Introduction and Acknowledgements
Good Morning. I am elated to be standing here as the incoming 17th President of Howard University. Words cannot express how grateful I am for this opportunity and how humbled I have been, and continue to be, by all of the support I have received since the Board of Trustees announced my appointment last July. Before I begin, I would be remiss if I didn't thank my mother; my wife Simone; and my children, Wayne II, and Kirie. I also want to thank the students, faculty, staff and other members of the Howard University Community for believing in me, and Stacey Mobley and the members of the Board of Trustees for entrusting me with leading this wonderful institution.
As many of you know, I am a son of Howard having earned three degrees from alma mater. In fact, each one of my degrees has been signed by my three immediate Presidential predecessors: President Ribeau, President Swygert and President Jenifer. When I arrived on this campus, I never knew that my name would one day be ranked among the names of the 16 Presidents who served in this role before me; but now that it is, I know that I must uphold the standards of excellence set by these great leaders and continue to ensure Howard University’s role as a leader in higher education. So from the stream that started in 1867, that became a rumbling river of change during the Civil Rights Movement, and is now an ocean depositing leaders in all fields to shores all over the world, I welcome you to Howard University.
PROJECTIONS FOR AN OPTIMAL FUTURE
As I reflected on Howard’s past and present, I thought a lot about what we need to do to secure our future; a future guided by and rooted in “Excellence” and “Truth and Service”, ideals upon which this University was founded and chartered 148 years ago. Therefore, every goal and every objective we set should be focused on the development of pluripotent graduates. Graduates who are capable of being change agents and servant leaders regardless of their career paths or chosen fields of study.
To achieve these goals, I envision the realization of five distinct priorities:
• Building a culture of academic excellence and rigor
• Engaging in scholarship and research grounded in solving contemporary problems
• Revitalizing the manner in which higher education institutions meet the needs of both students and the world today
• Infusing service into our University culture
• Increasing the philanthropic efforts of our University Community
Building a Culture of Academic Excellence and Rigor
Targeted Initiatives to Support Student Success. Undergraduates represent nearly 70% of the Howard University student body. Our undergraduates are at the center of the University’s academic community. Each year, the entering class includes some of the highest achieving African-American high school graduates in both the nation and the world. Our international reach continues to expand as we attract students from other countries and continents who are familiar with Howard’s academic reputation.
When our undergraduates arrive at Howard they are greeted by a first-rate faculty, nationally-recognized degree programs, and a tradition of academic excellence that is exciting. However, it can also be overwhelming. As an academic community, our challenge is to simultaneously enhance their academic excitement while minimizing their anxiety. We do this by ensuring that every undergraduate has access to academic support programs and services that he or she needs to realize their academic potential. Holistic academic advising, 21st century technology that supports our retention goals, and academic policies that facilitate rather than impede success are retention imperatives.
Launched in 2014, the Office of Undergraduate Studies (OUS) plays an integral role in coordinating and supporting our retention efforts. This investment is representative of the importance that I place upon the success of our undergraduates. OUS is a manifestation of my “obsession with the academic journey” of our students. By applying systemic solutions to recurring challenges, the Office of Undergraduate Studies is focused on strengthening our academic support infrastructure so that the term the “Howard Way” is used to describe those aspects of our tradition – academic rigor, intellectual vitality, and cutting-edge scholarship and research – that distinguishes this great university as an academic and cultural mecca.
Faculty Development Initiative. In addition to the academic success of our students, it is imperative that we provide our faculty with opportunities to succeed in the classroom because all academic excellence begins with our faculty. Accordingly, one of my ambitions is to improve the quality of faculty life at Howard University. Not only in terms of teaching and research, but also in terms of the career development and professional satisfaction of faculty who are committed to enhancing the fabric of academic life for our student body.
Accordingly, the report on faculty development that was completed last year by a Faculty Committee is now in the process of being implemented. A multi-year effort, this comprehensive program will be designed to accelerate faculty promotion, personal and professional development as well as greater participation in academic and leadership opportunities beyond our campus.
