This time of year, higher education institutions across the country look forward to commencement ceremonies, bidding adieu to graduating seniors as they embark on the next chapter of their lives.
Some institutions are also hoping for “tassel” gifts, large and small, from alumni and friends – including some benefactors who never attended the institution. The common thread is a giver who feels the institution is special and has played a key role in helping the giver or someone else cultivate a productive life.
Such is the case with Drs. Irvin D. Reid and Pamela Trotman Reid, two Howard University alums who last week announced a $1-million endowment for Howard’s Department of Psychology. They met at Howard as students in the 1960s, earned a combined three degrees in psychology from the noted institution, married one another and pursued successful careers in academic education and higher education leadership.
It wasn’t just the money that was so important, said 77-year-old Irvin Reid in discussing the gift from him and his wife to one of the nation’s first most prominent historically Black colleges and universities.
“What will be more enduring is the inspiration,” they hope their gesture gives others, said Reid, who was the first Black president of Wayne State University and served there for 10 years after a stint as president of Montclair State University in New Jersey.
“This is important to say to people you are where you are because of Howard University,” added Reid, now president emeritus of Wayne State. His wife is president emerita of the University of Saint Joseph in Connecticut.
The Reids’ gift to Howard came as the university was completing recognition of its 150th anniversary. The federally supported private institution, based in the nation’s capital not far from Capitol Hill and the White House, was established just after the Civil War by the federal government. The purpose in opening the higher education institution was to help set examples of what would be done to help the freed slaves get more formal educations and eventually use that training to help others learn.
Historically, Black college graduates have not had the same wealth and financial resources as their White counterparts to make large-scale alumni gifts. Howard says it has received fewer than 30 gifts the size of the Reids’. It reports having 48,500 living alumni it knows how to contact, and reports an 11.2 percent alumni giving rate.
By comparison, many historically White institutions collect tens of millions of dollars in endowments each year, according to the annual Voluntary Support for Education (VSE) survey. For example, Nashville’s Vanderbilt University is in the final stages of a capital campaign to raise $30 million to endow 30 new chairs at the university, among other fundraising efforts.
There is no ongoing count of fundraising experiences at public or private HBCU’s. Despite their mixed results on a case-by-case basis, many, including Howard, are trying to boost alumni giving, according to some development professionals. They note that big donations from Blacks with sizeable giving ability tend to be directed to historically White institutions. For example, Ronald R. Davenport and his wife Judith, the Black founders of Sheridan Broadcasting Corp., announced a $3-million gift to their alma mater, Penn State University, in 2001.
David Bennett, Howard’s vice president of alumni relations, said the Reids’ largesse, which will fund student scholarships and faculty grants, is noteworthy.
“The Reids’ generous endowment gift is significant because it signals to other alumni that Howard is an institution worth investing in,” he said. “We know that contributions can have a lasting impact on the life of a student at any amount.”
Reid, who is credited with boosting Wayne State’s endowment by millions during his tenure as president, said he and his wife began thinking of funding an endowment for the department of psychology at their alma mater several years ago.
The intentions were not broken by the stream of negative news about the institution over the past year, including a letter in 2017 published widely from a board trustee warning of operational danger ahead if leadership did not change. Nor were they deterred by the recent student protest following disclosure of the firing of several university employees stemming from financial irregularities involving funds at the university.
“Howard will survive,” he said. “I’m sure the problems they have will work out. Our commitment is the students,”
Commitments such as the Reids’ are becoming increasingly sought after and important to HBCU’s, as federal, corporate and foundation support has generally diminished in the last decade.
Howard President Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick said that as former university presidents themselves, the Reids “understand how critical giving is to the vitality of an institution. Their gift will provide deserving students with the resources to continue their , and young faculty will benefit, as well, from the generous research support.”
Specifically, the endowment will fund three undergraduate and graduate scholarships and a faculty award. The Irvin D. Reid and Pamela Trotman Reid Scholarship of $10,000 will support an undergraduate student majoring in psychology; the Irvin D. Reid and Pamela Trotman Reid Dissertation Fellowship of $5,000 is for a Ph.D. candidate in the department of psychology; and the Irvin D. Reid and Pamela Trotman Reid Faculty Award of $15,000 will be awarded a tenure-track assistant fellow.
Howard “has really made a difference in our lives,” said Irvin Reid. “My wife and I really hope this encourages others.”