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More Than Just Money

More Than Just Money
Committed partners can be worth their weight in gold when an institution is trying to improve. Just ask Hampton University.
By Cheryl D. Fields


Money is often viewed as the biggest obstacle to upgrading an institution’s campus and/or academic programs. In tight economic times, institutions often end up postponing, scaling back or even scuttling plans for growth. But, as at least one historically Black college can attest, sometimes the greatest asset an institution can have is an outside partner who is as committed to a project as campus leaders.

Hampton University’s experience in developing its new Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications is one such example. The $10 million facility and enhanced academic program are products of a unique partnership between the university and the Scripps Howard Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Cincinnati-based media company E.W. Scripps Co. The new school was born out of two visions that providentially converged at the right time.

Judith G. Clabes, chief executive of the Scripps Howard Foundation, has played a leading role in the creation of the new school. Her journey to the partnership with Hampton began many years before she even got to the foundation.

“I had been involved in trying to solve the problem of diversity in the nation’s news rooms for a long time,” Clabes recalls. The former head of the American Society of Newspaper Editors had played an active role in that organization’s failed Diversity 2000 effort. During that time, she became all too familiar with the challenges the media face in recruiting people of color. One significant part of the problem, she discovered, is the paltry production of African American students with journalism degrees by the nation’s colleges and universities. Not only are traditionally White colleges and universities producing too few African American journalism graduates, but too few historically Black colleges have journalism programs.

Once settling into her job at the foundation, Clabes thought one solution might be to create a new school of journalism at an HBCU.

“We visited a lot of campuses and talked to a lot of people,” she says. “The trail, eventually, led to Hampton.”

Hampton, it turns out, had recently flagged its mass communications program for upgrading. At the time, the program was woefully understaffed and included courses that some faculty members considered obsolete. Nonetheless, student enrollment in the major was robust, hovering around 300 per year — an indication that interest in the field was high. So reconfiguring the program became one of the priorities outlined in the university’s 1996 strategic plan.

“I had asked all the deans here to identify at least one department or program that could be a Program of Distinction,” says Hampton President William Harvey, recalling the process that led to mass communications being included in the strategic plan. “I asked them to let me know what it would take in terms of strategy, programs and resources.” Mass communications was one of the programs so identified by the Division of Arts and Humanities. Once the plan was completed, however, little happened until Clabes approached Harvey expressing interest in discussing the possibility of working together to build a new journalism school.

Once Clabes and Harvey discovered each other’s interests, a series of discussions ensued.

“I remember us going out to lunch with (Clabes),”says Rosalynne Whitaker-Heck, who was appointed interim chair of the journalism school this past September. Clabes asked what Hampton might need to make a greater contribution to increasing the production of Black journalism graduates.

“We said, ‘We need a new building.’ She didn’t blink an eye,” Whitaker-Heck recalls. The group went on to talk about their need for technology, expanded staff and faculty. In 1998, Scripps Howard made a modest grant for program enhancement to Hampton’s mass communications program. As the discussions continued, the university and the foundation agreed to a more ambitious plan of action, which resulted in the $10 million grant.

Clabes says many factors contributed to the foundation’s decision to work with Hampton.

“We did a lot of research in terms of composition of the student body. ACT, SAT standards, retention, longevity of the leadership,” she says, adding that the stability of Hampton’s leadership was a big factor.

Harvey, meanwhile, is impressed by Clabes’ vision and commitment to the project.

“Aside from the money, Judy is very dedicated. She is here on campus a lot and has become familiar with the issues and problems. … For me, she continues to inspire,” he says.

Clabes admits she is proud of the Hampton project and offers a few words of advice to other institutions seeking similar opportunities to work with outside partners.

“HBCUs have to be less insular,” she says. “I don’t want to tell people what is good for them, every institution has to figure out for themselves what they want to accomplish, how and why.” Institutions must not, however, underestimate the importance of finding the right partner, she says.

“Everything is about relationships. If you are an HBCU seeking funding, you have to be willing to bring some things to the table, too. Not just taking the money and running,” she adds.

Hampton’s new 36,000-square-foot facility was formally dedicated on Sept. 23. It includes classrooms, a television studio, new computer labs and a multimedia lecture hall. Since 2000, Hampton has augmented the journalism faculty by six full-time faculty members, and an endowed professorship and new scholarships have been created. The curriculum also has been retooled to include several new courses and a concentration in media management to complement the pre-existing sequences in broadcast, print, advertising and public relations.

“We plan to be excellent stewards of the facility of the resources,” adds Whitaker-Heck, who has spent the past several years dreaming about what Hampton might do if it had the right resources. “Now, I am thankful everyday to be able to walk into this facility. I tell the students, ‘You don’t have an excuse not to excel.’ ”

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