HBCUs are in trouble. On the last day of the recently concluded campaign to select the nation’s 45th President, Barack Obama, President No. 44, took to the airwaves to exhort African Americans to get out and vote for Hillary Clinton.
He appeared on the Tom Joyner Morning Show. Joyner, a graduate of Tuskegee University, hosts annual scholarship drives. He donates the proceeds to HBCUs. The President jokingly told Black voters that if Donald Trump was elected President he was “coming after Michelle’s garden.” He followed this joke with what seemed like another joke. He said that Trump needed to be defeated because the Historically Black Colleges and Universities would be in trouble if Trump was elected.
The reason this statement appeared to be another joke is because in eight years in office President Obama did not lift a significant finger to support the legacy of HBCUs. Last year Hampton University’s President William Harvey (no relations to this writer) scolded President Obama on his lack of support and vision for sustaining the country’s Black Colleges and Universities. Also, the U. S. President squandered several opportunities to save Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia.
Morris Brown lost its ability to receive federal financial aid for its students in 2002 over unstable financial conditions. The school is still standing, but only on one foot. It services 40 students, according to a report a year ago in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. Its students graduate without benefit of an accredited bachelor degree. Many of the 100 HBCUs are one fiscal quarter away from where Morris Brown is today.
President Obama was right to sound the alarm. He knows that he is leaving office without tackling the serious issues confronting HBCUs. He knows that if the first African American to serve the country as President did not find the time to place these institutions on solid fiscal grounds, then Donald Trump likely would not find the time either.
During the early stages of the campaign season only Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein raised the issue of protecting these schools. But graduates of these institutions were more intent upon electing the first Democratic woman president, simply for the sake of electing a Democratic woman president, than preserving the higher educational institutions in their communities.
They paid scant attention to Sanders’ and Stein’s planks for sustaining the HBCU educational experience. When it came time for the primary vote, only a few of them cast their ballot for Sanders and less than 10 percent of them bothered to vote for Stein in the general election.
In fairness to Clinton, very late in the summer – long after Sanders’ and Stein’s proposals – she rolled out a $25 billion plan to invest into HBCUs.
President-elect Trump recently unveiled his program for the African American community. In it he plans to protect the Black church. Only God knows what would possess the President-elect to think that the Black church needs to be protected. Perhaps, he thinks that the Black church could be a tool that he uses to keep the African American community in a state of limbo. Whatever his reasoning, his plan does not include protecting HBCUs.
As it turns out, the outgoing President was correct. Trump’s educational policy, especially as it relates to Black colleges, is non-existent. Last week a group comprised of 140 college presidents, some representing HBCUs and some representing historically white private institutions sent a letter to the President-elect asking that he lead the way in creating less bullying and tension among diverse groups in America.
Meanwhile, the three HBCU Presidents, who head up schools in Atlanta – Spelman College, Morehouse College, and Morris Brown College – met several weeks ago to discuss ways to receive more financial aid for their students during the Trump era. They were cautiously optimistic, yet worried.
All three of the Atlanta area college presidents are relatively new to their jobs. Herein lays the crux of the problem at HBCUs. Gone are the days when a college president served 20 or more years. It is difficult for these institutions to raise money when the business community does not sense stability at the top. Many of the problems confronting HBCUs stem from the lack of funding.
Grambling State University in Louisiana has had seven presidents in the last 10 years.
Their last full-time president, Willie Larkins, was fired this summer after completing seven months on his contract.
Alabama State University suspended their President, Dr. Gwendolyn Boyd, last week after two years on the job. Dr. Boyd has been summoned to what essentially amounts to a due-process hearing on December 16 before the schools Board of Trustees, at which time it is expected she will be fired.
At prestigious Tuskegee University, students and alumni have demanded that the board of trustees remove Dr. Brian Johnson over a “warning notice” the university received from its accreditation agency. Chief among the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools complaint is the school failed to submit an audit report of Title IV funds, the life blood of any HBCU. Johnson is in the first quarter of his third year.
The future looked bleak for the HBCUs before Trump derailed Clinton’s dream of shattering the glass ceiling leading to the White House. A bill introduced on March 23, 2016 by Rep. Alma Adams, (D-North Carolina), H. R. 4857, the HBCU Innovation Fund Act, which will set aside $250,000,000 to establish a program to make grants to promote Innovations at historically Black colleges and universities, was given a 1percent change of being enacted by PredictGov. According to its website, PredictGov “provides updated predictions for the more than 9,000 bills currently under consideration, assigning each a chance of being enacted.” This Bill has not come out of committee.
Now, after the election of Trump, the future of HBCUs is very unpredictable. The President-elect was able to campaign without speaking out on the issues. He spent most of his debate time throwing mud on his opponents and little or no time in discussing policy issues. It is anybody’s guess what a President Trump will do to save or push over the edge what began as the nation’s premier schools for the education of African Americans.
Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist, the author of Paper puzzle and Justice in the Round; and the host of Beyond the Law with Harold Michael Harvey. He can be contacted at haroldmichaelharvey.com.