My HBCU is More Than an Easy Job For You or Your Cousin. Signed, an HBCU President

The following is an editorial written by a sitting president of a historically black institution. The identity of the writer is protected to reduce the potential of retaliation and to provide valuable perspective on executive personnel management at HBCUs.
I am frequently solicited by aspiring HBCU leaders and by those desiring to work in and/or lead an HBCU. Very often, these conversations begin with “it has always been my dream to work at an HBCU.” But more often than I care to admit, when I ask questions about educational preparation and work experience, there is seldom anything to suggest that the individual has the knowledge, skill or experience to make a meaningful contribution to the institutions they desire to serve or lead.
Why do we presume that we should be given a position that we have not earned or worse, are not qualified for, at an HBCU? There seems to be an assumption that the skill set and expectations are less stringent at historically black colleges, or worse, that their students don’t deserve the same caliber of staff and faculty that predominantly white peer institutions would require.
To be clear, I am not saying that an individual that does not have experience in a position need not apply for the position. Many applicants in many industries seek progressively higher positions for which they have no direct experience. That’s the nature of professional advancement; there is a first time for everything and every position.
However, a professional background should demonstrate certain tangible, measurable skills that fit the requirements of the job. Desire is simply not enough. Our institutions must have employees and leaders who are skilled and capable if we are to be successful. The margin for error is extremely narrow for our HBCUs. Gone are the days that simply loving the school, having attended an HBCU or simply desiring to work at an HBCU is enough. In short, the order of the day is what you know and can do, as opposed to who you know or are related to.
Our HBCUs deserve the best and their students are depending on leaders to provide it. Before applying for a job at an HBCU, applicants should conduct an honest self-assessment. Do their work experience and educational preparation meet the minimum requirements for the job? Would those experiences allow for meaningful contributions to the institution? Is this a job where giving more than the job requires is a benefit beyond what the job provides in salary or title? Most importantly, would these skills and experiences be enough to be hired at a predominantly white institution?
These are questions not only for applicants to answer but for stakeholders who want to help friends, relatives, and peers secure jobs at HBCUs. We are beyond the days where board members, presidents, and alumni can leverage influence over the university for job placement in critical areas of operation or instruction. If applicants can respond affirmatively to the above questions, then they should apply and prepare for the interview process.
If they cannot meet these requirements, then stakeholders should not force the issue and place an institution in peril by impeding efficiency, creating cultural disruption or jeopardizing its compliance efforts. HBCUs should not be soft targets for personal favors or places to find easy work; they are wonderful, extraordinarily meaningful institutions that anchor communities and make their students and graduates anchors in their families and industries.
As we go about this important work, I am constantly on the lookout for passionate, mission-driven, talent to supplement and enhance our staff, faculty and administrative team. HBCUs are special places and the people who commit themselves to labor in their vineyards have an obligation to prepare themselves for the intensity of the environment and to make a meaningful contribution. These fragile institutions can scarcely afford to employ unqualified staff and faculty whose capacity doesn’t match up to their commitment.
HBCUs need and deserve our most talented and committed people, who see these schools beyond a paycheck and benefits, or as little more than a rung on the professional ladder. Applicants and their supporters should not sell themselves or our institutions short; we need people who have put in the work to be great and who are looking to make themselves greater for the benefit of our students and our unique missions.

11 thoughts on “My HBCU is More Than an Easy Job For You or Your Cousin. Signed, an HBCU President

  1. “…as opposed to who you know or are related to OR WHICH BLACK GREEK LETTER ORGANIZATION YOU BELONG TO.” (all caps my addition and emphasis)

  2. Great!!! HBCUs deserve the best. why should our expectations be any less than a majority institution?

  3. I agree with this.
    If someone asked me ( and have been asked that question) why would I want to attend an HBCU ,I’m not going to lie..back in the day..being young,it was about being around more Black people, keeping family tradition,learning more about Black culture and hoping that my future husband would come from the AU Center or some other!
    Even though I wasn’t able to go as planned, but when I look back at my thoughts about HBCUS, very little would have changed. Not that I wasn’t serious about my academics but my study habits would be even rigorous.
    There was a woman from my former high school that had that same mentality . She always cheated her way through school. Initually,she went to a White state University in another state but she went to Clark Atlanta University under the impression that it would be a breeze ( she struggled at the White University)What for? She couldn’t teach out of a paper bag. I swear that I know 12th graders who could have done better. Clark Atlanta wasn’t her problem( She also struggled there but survived). SHE was her worse enemy .
    People shouldn’t view HBCUs as an easy way out . Doing that undermines that competitiveness of them..making them seem that the schools aren’t serious about academics. Students should be ready to learn making As and B’s and not see it as ” easy”. People wouldn’t want doctors,mathmeticians, scientists or accountants to do that as they will eventually screw up.Im quite sure they wouldn’t want the same.

  4. Excellent article and the author is absolutely correct. It requires experience, commitment and compassion to be a successful employee at an HBCU. Gone are the days when you could call up “cuz” and get the job hookup at your local HBCU. Thank goodness!

  5. Great article to read. HBCU are great institution they had been in the past as well of today.Great Leaders has been known to Graduate from an HBCU. Back then we took Education seriously. You was told by your parents and others in the family about attending an HBCU because you had Professors who cared about your well being as an African American Students. They wanted you to succeed. People will view HBCU as a partying school or just a place you can hang out and be a nobody. My Senior Counselor didn’t believe in you attending an HBCU.he discourage a lot of students with his unpleasant words. And I’m one of them as I look back on the things he said and should’ve ignored them I would’ve attended and graduated from Howard University because that was my first choice to attend college there because of what I have read and heard stories about the College.

  6. The article is spot on. Most people, I believe, are motivated to give back and see HBCU campuses as places to go to “give back”.
    My question to such candidates is always – “What do you have to give back? What have you learned that you want to pass on? How will what you have to offer benefit the institution, the students and the future legacy we want to build? Many can’t answer those questions well, because they often have a fantasy view of HBCUs as places where everyone is working hard to develop young minds and emerging professionals.
    They don’t fully think through the cligues in the boardrooms, the state shackles of the public institutions, the funding creativity necessary, the lack of regard for assessments, contemporary workplace needs and sometimes (and this is the one I hate the most) the low expectations that some employees actually have of the students they mean to serve.
    If you have worked at other schools you see many of the same attitudes. In other words, there are bad employees everywhere. We can’t assume that everyone who wants a job at Google would be good for Google.
    The onus is therefore on a recruiting process that weeds out the fakes, the wanna-be’s, the hangers on, the ladder climbers, the cronies and the thrill seekers and look for professionals in their disciplines who care, really care about students and the lives they seek to build.
    That expectation starts at the very top. It is the President that has to set that tone. You can’t set it by being anonymous. It means we aren’t there yet. I understand why he/she has to be anonymous, because our work cultures are not evolved enough to be as inclusive as we should be. It’s still a work in progress.

  7. Fantastic editorial and so so true! I’ve worked at an HBCU for over 15 years and during that time, I’ve been passed over in favor of marginally talented family members, girlfriend’s, childhood friends, you name it! It’s a problem that struggling HBCUS simply can no longer afford! Another issue is the recycling of trash! HBCU administrators/presidents are terminated for unethical behavior, tampering with federal funds, sexual harassment, incompetence, etc. However, they are allowed to resign therefore, they end up at another HBCU and continue the same behavior!

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