Or are they on the right path for sustainability?
Shaw University captured front page headlines in Raleigh yesterday when word of its efforts to secure a substation for the city’s police department on campus were leaked to local media.
The vision, according to a letter from university president Tashni Dubroy to Raleigh Mayor Nancy MacFarlane, was for increased police presence in the area to foster new prospects for race and community relations, and workforce development benefits for the school’s criminal justice program.
Most people like the idea, some Shaw students and observers are understandably skeptical about more police on an HBCU campus, and some civic officials say it could be a long shot to pass through the city council.
But from most angles, it is a novel idea that is part of a growing culture at Shaw, and among some HBCUs, of embracing ideas that are well outside of the generic ‘black college’ mode of community engagement and development. Some folks being kind may call them conservative, and others would refer to them as ‘selling out.’
These ideas may understandably offend black sensibilities, but a closer look reveals all of the sense in the world in the effort to protect and grow HBCUs.
In case you haven’t noticed, HBCUs have been on quite a tear in the last few years when it comes to courting, cultivating and growing opportunities with people and ideas which aren’t normally cut from our brand of Kenté cloth. In the last year, Shaw has opened an entrepreneurial development center adjacent to campus and set-up satellite classes in a Google-backed innovation hub in downtown Raleigh.
Shaw, American Underground Partnership Creates Innovative Higher Ed Niche
Shaw University has announced a new strategic partnership with Google for Entrepreneurs Tech Hub, American Underground…www.shawu.edu
In the last two years, the school has launched soccer in order to recruit student athletes from Caribbean and Latin American nations; an unorthodox move for a private HBCU in North Carolina, but a model that has yielded sustainable success for schools like Bethune-Cookman, Alabama State and Texas Southern by way of Division I baseball.
So it should not have been a great surprise when Shaw announced enrollment growth this past fall after six consecutive years of enrollment decreases, along with budget surpluses which helped the school to terminate a salary reduction program that had been in effect for three years. Studying their moves, rather than complaining about their uncommon nature, would have revealed that Dubroy and her administration see where the proverbial ball is going in North Carolina and in higher education, not where it is or has been.
It is the same reason why Thurgood Marshall College Fund President and CEO Johnny Taylor keeps popping up in Google searches for “HBCUs and Donald Trump.” He knows that the relationship between HBCUs and the White House could not possibly get any worse than it was under Obama.
And even if member presidents have to be dragged kicking and screaming into dialog with a demagogue, lessons learned from the historically black last eight years tell us that we either make overtures today or suffer campus closures tomorrow.
It’s why Paul Quinn turned its football field into a farm, why Dillard allowed David Duke to debate on campus, why South Carolina State President James Clark screamed at administrators after being handpicked to lead the school without a search, and why Hampton President William Harvey endorsed Talladega to appear in Trump’s inaugural parade; because Black Excellence in 2017 is more than militancy, it is sustainability.
We can preserve our racial pride and exert it in all of the ways we desire as private citizens. But we as private citizens do not have the resources, or the cultural wherewithal to consolidate our resources into building HBCUs in the vision of Booker T. Washington, the architect of conservative white benevolence benefiting African American educational progress.
But more than this, how dare Black America assume that after 150 years of taking the HBCU concept created and funded by rich white men, transforming it into a complex network of social, political and economic capacity building for black communities only to ignore for the last 40 years in the name of desegregation, we can just return to it and tell today’s presidents that engaging rich white folks anew is offensive to us and the history of these schools.
The schools deserve better than that, and so do the students and alumni who still believe in HBCU potential and invest in it by sending their children to attend.
Students have the right to judge and to criticize because that’s what they are supposed to do. They are supposed to question the cultural loyalties and racial priorities of presidents, because they are innocent enough to envision an America that can be shaped and purged by generational rage. But we who have been jaded by reality, who know that HBCU prosperity begins with financial investment from outside of our walls and commitment within them, understand that American altruism doesn’t exist for our schools.
It is the uncomfortable essence of ‘By Any Means Necessary,’ the chapter which we all thought meant to grab guns and to go to war, but what actually means that you don’t work and plan to die, but to actually live.
Because it is the exact principle empowering our greatest enemies and threats.