“A troubling beginning to what must be a productive relationship.”
Dr. John Silvanus Wilson Jr., president of one of America’s most prestigious tertiary educational institutions, Morehouse College in Atlanta, was giving a forthright report card on a recent meeting at the White House between President Donald Trump and at least 60 leaders of the country’s historically Black colleges and universities.
We share Dr. Wilson’s concerns for a good reason: the presidents of the Black schools of higher learning, men and women with extensive experience in education, savvy in administration and in meeting the needs of millions of young people of color went to Washington with the high hopes of getting more federal help for their institutions seems to have fallen victim to the political machinations of an administration that’s under siege because of its ineptitude and religious, gender and racial biases. Only time will tell how accurate that assessment is. So while we may hope for the best we shouldn’t be surprised if it all turns sour.
The relationship the college leaders are praying is was one in which the new administration would, in the words of President Trump himself, “do more for HBCUs than any other president has done before.” The presidents are hoping for more federal dollars for HBCUs; a boost in Pell Grants; increasing funding for Title 111; and more tax breaks for private firms and donors who join fruitful partnership with Black Colleges. That’s not too much to ask for.
Instead, what they received was a handshake with Trump and word about a shift in the oversight of the HBCU partnership, moving it from the Department of Education to the White House that can place their schools in a more disadvantageous position. It seems designed to make the schools more susceptible to the politics of Washington and Trump’s heavy-handedness than ever before.
Tragically If the administrators were looking for a positive signal that better days were around the corner, they didn’t get it. The Secretary of Education, Betsy Davos displayed her lack of knowledge of the history and role of HBCUs when she suggested that they were created to give Blacks a “choice” in education. That’s unadulterated mythology. The network of HBCUs was not developed because the millions of newly freed slaves didn’t like their choices of schools but, as Dr. Wilson correctly explained they were created because “they had no choice at all.”
Clearly, if the head of the nation’s top education official is ignorant of the purpose of Black schools then how can she be expected to fashion far-reaching and supportive measures that would help HBCUs and by extension African-Americans?
A painful fact is that the issue of slavery is a Trump Administration Achilles’ heel. Ben Carson, the new Secretary of Housing and Urban development and the only Black in the Trump cabinet once charged, quite insensitively that Obamacare was worse than slavery. A few days ago, appeared to compare slaves with immigrants who came to the country as free people. Slaves came in chains but immigrants didn’t. Today, their presence in the country is being challenged at every corner.
It’s wrong, dead wrong to compare the two.
The students of Howard, Dillard and other HBCUs around the nation who vigorously opposed the meetings their administrators had with Trump officials seemed were more on the ball than the HBCU leaders.
But then what is it that we often hear: “out of the mouth of babes cometh force wisdom.”