Almost a year to the day of it’s last vote, members of Howard University’s Faculty Senate have taken steps to begin another a no-confidence voting procedure against school president Wayne A.I. Frederick. It’s the latest in what feels like a landslide of culture-breaking headlines to emerge from the university over the last week, piling on to revelations of financial aid fraud, students taking over the university’s administration building, and the campus community being splintered along lines of governance, resources, culture, and tradition.
Everybody has a side in this fight. Everyone would say with passion and unanimity that their side is to protect Howard University. And everyone involved has everything but Howard’s actual protection in mind.
The HU Board of Trustees would say that Howard is the number one priority, but if it was they would not have allowed students to commandeer an entire building with modest numbers, social media buzz and a list of untenable demands just weeks before commencement. Students would have been told that campus housing, Title IX enforcement, and counseling resources are issues that should’ve been addressed long ago and they would’ve taken full responsibility for not empowering the changes in these areas sooner.
They would’ve told the students to take the rest of the demands, get the hell out of the building and to get back to class or face arrest. Because trending on Twitter and facing student criticism would not have mattered more than making real improvements on campus and ensuring that students meet their first priority of learning instead of protest.
The fear of optics, the concern about the look of police escorting students out of the building or arresting them with both sides having strong reason and context for their actions, has turned a two-day story into a ten-day story. Howard could face an accreditation review and possible downgrade, a dip in enrollment this fall, a drop in alumni giving, and inquiries from the Department of Education – all because a group of students with under-developed demands and a history of “A” building takeover in their DNA decided it was time to shoot its shot.
Students would say that Howard is the number one priority, but if it was they would’ve taken more time to research solutions for their demands instead of going nuclear with a list of changes that, in some cases, the college can’t approve without violating certain accreditation guidelines or standard higher education business practices. It is hard to believe that students so intelligent and committed to the institution would find the school riddled with enough problems to take over a building in the name of solving them, but not enough care to advance potential solutions.
Students want the president fired, guns taken out of police officers’ hands, a food pantry supported, and gentrification in the surrounding community halted. And yet, there’s no word on who pays for these things or who pays for the lawsuit if something goes wrong with any of these measures.
They want student oversight of campus policing and stronger representation in administrative decision making, but no word on how to maintain these changes after the activists have graduated or left the university?
There’s a reason that with Howard students’ generational angst about issues on campus, there have only been a handful of student takeovers. It is because even angry students graduate, and priorities change when the voices of those calling for change, themselves change in geographical position or perspective.
Faculty would say that Howard is the number one priority, but if it was they wouldn’t be taking sides in this debate between the students and the administration. Not that faculty should be impartial or unbiased, but they know full well how much the university would have to pay to fire Wayne Frederick, to retain a search firm and to hire his replacement. They know the lapses in execution and connection from the board and administration to the campus because they’ve been there long enough to see it, to study it, to be enraged by it, depressed by it, and eventually resigned to accept it save for fleeting moments of insurrection against it.
Most of them teach about the price of protest, for better or worse. Most of them have lived the experience. And yet, the lessons taught in the classroom and lived outside of it are not reaching the two sides of this debate; because they are split among ideas of rebellion and tradition, growth and stability, progress and humiliation in the public eye.
And all of this for what? A better Howard which everyone says they want, but no one seems to truly consider preserving amidst this storm? Everybody cares, and yet, everybody is doing harm to the school; the irreparable kind the makes the difference between whether a kid enrolls or chooses another school, or if a donor cuts a check for $10,000 or $100,000, or if a decent president will take the job if it becomes vacant.
Panama Jackson, an editor for Very Smart Brothas and a Morehouse Man, put it best in a post for the Root:
Howard University needs to get its ship right. It has to. It’s important not only for the students it enrolls, the students it might enroll and the parents footing the bills but also for the community at large. Certain symbols of black excellence, like Howard University, need to remain in their prominent spot as reminders of where the best of black America are being educated and schooled.