Why Howard University Keeps Having Customer Service Issues

Students at Howard University are questioning timing and response of the school’s annual housing assignment process this week, demanding answers for long lines, unexplained wait times and prospects of not having a room for the fall semester.

Coverage of the angst, as usual, hit the media and put HU officials in a tight spot to answer questions on technology, personnel issues, and the culture of administration-student relations.

It is unfortunate that you can almost set your watch to Howard, and dozens of other HBCUs having to deal with perceptions of bad customer service on campus. Howard gets it the worst because it is the Mecca; it is the federally-established HBCU with the most programs, the most famous alumni, the most pressurized college presidency, the biggest budget and arguably, the best homecoming all stationed in the nation’s capital.

Howard isn’t supposed to have problems, simply because its Howard.

That kind of philosophy is exactly what plagues Howard from all angles of its cultural and service based supply chain. Students expect Howard to do better because it was designed and founded to be the best. It charges “we’re the best” tuition rates, and programs them to think “you’re the best.” One of the things Howard students are taught to be the best at is protesting, particularly their own administration.

So when they don’t get the best, they show the world why no one does protest better than they do it.

Administrators are groomed too. Many of them believe that they, along with students and alumni, are all in it togther when it comes to confronting challenges. And that means that folks who haven’t earned degrees don’t get the right to fuss out people who have earned them; especially those who lived through and survived many of the same challenges as Howard students themselves.

When they don’t get the best, they show the students just how much of a privilege it is to be at Howard.

And then there’s the campus, which so often is erroneously called the ‘Harvard of HBCUs.’ Howard is great without PWI comparison, but the larger point is that this description helps to cement the false narrative that Howard is above the issues and defects typically found in higher education.

Howard may be the best HBCU, but it is still an HBCU; and that label comes with certain birthrite hardships, much like the hardships which burden the lives of the people the school was founded to serve. Howard has issues with deferred maintenance, with personnel and with technological infrastructure because it doesn’t have the money to fix issues as they arise. Like most HBCUs, it is the careful combination of glue, Band-Aids, batteries and prayer that holds much of its operational integrity together, until the challenge becomes so unsafe or so unsightly that it would be criminal not to make a change.

This doesn’t mean Howard is neglectful; it means that it does all it can to make sure that students don’t have to pay more money for school than they already can’t afford to help finance these upgrades, and that faculty and staff don’t have to be laid off for the same reason. And when they do try to make upgrades and changes, they have to be made in phases and with little time for training and integration of certain specifications – which also costs money.

It is a perfect HBCU storm; a tradition of elitism clashing with expectation swirling around respectability politics and millennial impatience.

Howard may have some rude employees, some ignorant students, and some issues with facilities and technology. None of these people or things comprise the entirety of the university or its potential.

But these people and issues should give everyone at Howard pause to answer a simple question in their daily effort to make Howard better: “is what I’m about say, Tweet, post, snap, or email the best representation of what Howard is, or the worst? If its the latter, what are the chances are that I’m contributing to the wrong impression being created about the university?”

“Not because I’m wrong, or because the university can’t do better, but because its Howard?”

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