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Sparks Fly at HBCU Week Session on Wage Disparities Study


Hundreds of top administrators and faculty gathered in Washington, D.C., this week for the HBCU Week Conference, which concluded Tuesday. Attendees were exposed to a wide array of programming focused on a “fulfilling the covenant” theme, inspired by Tavis Smiley’s best-selling book, The Covenant With Black America.

A town hall meeting Monday did indeed touch on a topic of great concern to Black America and the nation as a whole: the Black male crisis. A panel moderated by Morehouse College President Dr. Robert M. Franklin discussed ways HBCUs can encourage and inspire Black students to reach their full potential, both inside and outside of the classroom. Other panelists included United Negro College Fund CEO Dr. Michael Lomax and Bennett College President and former Diverse columnist Dr. Julianne Malveaux.

As an all-male HBCU, Morehouse is testing out an invasive counseling approach — meeting potential academic and behavioral problems proactively, rather than reactively, Franklin said.

“We get in their business. If you came here, you have an interest in our having our fingerprints-on kind of approach to your development,” Franklin said.

“We don’t just let [Black male students] get away with behaving badly. We see them drift  — we get in their face. For the most part, that has worked well. But we’re testing it, because a lot of young brothers have grown up in neighborhoods where they resist authority of any kind,” he adds.

Dr. Norman C. Francis, president of Xavier University of Louisiana, received an award from the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs, commending his leadership on the national level in aiding the recovery of HBCUs devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In his speech, Francis exhorted the assembled presidents to continue to fight for increases in federal funding and keep federal officials informed of the large role HBCUs play in producing Black professionals.

Francis spoke of his work to get Xavier and other Gulf-area HBCUs back in operation mere months after the hurricanes hit. He said he was motivated because “the world needs us. Our students need us. And it’s important for the welfare of this country for us to come back. …  Had it not been for HBCUs, the world would not be what it is today.”

In a session titled “The Causes and Consequences of Attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” Dr. Michael Greenstone, a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, presented a research paper which concluded that attending an HBCU in the 1990s resulted in a 20 percent relative wage decline for Blacks as compared to Black attendance at HBCUs during the 1970s. Greenstone co-authored the paper with Dr. Roland G. Fryer, an economics professor at Harvard University.

In making the comparison, Greenstone and Fryer placed HBCUs of all sizes and types in one category. Sparks flew at the session when Benedict College President David Swinton harshly criticized the research paper’s methodology as “racist,” because the study didn’t take into account the attitudes of employers in the South, for instance, whom refused to consider employing Blacks due to racial prejudice.

Swinton said that coming up with definitive conclusions from data derived in what Greenstone admitted was an “ad hoc” basis is irrelevant and potentially harmful to HBCUs. Greenstone dissented, saying the data he colleted with Fryer will add more depth to the conversation about the effectiveness of HBCUs, adding, “How can more information be bad?” Session moderator and NAFEO CEO Lezli Baskerville said this sort of data could be easily misconstrued.

“Misinformation or partial information that can be skewed to hurt a class of institutions that is vitally important can be bad,” she said in response. “It’s bad when [media] pick up a headline that says that if you go to an HBCU, you’ll earn 20 percent less than if you go to another institution. …  Something that leads to that conclusion can be bad.”

HBCU Week is hosted by the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which works to secure partnerships between federal agencies and HBCUs. The White House Initiative works in tandem with the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs to promote the awarding of federal grants to HBCUs.

– David Pluviose

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