White House Guidance on HBCU Engagement, NCAT Students Cry Foul on Campus Police, Benedict President on Breakfast Club, and a Bailout for Bethune-Cookman

Imagine the surprise of having several major HBCU news stories on a day when campuses are closed and everyone is trying to duck a pandemic? Just when I thought I would struggle to come up with non-pandemic related items — blessings.
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White House Initiative on HBCUs Issues Guidance for Federal Agency Support

The White House is calling for federal agencies to develop new strategies on supporting historically black colleges and universities with increased grantmaking and partnership opportunities. But the method for getting to that place may put HBCUs at some cultural and legal disadvantages.


Here are a couple of takeaways that should cause concern for the community.

Changing the HBCU Narrative

Federal action in support of HBCU should not trigger the highest form of judicial review – strict scrutiny – which is applied when government action impacts suspect classifications. The Supreme Court recognizes suspect classifications as race, national origin, religion and alienage. If Federal agencies do not use suspect classifications, then they are nearly unlimited in their creativity to accomplish the objective to improve conditions under which HBCU compete for top Federal opportunities that meet student needs and promote community prosperity.

While HBCU have established traditions and programs that might disproportionately appeal to one race or another, as reflected in their statutory definition, they are race-neutral institutions. HBCU have no threshold or specific percentage of students of a certain race or ethnicity. Accordingly, Federal agencies have tremendous latitude to creatively improve conditions under which HBCU compete for top Federal opportunities.

Given that so much funding and so many programs are tied to creating equity among under-privileged designations like race and class, it seems peculiar that the WHI-HBCU would be calling for a narrative to be constructed around going away from these designations. According to this logic, the less black that HBCUs claim the more money that they may be eligible to get; but this flies in the face of programming like Title III funding, HBCU and Minority Serving Institution programs for scholarships and graduate school, and other areas of support.

Here’s another narrative overview:

Narrative refers to the leading education and economic culture, leadership, and advocacy related to our nation’s HBCU. It informs the kinds of education and economic support services, resources and opportunities that are demanded, available and accessed by the students and communities served by HBCU. Although narrative is not easily measured, it has been famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” In other words, to position the Framework for sustained impact, it should be and is aligned with overall Trump Administration education and economic objectives to help improve the performance of more Americans within U.S. competitiveness priorities.

This is dangerous because developing a narrative to fit the Trump Administration’s priorities may fly in the face of the next administration’s goals and objectives. This will require the HBCU sector, or at a minimum leadership in the White House HBCU Initiative office, to redefine this definition at least every four years; that could wreak havoc on HBCUs’ ability to maintain sustainable support in key policy and industrial areas from different political leaders in the White House and in Congress.

Competitiveness Planning Requirements

Part of the report is dedicated to calling upon agencies to be more aggressive about supporting HBCUs with data and strategic planning. A sample:

In furtherance of the Framework, agencies will prepare minimum 4-year HBCU competitiveness plans, describing efforts to improve the conditions under which HBCU compete for Federal opportunities, aligned with agencywide strategic plans developed in accordance with the GPRAMA. Agency HBCU competitiveness plans will establish agencywide minimum 4-year goals, grounded in the Federal HBCU competitiveness priority areas, and should be supported by annual, agencywide, specific dollar amount targets for HBCU participation in contracts, grants and cooperative agreements or any other form of partnership opportunity.

It sounds good, but everyone knows that an elected US President, appointed secretaries and elected congressmen and women will not think about holding agencies accountable for supporting HBCUs when the larger objective is running the country. Instead, the call should be for the WHI-HBCU initiative to have stronger oversight into agency higher education grantmaking and spending to analyze how much money is going to HBCUs and well it is working, and to define how much more HBCUs could provide with more resources.

There are really good recommendations in this report; it lays out strategies for the federal government to create HBCU-specific opportunity zone programming, mentoring pipelines, corporate support of loan securing and capital financing, and other areas.

But like most political reports, the document seems to be designed as an asset to show HBCU stakeholders “we’re hard at work.” And while the initiative truly is hard at work, the hard work of running the show is not found in aspirational outlines, but real solutions which a lot of people can follow from year to year —regardless of how the country votes.

North Carolina A&T Police Officers Placed on Administrative Leave

Two police officers from the North Carolina A&T State University Police Department have been placed on administrative leave after a video showing alleged disproportionate and violent behavior towards a student leader went viral.

From a university statement:

University administrators are evaluating the matter in an effort to reach an appropriate resolution.  Further, we have met with the individual student, as well as Student Government Association leadership, to understand their concerns.

Be assured that the issue of campus safety is one of our top priorities and maintaining that safe environment requires the cooperation and understanding of every member of our community.

The students are treating this as a high-profile incident of police brutality. The campus is treating this as an incident that requires more deliberation and fact-finding.

And somewhere in between is the truth about what happened, and that truth is going to have to be so carefully laid out by school officials that its nearly impossible for A&T to become an easy distraction to coronavirus coverage.

That’s a tall task, but if A&T’s track record on public controversy involving student claims is any indicator, it’s one that the leadership appears to be ready to take on.

Bethune-Cookman Could Receive $17 Million in Public Funding

A budget bill moving through Florida legislature may provide more than $17 million in public funding to Bethune-Cookman University, a much-needed lifeline to help the school address its financial issues tied to debts, bad contracts, and pending lawsuits.

From the Daytona Beach News-Journal:

There’s $17.3 million for B-CU plugged into the proposed state budget slated for a final vote Thursday morning. The money, $13 million of which is new funding, is needed as quickly as possible on the B-CU campus as the university does battle with the very real threat of losing its accreditation.

“It extended beyond any expectation of Bethune-Cookman by a long shot,” said Bethune-Cookman President Brent Chrite, who found out about the large state cash infusion Monday.

The funds would more than wipe away the multimillion-dollar debt Chrite has been wrestling with since he began in his position a year ago. And since the university has already whittled $12 million off the $20 million debt Chrite inherited when he became the university’s top leader in July 2019, the state dollars would do more than keep B-CU’s head above water.

It’s worth noting that the Senate version of the bill calls for just over $4 million for the embattled HBCU, and that amount is just about half of what school officials have announced is needed to help the school reaffirm its accreditation.

Benedict President Featured on ‘The Breakfast Club’

Check out Benedict College President Roslyn Clark Artis with a recent appearance on ‘The Breakfast Club.’

Her appearance accompanies a recent Facebook post she authored, detailing the college’s response to coronavirus-mandated evacuation activities over the last seven days. Members of Benedict’s Board of Trustees helped to finance travel and accommodations for more than 100 students without the means to pay for their suddenly-required trips home.

Recognizing the extreme financial hardship this would be for many of our students and families, I reached out to the Benedict College Board of Trustees for help, and they delivered in a mighty way! Due to the personal and collective generosity of our Trustees, and a generous donation from the Columbia Chapter of the Links, Inc., Benedict was able to offer emergency travel assistance for students with no resources to get home. In total, Benedict College was able to provide travel assistance to more than 100 students. We booked nearly 90 airline tickets (domestic and international), purchased 4 train tickets and 5 bus tickets for students. One of my Trustees personally booked over 45 plane tickets!