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Dissatisfaction Voiced At HBCU Meeting

Dissatisfaction Voiced At HBCU Meeting
Tension mounts over how to expand federal funding for
Black colleges and the role of the White House Initiative.
By David Pluviose


The National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week Conference last month concluded with a contentious meeting between the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs and Charles M. Greene, the newly installed executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs. Friction between Greene and the board was apparent at the outset of the meeting, as Greene in particular expressed frustration about the cloudy role of the initiative.

A presidential executive order mandates that federal agencies establish an annual plan to help HBCUs improve their respective capacities and compete more effectively for grants, contracts and cooperative agreements. But the process and frequency of the required reports by the agencies has become a point of contention between Greene and the board. Recently, the board discussed issuing recommendations to President Bush and U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, requesting more data from federal agencies regarding their work with HBCUs. During the meeting, Greene took issue with the recommendations, saying Bush and Spellings didn’t need to be involved because any necessary changes could be handled by staff.

“In all due respect, I don’t think I know — and I don’t think the board knows — what it is that we fully need,” he said. “When I came into this position, it was not a clear roadmap as to how we should have been operating and how we should operate in the future. That’s what concerns me. It also concerns me that [the board’s directive] is a little bit of micromanagement.”

Dr. Louis Sullivan, chairman of the board, responded by reminding Greene that he “works for the board, not the other way around. If indeed you have another interpretation, then I think we have a problem.”

Greene also expressed frustration about the lack of a clearly defined path to fulfilling his mandate to expand federal funding
for HBCUs.

“I have no idea how I move to the direction of trying to build endowment for HBCUs or specific HBCUs or groups of HBCUs. I’m mystified by that charge on the part of the executive,” Greene said. 

However, he did point to his work with Miles College as a positive example of the program at work. Miles recently embarked on an initiative to launch an Arabic language studies program, so Greene introduced college officials to decision-makers at the CIA and other agencies.

“We assisted them with creating the kind of relationships that all HBCUs have to have with these agencies,” he said, adding that “it always astonishes me” that colleges and universities don’t focus more attention on relationship-building with federal agencies.

The board ultimately voted to hold Greene responsible for retooling the reporting form the agencies use. He is also charged with enhancing the process by which federal agencies report how they’re helping HBCUs increase their share of federal funding.

Also during the meeting, attorney William A. “Bud” Blakey issued a report detailing the level of grants awarded to HBCUs by individual federal agencies. Blakey serves as a consultant to the board.

In general, the amount of grant dollars awarded to HBCUs by federal agencies is up, but grants to non-HBCUs are flowing at a higher rate, he said.

“While the overall dollar amount to the HBCUs has increased in the ’04-’05 period, a perceptible gap is growing between the amount of money going to all institutions and the amount of money going to [HBCUs,]” he said.

Blakey added that there were some “bright spots,” in terms of federal assistance to HBCUs. He spotlighted the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as an example. When it was created three years ago, the department contributed only $800,000 to Black colleges. That figure has since grown to well  over $1 million. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is among several agencies with a dedicated HBCU program in-house. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency, which has been a major contributor to HBCUs, hasn’t issued a report on its HBCU-related activities for two years.

In his report on the state of HBCUs affected by Hurricane Katrina, Blakey said  Gulf-area HBCUs “didn’t get the kind of a share that they needed given the damage that was inflicted, particularly at Dillard and SUNO [Southern University at New Orleans] and to a lesser extent, at Xavier.”

Although funneling education funds directly to the affected states streamlined the emergency appropriations process on the federal level, Blakey said Gulf-area HBCUs were at a particular disadvantage when it came to receiving a share of the federal funds.

Private institutions like Dillard were hurt because policy-makers placed a higher priority for public funds on public institutions, he said. And the formula used to incorporate private institutions did not provide the funds the HBCUs needed to rebuild damaged buildings. The future of SUNO, he said, remains uncertain in the wake of Katrina.

“The documented fact [that] there [are] about 19 academic degrees being terminated obviously is going to change the entire character of SUNO,” Blakey said. “And the question of its survivability as an independent entity and as a baccalaureate-degree institution is open right now.”

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