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Counting the Cost

Educating “45” and “One-Note Betsy” on HBCUs

Julianne Malveaux | 3/16/2017, midnight

Eighty HBCU presidents did a “fly-in” to the White House in a meeting organized by Trump whisperer Omarosa, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), and others. There was a White House meeting, a meeting at the Library of Congress, and more buzz than 20 beehives. People were prepped to hear that the White House Initiative for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) would move from the Department of Education to the White House and that this would have an impact on the resources HBCUs would receive from this president’s budget.

Can somebody spell “hoodwinked?” Sure, the HBCU presidents came to Washington and got their photo-op with our nation’s 45th president (I’ll just call him “45”), but the listening session that was scheduled with some of Trump’s cabinet members was interrupted in favor of the photo-op, which means that many of the presidents that were tapped to speak and who had prepared remarks did not have the opportunity to deliver them. Notably, Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough posted his remarks online, and made a few media appearances sharing his dissatisfaction. Outgoing Morehouse College President John Silvanus Wilson shared his disappointment in a letter with the Morehouse community.

To be sure, HBCU presidents are caught between a rock and a hard place, when it comes to President Trump. HBCUs have often done well under Republican presidents, because they are low-hanging fruit. Located in the deeply Republican South, the senators who represent their states get points when they do the right thing, as do presidents who increase Pell grants and Title III dollars, as well as encouraging contract opportunities with government departments. Those who didn’t show up to the “fly-in” probably incurred the wrath of the vindictive Omarosa who said she was “taking names” and that 45’s detractors would have to “bow down” to him. Presidents pretty much had to show up, and hope for the best. They went home empty-handed, with an executive order moving the White House Initiative on HBCUs into the White House, but with no additional resources to manage it. There was also lofty, but resource-devoid language in the executive order.

And can we just call Education Secretary Betsy DeVos “One-note Betsy?” Wherever she looks, she sees school choice, although our educational challenges transcend her myopic agenda. If an ant, enticed by honey, entered a charter school instead of the public school next door, she’d call that school choice. Still, there is no way she can justify her historically ignorant and irresponsible remarks about HBCUs and school choice. In describing HBCUs and “real pioneers of school choice,” she ignored our nation’s higher education history that offered no choice for African Americans who wanted college educations. She has since back pedaled her remarks, but she clearly is comfortable with her historical ignorance.

Dr. Dorothy Irene Height was accepted to Columbia University on a speech scholarship, but turned it down when she showed up on campus and they discovered that she was a Negro. She matriculated at New York University, instead. Charlayne Hunter Gault and Hamilton Holmes chose to attend the University of Georgia, but their matriculation generated headlines, because White folks were not prepared to accept Black students in 1961. Vivian Malone and James Hood chose to attend the University of Alabama, but Gov. George Wallace blocked their entrance in 1963. When James Meredith chose to attend the University of Mississippi, the National Guard facilitated his enrollment. How dare you, Betsy DeVos talk about school choice to HBCU leaders, when our very reason for being was that choices were few and far between.