Criticism of Partnerships Doesn’t Improve HBCU Crisis

The United Negro College Fund is not, and never will be in a position to turn down $25 million. Thurgood Marshall College Fund will not be in a better position to develop college completion and faculty training modules than it currently is with the University of Phoenix. And for all of the talk about how dangerous certain partnerships are for historically Black colleges and universities, the simple question of “are we better off without them” seems to be escaping the general dialogue on saving these schools.

Even the most diligent and caring of HBCU advocates is correct in carefully watching over partnerships from businesses and corporations with known disdain and detachment from the success of Black students or Black institutions. But it is incorrect is to speak out against these partnerships, but not in the same tone and tenor and speaking against the lack of investment from HBCU graduates and Black America at large.

Don’t be mad when two white, ultra-conservative business moguls do what 45 million African-Americans haven’t done for our schools. And don’t be upset about a partnership with a for-profit university that has struggled to graduate Black students at rates anywhere near comparable to HBCUs. These are partnerships forged in the flames of our own apathy; the unwanted stepchild of our marriage to diversity and inclusion in society and the industrial imprint of higher education.

Even as we criticize these partnerships, litigation is emerging to limit access for Black students nationwide at predominantly white institutions. And instead of HBCUs taking advantage of the return of outright racism to American culture, rather than chasing down these students and bringing them home to where they are actually wanted and needed, we are taking every opportunity to complain about the partnerships filling the generational need we have ignored.

With the exception of Bill Cosby, Tom Joyner and other prominent HBCU philanthropists, very few gifts of any transformative consequence to HBCUs have been given to Black colleges from non-Black individuals or entities without the hope or outright promise of a return on investment. Perhaps its the ego of helping out disadvantaged students and communities. Perhaps its the promise of a prepared and diverse pool of future front line workers and managers.

Or maybe, its the ideal way to earn great crossover media exposure while adding another tax write-off to the books for the year. Whatever the motivation, it isn’t the motivation of our shared destiny. It isn’t the vision so many Black educators held in the aftermath of slavery and the onslaught of Jim Crow.

Principles be damned; our greatest responsibility is to keep our young people from asking “am I going to be able to stay in school? Is my school going to stay open? Or nah?” Criticizing the few who are working to carry the burden of the people doesn’t lighten the load; it makes some want to remove their hands from the plow and count our freedom as a cause lost to our own miseducation.

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