story.

Update 12/16/2020: Auburn University responded to Our 360 News’ request for comment. A university spokesperson provided a list of initiatives and commented: “While such progress is underway at Auburn, the university realizes more must be done and is committed to the needed steps it will take to reach that goal.”

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