Access to and Incentives for Degree Completion. We must also provide academic opportunities to those students who wish to attend Howard University, irrespective of their economic status. While access to opportunities is important, equally important is access to programs and initiatives that will allow our students to excel in the classroom and offer their talents to our local, national and global communities.
Toward that end, we have recently launched a program designed to incentivize degree completion. Howard will begin offering tuition rebates to graduates who earn their degree early or on-time. This tuition rebate initiative establishes Howard as one of the leading private-research universities committed to college affordability and on-time completion. I am extremely grateful that our Board of Trustees is supportive of this endeavor. This is a major step in providing greater educational opportunities to tomorrow’s leaders.
Similarly, the University is also leveraging its financial aid resources to support students with high financial need. Through the Graduation & Retention Access to Continued Excellence (GRACE) Grant, Howard pays the remaining tuition and selected mandatory fees for highest need students who are on track for graduation. This provides a direct incentive for progress towards degree and removes financial barriers, while simultaneously leveraging resources for those most in need. This initiative is also designed to minimize the amount of debt students will carry upon completion of their degree programs.
Engaging in Scholarship and Research Grounded in Solving Contemporary Problems
The Howard University faculty and research community are in a position to both define and offer solutions to some of society’s most perplexing challenges, particularly in the areas of education and health disparities. However, in addressing these problems, we must be guided by the principles of “Truth and Service”, as these tenets are the foundation upon which this University is built.
Howard was created to provide “equal rights and knowledge for all”, and serve as the nation’s only integrated university, at a time when most of the nation’s leading private universities had a denominational requirement and were staunchly against co-education and racial integration.
In fact, as early as 1872, Howard announced both its first female medical school graduate, Mary D. Spackman, and its first female law school graduate, Charlotte E. Ray, who was also the first woman in the United States, white or black, to graduate from a regular, non-profit law school. Since its inception, Howard has operated in truth and service to provide opportunities for all.
We must always remember the reason that Howard University was created and the principles upon which it was founded. We must also look toward the future, using the hard earned momentum of the past, to propel us forward, and continue to provide experiences based on our current needs, as we have done since 1867.
As we commemorate the 148th anniversary of the signing of our Charter, I am fortunate to have before me the very table on which General Howard signed the deed to land upon which the university now stands. This very table is where Howard University was born.
Since 1867, we have also consistently been at the forefront of addressing challenges to human progress. We have been a University known for forthrightly addressing the disparities and social ills that affect our city, our nation and our world.
For example, in 1929, Moredcai Wyatt Johnson, Howard’s 11th president, appointed Charles Hamilton Houston Dean of our Law School. Professor Houston was responsible for building a civil rights curriculum for lawyers thereby providing the foundation for our involvement in major landmark civil rights cases. In 1930, Thurgood Marshall entered our School of Law and became one of Houston’s most well-known students. Over the next two decades he and a team of fellow Howard lawyers and others tried and won the cases that laid the groundwork for the ultimate success of Brown v. the Board of Education, a landmark Supreme Court case which struck down the legal doctrine of separate but equal.
Just as Howard was a leading voice during the Civil Rights Movement, we must embrace the challenge of providing sound leadership and solutions for problems stemming from economic, health and educational disparities. We must make Howard University the “go to” institution when external events occur, particularly those related to our mission.
For example, Howard should be on the front lines as we determine ways to shrink or eliminate the wealth gap. According to the Pew Research Center, between 2010 and 2013 Black American wealth dropped by 33 percent. Nearly a third of all Black children live in poverty. Additionally, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that in 2009 median White household wealth was 20 times that of Black households, reflecting a tripling of the wealth gap between 1984 and 2009.
Similarly, Howard must be at the forefront of discussions addressing the nation’s educational disparities. In 2010, the expulsion rate for K-12 Black students was three times that for White students; for the last two decades, the proportion of Black 12th grade students reading below basic level has been twice the rate of White 12th grade students, as reported by the National Center on Educational Statistics.
