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Howard Faculty Demand New President

Howard Faculty Demand New President
Faculty Senate Council says fiscal mismanagement is hurting the academic quality of the university.
By Dianne Hayes

Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert’s attempt late
last month to assuage faculty members who have called for his ouster seems to have failed, as they continue to call for a new president to lead the private, historically Black university.

Despite a cordial, long-awaited meeting with Swygert, the Faculty Senate Council says Swygert’s fiscal mismanagement is hurting the academic quality of the Washington, D.C. school, long a top producer of Black doctorates.   

Prior to the late March meeting, the Council, which represents more than 1,000 professors, voted 16 to 2 with one abstention to send a letter to the board of trustees documenting what they described as a “state of crisis, the nature of which threatens the stability and character of the institution.”

The letter, obtained by Diverse, states, “Not only have the faculty lost confidence in the ability of President Swygert to lead this university, but more importantly, the faculty have exhausted their patience and seek to end what has become an intolerable condition of incompetence and dysfunction at the highest level.”

Although Swygert addressed some of the issues faculty members raised, he failed to sway their resolve in seeing him removed from office. 

“The meeting ended with strong agreements among the Council that the president’s response to its request for a search for a new president was not compelling and failed to evoke strong support anywhere within the Council, and that this request was well founded and served the best interests of the Howard community,” says Dr. Taft Broome, an
at-large member of the Council.

However, the president’s office sounded a more optimistic tone. Swygert and provost Richard A. English, who attended the meeting, “were very pleased with the constructive dialogue that occurred,” according to a statement issued by Swygert’s office.

Faculty became frustrated because Swygert had not honored previous meeting requests, and overall morale was low and patience was running out.

“It was long in the making,” says Dr. Theodore Bremner, chair of the faculty senate. “The Council had authorized me to request a meeting with the president to discuss matters of governance brought by one school and one college.

The president did not respond.

We felt we needed to take more decisive action. The earlier letter dealt more with governance issues. The last failure to meet precipitated this letter. The Council felt they had enough.”

Bremner describes previous meetings with Swygert as cordial, but noted “nothing was accomplished.”

Among the concerns cited by the faculty is an audit report issued in March from the National Science Foundation Office of Inspector General criticizing Howard’s management of grant money. For example, the report cites difficulty in verifying whether the $12.3 million Howard says it contributed in shared costs to NSF-funded projects between 2000 to 2004 actually benefited the intended projects. The university’s largest source of revenue is the federal government.

Howard’s teaching hospital has been the center of controversy, including a recent $20 million lawsuit filed by the family of a retired New York Times reporter who was beaten during a mugging, but failed to receive prompt treatment because hospital emergency room workers believed he was drunk. The hospital may also be fined by the District Health Department for storing in its morgue the unclaimed remains of 25 babies, some dating back to 2003.

Plans for the hospital are still fluid, as a proposal by the city and Howard to jointly build a $400 million medical center fell through after two years of planning. While Swygert pushed the project with university trustees, public scrutiny of the project raised questions about the health of the existing hospital and its university oversight.

While Swygert is celebrating the success of meeting a $250 million fundraising goal a year early, disgruntled faculty say they are not seeing change come quick enough.

The Division of Nursing faces losing its accreditation and being placed on probation for a second time because of the program’s shortcomings. Early last month, nurses set to graduate walked out of an exam to raise concerns that the department had inadequately prepared them for the test. According to reports, students said they felt uncomfortable taking the second Leadership and Management exam for the semester since issues raised about the first exam were still unresolved.

Swygert, a former president of the University at Albany, State University of New York who earned his bachelor’s and law degree from Howard, has said he will not resign. He answered the faculty letter by telling the Washington Post, “I think it clearly demonstrates how democratic and how open the university is and how free the faculty is to express opinions.”

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