Howard University

A member of Howard University’s Board of Trustees has written her colleagues, claiming the acclaimed historical black college is in fiscal and management trouble. Renee Higginbotham-Brooks – who serves as a vice chairwoman on the trustee board – penned a letter to fellow members April 28. It was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education May 8 and cites her concerns about the institution’s stability. Higginbotham-Brooks wrote, “Howard will not be here in three years if we don’t make some crucial decisions now.”

Her concerns include increased competition from public colleges offering lower tuition and more scholarships; a large university workforce that’s depleting resources; and a lack of adequate fundraising to seek monies from alum and other prominent donors.

Higginbotham-Brooks has acknowledged that she was responsible for the letter, but also refused to comment further.

The Washington Post reports:

Rachel Mann, a spokeswoman for Howard, said Friday afternoon that the university would refer questions about the letter to the board chairman, Addison Barry Rand, who was traveling and was unavailable for an interview.

“Spirited debate and discourse are part of the culture of higher education,” Rand, who is chief executive of AARP, said in a statement. “The board and the university’s leadership team continue to work tirelessly to address many of the tough issues facing colleges and universities like Howard.”

Higginbotham-Brooks, a Howard graduate who is a lawyer in Fort Worth, did not immediately respond to e-mail and telephone messages left with her office. She has been on the board since 1997 and vice chairwoman since 2005.

Howard, a private institution founded in 1867, is one of the nation’s premier historically black colleges. Former president Bill Clinton addressed its commencement last month. The Fiske Guide to Colleges calls it “the flagship university of black America,” and U.S. News & World Report ranks it second among historically black colleges behind Spelman College in Atlanta.

Higginbotham-Brooks’ motives are being questioned in other analyses of her letter. The Washington Post reports the vice chairwoman is “upset about changes in the governance of the board that she believed would “marginalize” her position as vice chairwoman, which she has held since 2005.”

Another vice chair position was created in April.

“I was never consulted or advised of the bifurcation of my position as Vice Chair until one minute before I walked into the boardroom on Saturday,” Higginbotham-Brooks wrote. “I was shocked, truly offended and extremely disappointed with this under-handed tactic, which is inconsistent with the manner in which we do business as a Board.

Rand sees the additional position as standard for the governance boards at other institutions. “Having two vice chairs is an emerging best practice in higher education governance as reported by the Association of Governing Boards,” he said in a statement. “The Board decided on two vice chairs because of an increased focus on development and fundraising. We created a second vice chair to address administrative matters, both require tremendous time and attention.”

Despite Higginbotham-Brooks’ prediction that the “black mecca” will close in three years, Rand writes: “The University remains competitive and is continuing to grow.”

Howard is currently ranked the second-best historical black college in the United States and former president Bill Clinton delivered the May 12 commencement speech. The campus is undergoing campus renovations and has consistently produced top-notch alum from its pharmacy, medicine, dentistry and Ph.D. programs.

The current president, Sidney A. Ribeau, assumed the office in 2008. He has not commented on the letter.

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  • lola289

    No duh…after they CUT most of their BEST courses I figured… sad shit. *shakes head*
    Honestly, this problem has been happening for years and it should be handled properly.

  • The Comment


    This goes for all colleges/universities. If you are teaching MBA courses and have a Ph.D in Econ….why can’t they stay afloat? This puzzles me.

  • Attending Howard is a tradition in my family and I hold the university close to my heart. There is no question that attending an HBCU provides students with positive experiences that PWI will never be able to match: a sense of community and belonging, an emphasis on social justice and stalwart support systems. With that said, as a grad student at a top 15 PWI, the organizational/administrative excellence at white schools are superior.

    There are three issues that I really think are causing the problem at Howard and other HBCUs:

    1) We don’t marshal our resources effectively. This is Howard, arguably the most prestigious black university in the nation with the largest HBCU budget. We have graduated everyone from Thurgood Marshall to Taraji P. Henson. We have the longest list of notable alumni, yet we can’t raise a dollar to save our lives. We don’t give back to our university and we don’t utilize the many famous and successful alumni to raise the profile of the university and raise money.

    2) Organization. We are disorganized. End of story. You can’t run any institution that is connected to 17,000 plus people (students, faculty and staff) like some corner barber shop. Get organized and enter the 21st century.

    3) Do HBCUs have a place in the 21st century? I would argue that they do. Black students benefit from being supported by and surrounded by other black students. Think about this: Only 12 percent of the black population are enrolled in black universities, yet HBCUs award 30 percent of college degrees earned by black students. White universities are still plagued with implicit and explicit racism that serve as a hindrance to black students’ success. But, there is no black university that can compete with any top 100 white institution when it comes to resources. All HBCUs combined have less resources than any of the top 43 universities in the nation.That means, pick any damn school in the top 43 and they have more resources than all 120 plus HBCUs in the nation.

    We need VISIONARIES to lead our HBCUs. A lot of HBCUs are bogged down by their leadership. People have too much ego and too little vision.

    • Melinda

      Loved your comment ! I am a sophomore at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La I understand your points that you made . I hope that all HBCU’s can make a turn around and be able to maintain their legacies in history !