January 18, 2016
Dear President Obama:
As a journalist and observer of African American affairs, I have reviewed your statements and plans to address issues of higher education in America. I am particularly concerned and, therefore, compelled to write you concerning the future of our nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). I bring a unique perspective to this discussion that has been shaped from my training as a scientist with extensive experience in higher education as an academic and senior administrator, as well as an accreditation official with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
As you enter your last year in office, you have an opportunity to develop a strategy that will strengthen the network of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. We have many religious, social and civic institutions in the African American community. However, the role of the HBCUs as a contributor to the political, cultural, and economic viability of the African-American community, and the nation, cannot be overemphasized.
From their founding onward, the nation’s HBCUs and its graduates have been at the forefront of the struggle for freedom and justice. Given our present racial climate, as well as for the foreseeable future, there will be no lessening of this role. This argues for the continuing significance of institutions controlled and operated by African Americans.
You should not be persuaded by the present profile of these institutions, many of whom are underfunded, but rather what these institutions can contribute to the nation with adequate resources and more fully developed infrastructure.
For example, your Department of Education has developed a “Race to the Top Fund,” which provided competitive grants to encourage and reward States to create conditions for education innovation and reform. A similar program could be created to encourage innovation and reform among the HBCUs. Moreover, if you used your influence with the private sector to enhance the endowments of the HBCUs, you could drastically change the fortunes of these institutions.
Your legacy of important accomplishments during your presidency is assured. However, I would encourage you to consider using your remaining time in office to develop and implement a plan that will lead toward a stable future for the nation’s HBCUs.
Ronald J. Sheehy, Ph.D.
Editor, Race Inquiry
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