Obama Out, But the Anti-HBCU Legacy is Here to Stay

If the first black president of the United States wouldn’t look out for historically black colleges and universities, and no one made a sound about it until he was preparing to leave the White House, does it make a difference to lawmakers if black colleges live or die in the years ahead?

This is the ultimate legacy of Barack Obama’s relationship with HBCUs – not his woeful 1-2 lifetime record in HBCU commencement speeches, not his stiff arm of federal black lawmakers when they appealed to him for mercy on his tightened financial aid rule making, and not even the nearly $300 million he cost black colleges through lost tuition revenue and decreased funding from federal HBCU earmarks.

President Obama’s most profound legacy is yet to be realized – but will be the private moments in state legislative chambers, and downtown bars and hotel lobbies throughout the south and mid-atlantic when appropriation chairmen and higher education committee members will look into the faces of pro-HBCU legislators and ask the question to which there is no answer: “why are you asking me for help when you didn’t seek or receive support from your boy over the last eight years?”

President Obama was the perfect leader for conservative lawmakers who have been wrestling for 50-plus years on how to eliminate support for public historically black colleges without bringing down the wrath of black communities, and destroying election prospects with moderate conservative voters. At every turn, federal lawsuits, student protests and alumni mobilization thwarted the efforts of middle-aged conservative white guys to axe support for schools governed, operated and patronized by black folks throughout the south.

But when Obama and his no-drama team of Ivy League-bred, ‘New Black’ advisors began to wrestle with reducing financial aid borrower fraud and for-profit degree traps, someone misinformed the squad that HBCUs were among the biggest higher ed scams going, and that no one would ever question the black president as a culprit behind the downfall of black schools, whose graduation rates, loan defaults and low job placement figures deemed them worthless to higher ed anyway.

What the squad didn’t know, and what Obama never quite figured out, is that the HBCU story of graduation rates and low-scale ROI wasn’t a symptom of incompetence or scamming, but a function of disparate support in resources – the same support that federal judges in Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, and Maryland have all ruled in varying forms over the last 30 years to be unconstitutional. And while Obama had every opportunity to address these issues not as racial problems, but as economic and social justice issues impacting all Americans, he chose at every turn to double down on his disdain for HBCUs.

He told Morehouse graduates to be better fathers and to stop being cynical. He tried to create a national ranking system for colleges to expose institutions with bad metrics. He proposed that everyone go to community college for free. He told the CBC to tell HBCUs to stop complaining and get their graduation rates up. He never attended one HBCU National Conference. He told a Southern University student that we can’t have HBCU graduates borrowing to earn degrees that won’t work for them. He told Howard graduates to embrace their blackness and to vote, as if they hadn’t shown the entire country how to do it 60 years prior.

And now that it is almost over, there is no incentive for any democrat or republican to give anything, to see any potential in HBCUs; because the guy who we thought would be genetically wired to peer into the historic and current value of our schools, only saw them as a drain on resources and a hub for black complacency and underachievement. He never learned that schools which serve the poor and marginalized aren’t designed to look or perform like Harvard, that they weren’t originally designed to produce leaders of international politics, business and government, but leaders of communities.

And they just happen to be so tenacious and focused in this work, that now and then they do churn out a graduate who is the best in the country, sometimes the world, at doing something – without the resources that are hard-earned and deserved, but which never come.

This is why the Department of Education can roll out a new program offering early enrollment to Pell Grant-eligible high school students, but only invite two HBCUs to participate in the pilot program – even though HBCUs enroll a large percentage of the nation’s black Pell Grant-eligible college students.

This is why legislators in North Carolina can draft a bill seeking to slash tuition costs at three HBCUs to a price lower than the costs of textbooks for a semester, change the names of the schools, and expect us to believe that it’s not a foundation for decreased enrollment and eventual merger into other UNC system institutions.

This is why Florida can manipulate FAMU through board appointments, why Louisiana can cut budgets to the verge of inoperability, and why Tennessee can make uneven applications of governance for its flagship HBCU. This is why South Carolina State is being ran by legislators, and why higher ed officials in Maryland think they can avoid making their public HBCUs whole with investments in secondary education.

