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Cosby: Black Colleges Should Demand More from Alumni

Noted author and humorist Bill Cosby recently took historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to task for not making their alumni give back.

Cosby was the keynote speaker during the Oct. 7th dinner session of the three-day, ”Straight Talk Symposium — Securing the Financial Future of North Carolina HBCUs and Their Communities,” sponsored by several foundations, including the North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development, the Johnnetta B. Cole Global Diversity & Inclusion Institute, and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

Cosby chided Black university officials for “begging” their alumni to contribute to their institutions, saying instead that administrators should “make them feel bad,” and demand better support from past graduates to insure a good education for coming generations of students, The Wilmington Journal reported this week.

“Do things with pride, and a sense of history,” Cosby told college presidents and administrators in attendance. “How dare you, dare you, think that you’re not worthy to raise money for your school.”

The conference focused on ways to secure the financial viability of HBCUs — many of which are struggling to stay open during tough economic times amid a worldwide financial crisis. But participants also discussed ways in which Black institutions of higher learning are closing the racial achievement gap, addressing high dropout rates and leveraging community resources.

Notable guests included the James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History John Hope Franklin, and Dr. Johnnetta Cole, president emeritus of both Spelman College in Atlanta and Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

Cosby, who holds a 1976 doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts, spoke intimately and at length about the declining state of Black America, and the desperate need for HBCUs to reclaim their historic sense of mission and purpose.

What’s lost today in the African-American community, Cosby said, is pride, knowledge of self and history, reported The Wilmington Journal, a weekly newspaper with a largely African-American readership.

“The community knew each other,” he said, referring to the years before desegregation in the late ’60s and early ’70s. “We had that pride. If something’s wrong, you fix it.”

He talked about the high standards of achievement in business and vocations set by the Black family and community, which placed getting a good education at a premium.

But in recent years a number of HBCU, like Morris Brown College in Atlanta, have either lost their accreditation because of financial mismanagement or were on the brink of closing, like Bennett College in 2002.

In Bennett’s case, Cole, who had previously served as president of Spelman College, came in as president, and in five years put the all-women’s college back on sturdy financial and academic ground before leaving last year.

Cosby said beyond financial mismanagement, a key reason many HBCUs are in trouble is because alums aren’t giving back to their alma maters like they should, and should be held accountable for their failures.

He spoke of the late CBS newsman Ed Bradley, who graduated from Cheney State College in Pennsylvania, and how much Bradley cherished and supported what wasn’t generally considered a top school.

“Ed was not afraid to say ‘’Cheney,’” Cosby said, adding that HBCU alums need to display that same kind of undying pride and support of their institutions.

While telling alums that they can afford to send more, the humorist chided HBCUs for not demanding more.

“You have no right to be begging,” Cosby told HBCU administrators present. “They can afford it…you have to make them feel bad.”

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