While Howard is involved in many of these conversations, we must be committed to doing more and being more involved. We must create symposia, create white papers and host major events surrounding these topics so that Howard will influence the direction of these important conversations. Through these endeavors we can address problems, create solutions and serve our communities.
Just last week, former Notre Dame President, Father Theodore Hesburgh, passed away at the age of 97. He was a true visionary who spent his entire tenure working to create a better institution for students and the world. I mention Father Hesburgh because in 2001, he noted that university presidents had become distant from public affairs. In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, Father Hesburgh said, “Once upon a time chief executives in higher education talked to the press about military policy in the same breath as the Constitutional amendment for the 18-year-old vote, but I wonder whether we’d hear them taking stands on similar topics now.”
Fifty years ago, college and university presidents were not only publicly addressing the ills of racism but also actively involved in the fight for justice and equality. Tomorrow, we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. As we commemorate this historic event, we should be reminded of the critical role colleges and universities play in shaping the course of history and endeavor to produce graduates who carry the virtues of those who marched the long march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge fifty years ago.
As President, I commit to working with our students, Faculty and the University Community to ensure that we remember these virtues, remain actively engaged in public affairs and use our platform to speak up and speak out on matters of national and international importance.
Revitalizing the Manner in which Higher Education Institutions Meet the Needs of Both Students and the World Today
As the debate rages about the relevance of four-year colleges and universities in these challenging economic times, it is imperative that our universities remain competitive and relevant both nationally and internationally. While there are certainly a number of advantages to attending a community college or studying to enter into a particular trade, I firmly believe in the unique value of our four-year liberal arts institutions and research universities.
I agree that “the best escalator to opportunity in America is education” and “a basic element of the American dream is equal access to education as the lubricant of social and economic mobility,” as articulated by Nicholas Kristof in a recent New York Times article. However, in these tough economic times, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ensure that everyone has equal access to four-year institutions of higher learning.
We must also be mindful of the fact that countries such as China and India are actively seeking to outpace American universities in terms of the number of graduates they produce by constantly improving their higher education offerings and implementing measures designed to produce larger quantities of doctors and engineers.
One of the major roles of Howard University and its fellow four-year colleges and universities is to help the American higher education system remain competitive as the international higher education landscape grows. The key to maintaining a competitive edge rests with quality, not quantity. We must strive for and maintain the qualitative edge over our competitors. Howard must be at the forefront of providing an excellent education, producing intellectual innovators and leaders of high moral character.
Infusing Service into our University Culture
It is critical for Howard to make service a more prominent part of the life of the University and a central part of every student’s collegiate experience. While many of our students participate in a number of service activities throughout the year, we should create a culture that infuses service into our curriculum and our everyday lives. We should encourage more students to participate in Alternative Spring Break because this program is shaping a new aspect of our legacy; our Alternative Spring Break participants are donating their spring break to give back and change lives.
This year, in addition to sites in Baltimore, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Detroit, Memphis, New Orleans, and Haiti, Howard participants will spend spring break in St. Louis and Newark tutoring and performing community service activities. I am truly inspired by and in awe of the service these students provide and I believe the faculty and administration must enable a means to tie these student endeavors into the curriculum and ultimately reward students for their dedication and commitment to serving others.
Increasing the Philanthropic Efforts of our University Community
Finally, all of us must be committed to increasing our philanthropic efforts and providing service to this wonderful institution. It is critical that we all get in the spirit of giving. When I speak about providing service and giving back, I don’t just mean giving financially. I mean giving of our time, our talents, our energy, our knowledge, our wisdom, and our compassion to ensure that Howard University is a better place for students who attend the University today, tomorrow and 148 years from now.
When I think about service, I immediately think about the philanthropic efforts of our Charter Day honorees and their outstanding achievements. We are extremely proud of their exemplary career achievements and their affiliation with Howard University. I commend Mr. Rushern Baker, Dr. Danette Howard, Dr. J. Weldon Norris, Ms. Minnie Baylor Henry, and Mr. Chadwick Boseman, and Dr. Evans Crawford because they are true exemplars of professional service in their respective fields.
