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One on One With Charles Greene

One on One With Charles Greene
The new White House Initiative executive director breaks down
the unique needs of Black colleges
By David Pluviose

Charles Greene
Title: Executive Director, White House Initiative on HBCUs
Previous Positions: Director of Community and Economic Development in the office of Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.; Member, Cheyney University Council of Trustees; Asst. V.P. for Development, Howard University
Education: BA, Virginia Union University

In an era of declining state funding for higher education, the role federal appropriations play in maintaining and developing the academic programs of historically Black colleges and universities is as critical as ever. Charles Greene, the new executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs, is tasked with overseeing the board that advises the president and the U.S. secretary of education on how best to support and strengthen these institutions. He recently spoke with Diverse about his new role.

DI: What’s the main function of the White House Initiative on HBCUs?

CG: There are designated agencies within the federal establishment that we work closely with to maximize participation by HBCUs in grant opportunities, contract opportunities and cooperative agreements as well as sometimes some non-monetary stuff like expanded recruitment by these agencies, technical assistance, exchange programs and stuff that really then gets to be non-financial, but supports this idea of building capacity within HBCUs. The other aspect of that is we have a strong responsibility for creating private sector collaborations with HBCUs.

DI: Though originally launched under President Carter, this HBCU initiative has gone through changes under successive presidents. In what way did President Bush change the initiative’s scope?
CG: What he attempted to do was to strengthen the process of agencies providing plans as to how they are going to interact with HBCUs over the course of the fiscal year. And then associated with that, provide reports of their activities at the end of the fiscal year so that we could; one, know what they did, and two, evaluate whether those accomplishments were consistent with the plan. And he also interjected the Office of Management and Budget in the process. So it’s at least a point of contact for budgets. OMB has a responsibility to scrutinize whether they have prepared a plan.

DI:  Why did you take this job?

CG: It disrupted my retirement. However, it really is the only job that I would be receptive to at this point in my life. It’s just a heck of a way for me to very likely finish my life in the job market, trying to potentially make a difference as far as these HBCUs are concerned on the positive side.

HBCUs run the continuum in terms of where they are academically, financially, their infrastructures, their use of technology. I was recently at North Carolina A&T. They have a splendid campus, which is substantially different from the campus I saw in 1959. So it became clear to me that all these universities continue to need, particularly as it relates to the open access they have for minority students, additional cash.

DI: How do you plan to widen the scope of federal funding to HBCUs beyond traditional sources like Title III, to get research grants from the National Institutes of Health, for instance?

CG: Good scholarly work aids the university’s reputation. But, in addition to that, [scholarly work can lead to] a potential source of unrestricted funds, which are the most difficult dollars to raise from a university development standpoint. We have to look more at being institution specific. I’m getting ready to do a pilot to try to take a school of engineering that has a successful track record in research and see if I can help them expand that across federal agencies. For instance, a school that’s done work with the Department of Energy may also have a viable chance to do work for the Department of Defense. So, one of my thoughts and initiatives at this point is to try to figure out how we can help HBCUs in a more specific way than we have in the past.

DI: How do you respond to those that question HBCUs’ post-segregation relevance?
CG: My basic response to that is that the whole issue doesn’t deserve a response. HBCUs are race-transparent. White folks can go there as well as Black folks. They’re just institutions. But they do happen to provide significant opportunity when you get into the area of access. And there are some things that HBCUs can do better than larger institutions because they need those kinds of support systems that very frequently you don’t get at large urban institutions. There are some things that are peculiar and unique to HBCUs, but in general, they’re another institution in higher education that nobody should be wondering in 2006 why they continue to exist.

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