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Divide Between Obama, Black Colleges Reveals Scandal and Deceit Within White House Initiative on HBCUs (2584 hits)

Written by HBCU Digest, Posted in Editorial, Politics

Essence magazine and even an earlier Digest article called it a “war on HBCUs.” And while, to some, this language may seem hyperbolic, it can certainly be said that HBCUs have seen a more troubling period than anyone expected under the nation’s first Black president.

Conflicted between an intrinsic need to support President Obama “as a Black man” and advocate for their own campuses, HBCU presidents are weary of the little attention they have received from this administration, but hesitant against speaking out publicly against one of their own. The presidents, many of whom dedicated time and certainly money to campaigning for Obama, find themselves frustrated by what appears to be a lack of reciprocal support.

Johnny Taylor, Jr., president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, recently expressed his growing frustration over the fact that President Obama has not even done as much as President G.W. Bush did to secure funding for HBCUs. For many in the HBCU community, the last straw was the recent inaction by the administration to secure a permanent leader for the White House Initiative on HBCUs.

But prior to the appointment of yet another executive director to the post created to advocate on behalf of these essential institutions, many in and around the office expressed concerns over the state of its leadership. Last year, whistleblowers from the office’s presidential board of advisers, as well as some office staff, called attention to what they believed was conduct outside of the best interest of HBCUs by then-executive director John Wilson. Letters were written to Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter detailing what was described as “unprofessional behavior.”

They spoke for over half of the advising board, saying that they all stood together in their belief that Wilson was not acting in the best interest of the institutions, but rather, he was working only to further his own agenda.

Sources within the board of advisers contended that Wilson ignored the chain of authority, did not produce the reports required by the executive board and treated employees unfairly. Several office employees admitted that they had filed EEOC reports detailing mistreatment by Wilson.

All of these letters and complaints went ignored by the highest levels of leadership at the Department of Education .

It is easy to claim that these issues are not directly under President Obama’s oversight, that he himself may not have been personally aware of the dire straits the HBCU community faced. Even as he promised presidents in 2010 that HBCUs have “got a partner in me,” he has done little to deliver on that promise. Taylor and National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education president and CEO Lezli Baskerville have bothpersonally petitioned the White House. They boast a “good faith” communication relationship with the administration, which they have been dismayed to find recently breached. Taylor says that in a meeting with the president, he specifically called to his attention the critical times HBCUs are facing.

“We cannot let the legacy of our first Black president be that our historically Black colleges and universities closed in droves under his watch,” Taylor said, paraphrasing a conversation with Congressional Black Caucus members.

Parent Plus Loan requirements have increased at a time when the federal loan programs are turning a profit, a crisis that, by all accounts, disproportionately affects HBCUs and puts college out of reach for many of the students they serve. The Congressional Budget Office predicts $51 Billion in revenue from federal student loans, yet the loan requirements were said to have increased because of the high default rates. Income from these programs is at a record-high under President Obama, and the office established to give HBCUs a voice is still without permanent leadership.

Some close to the office speculate that the department is trying to “clean up Wilson’s mess” before bringing in a new permanent director, and that process is taking longer than anticipated. With Wilson’s successor, John Brown, announcing that he will be leaving the office in the next month, the office is still facing the same issues created by his mentor, and according to some, his soon-to-be-employer at Morehouse College.

By all accounts, Brown was not present in the office often enough to “fix” anything. And no one wants to take on the job, a GS-15 position which pays between $99,000-$130,000 annually — significantly less than one could make as college president or CEO of a corporation — with such an unfavorable set of facts poised for exposure.

To this point, numbers have been fudged to paint the Obama administration in a more flattering light. Wilson touted his platform that more money was going to HBCUs than at any time in recent past, but the numbers paint a different picture. Sources within the office say that the official annual reports were changed and outright withheld, because they did not paint the picture the president wanted as he sought re-election. They say that the line between loan money and actual grants and appropriations was significantly blurred so that the administration could claim even money that went to schools in the form of federal student loans as aid to the schools.

Maybe continuing supporters are right: maybe saying Obama and his Department of Education are “at war with HBCUs” is a bit extreme. But certainly HBCUs and their students, alumni, faculty and administrators are no better off than they were before he was elected. Neither Obama or others in his administration have advocated the way their predecessors supported sustained operations of these institutions. And certainly, it can be said that the HBCU community, like a growing cadre of the overall Black community, is disappointed in the output from this administration on their behalf.
Posted By: Reginald Culpepper
Wednesday, July 10th 2013 at 2:58PM
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There is no question in my mind that the Obama Administration is negligent where Black institutions are concerned. He has not helped to better experiences for the Black community, but has put his force behind Latinos and GLBT communities. What a slap in the face to our people. I'm so glad I didn't vote for him the second time around and I can't wait this term is up!


Wednesday, July 10th 2013 at 3:12PM
Jen Fad
Besides, I voted for him the first time not bases on his skin tones.

I voted for him to make real changes for ALL Americans, not some Americans!


Wednesday, July 10th 2013 at 3:14PM
Jen Fad
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