This is why black lawmakers, HBCU alumni and HBCU students have been largely silent and mostly unaware of these critical issues. Because if we let our boy get away with it, what claim do we have against anyone in the future who will do greater and more permanent harm?

4 comments
  1. The survival of HBCU’s is going to depend on US!!!! When are we going to understand that President Obama at the root of his being IS NOT ONE OF US (even though I voted for him twice) ? He is a product of the ivy league elite, He USED HBCU’s to win 2 terms but allowed policies to be enacted that impacted our ability to operate. A lot of us were angry when Tavis Smiley and Cornell West aggressively criticized the President’s policies…….I wonder how a lot of us feel about Tavis and Cornell now?

  2. This article has so MANY MANY uncomfortable TRUTHS in it relative to how the Obama Administration has knifed the HBCUs based on his own ignorance and self-hatred, and I’m including his self-hating wife Michelle as well because she was standing up at College Signing Day wearing a Princeton T-shirt, as if that racist school is the college destination of choice for most students, African American or non-African American. Obama has been a major traitor to our people on all levels and most especially when it comes to putting federal programs and dollars into the HBCUs to keep them solvent and viable. ALL of the issues, problems and struggles for survival in this country that African-Americanshe have faced were and are treated with absolute disdain by him and his appointees. I cringed when I heard the speech that he game to Honward University graduates. He does NOT KNOW HOW TO TRULY COMMUNICATE WITH African Americans at all!! I was annoyed with him during his first term in office when he went to West Africa to “lecture” African Heads of State. I started getting buyer’s remorse then because I voted for this self-hater. Now that the situation is directly with all HBCUs, it is going to be very difficult, I agree Mr Carter, to secure funding for our schools but we must look at the mistakes that we made in NOT holding Obama ACCOUNTABLE for the overwhelming support that we gave him, and not repeat these same errors with Sanders or Clinton- whichever one becomes president. Our schools must survive and we must be the ones to lobby elected officials and protest with our bodies and money if needed to get the financial support that the HBCUs need.

  3. You are correct DBL More painful TRUTHS!! While those of us in the African American community who know the historical, social, psychological and political importance of the HBCUs continue to support them financially, lobby elected officials in the states where these treasured schools are established to continue to allocate resources to them, we must also pressure congressional representatives especially those in the CBS, and whoever the next president will be, to also allocate taxpayer dollars, my tax dollars, your tax dollars to fund programs that will strengthen all HBCUs financially. We can’t let the federal government off the hook. This country owes us reparations, never forget that.

  4. I was thinking the same thing as the title of this article suggests. If Obama could go to Howard’s graduation and “lecture” to African American students and parents about “being proud of y(our) heritage” [duh?! Which they obviously are Obama-they ATTENDED Howard], then why didn’t he send his daughter to Howard or Spelman or Hampton or any other HBCU? A few years back Mrs Obama gave a good commencement address at Spelman- I was there but she came alone, without her daughters. I found this to be indicative of her own self-loathing, and disappointing. Spelman is a beautiful place that affirms African American young women who are scholars. I thought at the time, as a parent, wouldn’t you want your daughters to see these Sista-scholars? Obama spoke at the Morehouse College graduation a few years back and just like he was at Howard’s graduation, he was way OFFICE the mark, irrelevant, condescending and to some extent, insulting to the graduates and their parents. I for one will be glad to see the Obama’s leave the white house. The election can’t get here fast enough for me. They had a negative relationship with HBCUs, often tried to act as if our schools haven’t been in existence for over a century and due to their profound self-hatred aso well as their willful ignorance, have tried to act as if the HBCUs don’t have strong viable academic programs. So Malian Obama is off to Harvard to pursue the lily white fantasy that her parents have raised her to think is reality for her, a Black teen growing into Black womanhood. Well I wish her luck. Fairy tales aren’t real. Being the president’s daughter might help continue her fantasy like existence for awhile longer, but reality has a way of slapping ALL of us in the face, at some point.

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