Community Divided on White House HBCU Conference

The controversy surrounding the White House National HBCU Conference is exposing differences among leadership ranks at black college campuses and HBCU advocates.

The Baton Rouge Advocate reports that leaders from Grambling State University and Southern University are taking different positions on attendance for the upcoming national White House HBCU conference. Grambling State President Rick Gallot will not attend, but research and advancement officials from Southern will travel to Washington next month for the three-day event.

“It’s a busy time of the year with fall registration, start of classes and multiple football games,” (Grambling Spokesperson Will Sutton) said. “We’ve got a lot of stuff going.”

Federal lawmakers have taken sides on the issue, with HBCU Caucus co-founder Rep. Alma Adams calling for its postponement, and offering to hold an alternative “HBCU Braintrust” convening for presidents and supporters.

Despite the ongoing drama and unnecessary distractions of the President’s own making, we plan to move forward with opportunities for HBCU leaders to engage in substantive dialogues that put our schools and students first,” Adams said in a release.

The Thurgood Marshall College Fund and United Negro College Fund have both written open letters to the White House to call for the postponement of the event, with concerns about the lack of an executive director and presidential board of advisors to the White House Initiative on HBCUs to frame the conference agenda and legislative outline for HBCUs.

But the National Association For Equal Opportunity in Higher Education has not taken a public position to endorse the conference or to call for its postponement. Omarosa Manigault-Newman, Assistant to the President and Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison was an invited guest at the recent NAFEO Presidential Peer Seminar and Leadership Development Institute, earning high praise from NAFEO President and CEO Lezli Baskerville earlier this summer.

 “Her experiences as a public official, a professor, a businesswoman, educator, education advocate, minister, policy analyst with Capitol Hill experience and service for two United States Presidents, and as a minister and commissioned officer for the California State Military Reserve all give her the types of grounding, and underpinnings that suggest she would be the prime senior executive in the White House to oversee the White House Initiative on HBCUs.

Former WHI-HBCU Executive Director Ivory Toldson this week offered support for the conference, where he will serve as a presenter.

Right now, the United States is operating under a multi-trillion dollar FY 2017 budget, with a central government that has thousands of career employees with the authority to authorize grants and contracts to HBCUs,” Dr. Toldson wrote on Facebook. “HBCUs have the right to their fair share of federal revenue, and federal career employees need the ability to connect with HBCU leaders, regardless of who’s in office.”

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