All alums should use the philanthropic efforts of our honorees as a source of inspiration to fully engage in our upcoming capital campaign.
During the past few years, over 20 institutions have launched Billion Dollar Capital Campaigns and Howard should strive to one day be named among that growing number of institutions. In today’s environment, if Howard is going to be a major competitor, we must work to reach the bar that has been set by these capital campaigns. In order to attain this goal, the University needs your support. Not just the support of our alums, but also the support of the broader national community of corporations, foundations and friends of Howard. So I encourage you to start giving back today and look forward to working with each of you as we make Howard University greater.
In 2017, we will celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the founding of Howard University. This will be a gathering of the great people who have come through our University and had their lives transformed by its walls. We are a transformative institution and our 150th Anniversary celebration will certainly display the transformation that so many of us have experienced by being members of the Howard Bison family. 2017 is a big year for us because this historic occasion will be a time for us to pause and reflect on where the journey has taken us and we are excited about this momentous occasion.
Throughout history, the very existence of Howard and HBCUs has been challenged. In 1910, Abraham Flexner, who eventually served as chair of Howard’s Board of Trustees, wrote a landmark report for the Carnegie Foundation that transformed medical education in the United States by pointing to the need for a greater emphasis on pre-clinical science and basic medical research. As a result of Flexner’s report, the number of medical schools readily open to Blacks was reduced from seven to two. By 1923, only two such medical schools remained. Between 1920 and 1964, less than three percent of students entering American medical schools were black.
Similarly, in 1968, Christopher Jencks and David Riesman in their study, “The Academic Revolution,” declared that HBCUs could not provide their students with an education that was comparable to that of their white counterparts; as such, they claimed HBCUs should consider becoming junior or community colleges. The very existence and importance of HBCUs were challenged and these pillars of higher education were forced to prove, once again, their worth and value.
Finally, as more and more people broadcast the notion that prospective students should consider pursuing a trade, becoming an entrepreneur or attending community college instead of pursuing a 4-year college education, it seems that the value of HBCUs is once again being challenged.
Despite these periodic attempts to diminish the role HBCUs play in providing service to our nation, the negative outlooks have consistently been met with the overwhelming reality and evidence of their importance. More specifically, approximately 312,000 students attend HBCUs -- of this population 79% are African American; additionally, HBCUs represent 4 % of all four-year institutions, yet they produce 21% of bachelor’s degrees awarded to African American graduates. Moreover, 34% of African Americans who received bachelor’s degrees in physics, chemistry, astronomy, mathematics and biology earned them from HBCUs and of the top 10 colleges whose African American graduates went on to get Ph.D. degrees in science and engineering, the top eight were HBCUs.
As Howard has done in the past, we will continue to showcase the importance of this institution and dispel the myths that HBCUs no longer have a vital place in the world. We will do this by producing excellence, operating in truth and service and showcasing the greatness that is Howard University to the world.
A few months ago, I was impressed by an article in the Washington Post that spoke to the virtues of today’s youth. The article pointed out that today’s young people are the reason that delinquency, truancy, promiscuity, teen pregnancy, alcohol abuse and suicide rates are down to levels that have not been seen since the 1950s. These are the types of young people coming to and attending HBCUs today and we should be celebrating their good judgment, self-control and high moral character.
As I stand before you today, I know that my tenure as President is part of the University’s journey, a journey with many destinations. The challenges that Howard University faces are numerous and comparable to the challenges facing higher education. However, we can use our resources not only to resolve our problems, but to create an even brighter future that will more fully express the principles and universal truths planted in the stream by our founders 140 years ago. I ask that you join me in this exciting journey that has taken Howard University from a stream, to a rumbling river, to the vast ocean that it is today.
As President, my role is both to preserve and enhance the rich legacy of Howard University, and I will spend every day of my tenure working toward these ends. As I embark upon this journey, I will borrow from Nathan Hale in saying that my only regret is that I have but one life to give to this great University.
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