Officials at East Carolina University are preparing to establish an aviation institute that they say will bring together the region's top resources in manufacturing, security, and maintenance for one of North Carolina's fastest-growing industries.
The institute has the support of academic officials from Elizabeth City State University, the region's historically black institution and one of the few HBCUs in the country with an aviation science program. Those representatives say that they were "at the table" in the planning of the institute and are all in on its development and extension opportunities.
From the Daily Advance:
The program ECU is developing will lead to certification in industry-specific skills related to manufacturing and aviation maintenance. That’s different from the focus of ECSU’s aviation science program. ECSU offers a four-year degree with concentrations such as flight training and aviation management.
“There is definitely not much of an overlap here,” said Kuldeep Rawat, ECSU’s dean of science, technology and engineering and director of the aviation science program.
It is hard to accept the assessment with any serious degree of consideration or optimism. First, the workforce development roundtable which "sparked" this idea about a week ago did not list ECSU among its slate of corporate, legislative and educational participants. Seems like the omission was for good reason; the plan for such an institute has to have been in the works for a while before being publicly revealed in recent days, and with just enough time to get ECSU's seemingly blind buy-in.
Second, what advantage does ECSU gain through transplanting faculty and knowledge base to an ECU aviation institute at a school which only features aerospace studies as a minor, when ECSU has a full undergraduate program dedicated to aviation theoretical and practical training?
Finally, what long-term benefit do ECSU officials believe will come of an aviation research institute being based at a geographically proximate, larger, better resourced and corporate-backed predominantly white institution? From preliminary details, there will be no degree pathways from East Carolina to Elizabeth City State. How does ECSU stand to land monetized partnerships with partners like Spirit Aerospace and the United States Armed Forces if its only role is to serve as a teaching and training subcontractor for ECU?
How will ECSU receive more grant funding, more recruitment and enrollment opportunities or more research capacity if East Carolina is the controlling and managing partner of the region's aviation development initiative, co-signed by municipal, state and federal lawmakers?
And if these things are longshot possibilities, how long will it take before the University of North Carolina System recommends consolidation of Elizabeth City State's long-serving program and a start-up degree offering at ECU, justified by an overwhelmingly successful and thriving research institute?
At its worst, this is the UNC System entering into the very early stages of illegal program duplication of ECSU's aviation degree program. At its best, it is willful marginalization of ECSU's established program and a buying of the silence of officials in exchange for making ECSU North Carolina's capital for drone aviation training.
Everyone from Elizabeth City to East Carolina may endorse this move, but it should be clear to all involved that the HBCU has far more to lose in this initiative than it has to gain. And it won't take very long for ECSU to lose a lot.