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HBCUs Rally to Help State University of Haiti Recover From Earthquake

A dozen historically Black colleges and universities have formed a consortium to help rebuild the earthquake-damaged State University of Haiti, the Caribbean country’s largest institution of higher education.

Led by Florida A&M University, the consortium hopes to raise $12 million to construct a classroom building equipped to receive telecourses taught by faculty from the Black colleges. The group also plans to raise money so the State University of Haiti can hire replacements for professors who died in the earthquake last year and to provide scholarships to 1,000 Haitian students to attend the public university, which has reopened despite extensive damage to its buildings in Port-au-Prince, the capital.

In the shorter term, the consortium intends to share faculty expertise to boost the university’s academic programs in agriculture and entrepreneurship and research into renewable energy and alternative medicine. Administrators from the HBCUs will help establish a campus office to generate donations from prosperous alumni.

“It was thought that Black colleges have the resources and talent and were advanced enough in their own right [so] they could offer assistance to higher education, particularly the State University of Haiti, to help them get back on their feet,” says Dr. Frederick Humphries, Florida A&M’s former president and the consortium’s coordinator.

While most of the dozen HBCUs participating are public universities, including South Carolina State and Morgan State, private institutions like Howard University and Miles College are also members. The consortium has been in the making for a year and has drafted a well-developed plan of action, after asking Rector Jean-Vernet Henry and other top administrators at the State University of Haiti to identify needs.

In a letter to Humphries last year, Henry gave “formal confirmation” of his university’s cooperation with the group. He cited seven priorities: rebuilding campuses, funding new professorships, providing student scholarships, developing student housing, boosting research into renewable energy and alternative medicine, upgrading technical capabilities and further developing research programs.

In October, Henry and vice rectors Fritz Deshommes and Wilson Laleau wrote another letter to Humphries endorsing the proposed e-campus.

“We are very pleased with the project, which will open up a wide range of opportunities to the University,” they said. “Further, we believe that the proposed e-campus will have a lasting impact on Haiti’s education system as a whole.”

Humphries, now regent professor at Florida A&M, says the effort grew out of FAMU’s drive to collect charitable donations to support relief efforts in Haiti following the January 2010 quake. He led a small delegation to visit the State University last summer, and afterward, Humphries and Morgan State’s Dr. Arthur Thomas phoned a number of Black college presidents. “All of them wanted to help,” Humphries says.

The University of Massachusetts Boston has assembled another consortium of a cross-section of American, Canadian, Caribbean and Spanish colleges to assist the State University of Haiti and other public and private institutions in the country. Members of that consortium have similar plans to share faculty expertise with the Haitian colleges, largely in other academic areas, though there is some overlap in the two groups’ plans for distance learning and business education.

So far, both groups have yet to secure funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development or the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.

Leaders of each consortium expressed a willingness to collaborate. “Where we can make common cause, we’ll be very happy to do that,” Humphries says. Dr. Alix Cantave, associate director of the Trotter Institute at UMass Boston, says such cooperation “makes sense.”

This summer, the consortium of HBCUs will send a team to work with the State University of Haiti’s School of Agriculture, at the request of its administrators. “They asked us to look at their degree program in agribusiness, and we’re going to help with the program,” Humphries says. An expert in aquaculture from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff who specializes in catfish farming will be part of that team.

Another delegation will counsel those in the university’s business school on how to create a program to incubate small businesses, Humphries says.

Dr. George E. Cooper, president of South Carolina State, emphasizes the potential economic benefits to Haiti. “As 12 HBCUs, we can play a role in stimulating the Haitian economy,” he says.

South Carolina State, Cooper says, has the capacity to provide assistance in a number of fields, including computer science, engineering, and community and economic development.

“We’re in this for the duration. The challenge for us is identifying what can be done,” Cooper says. “These are the kinds of things that cannot be done in one or two years. Because of the devastation, I think you would need a 25-year plan.”

Besides Florida A&M, South Carolina State, Morgan State, Howard, Miles and Arkansas-Pine Bluff, the other members of the consortium are Central State, Virginia State, North Carolina A&T, Fort Valley State, Tennessee State and Jackson State.

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