We are about to learn a hard lesson―the hard way―Howard is not invincible.
Truthfully, I wish that I was writing something different. But I am not.
Howard University is a lot of things: America’s HBCU, an HBCU superpower, the Mecca. What Howard is not: untouchable or invincible. The Whistleblower gambled with Truth & Service and for that poorly calculated decision―Howard will pay. The story of Howard’s financial aid breakdown could have negatively impacted the University in a myriad of ways if the university itself had not been engaged in reviewing issues in the department since 2016.
Consider why the greater Howard University community was kept unaware: this was an ongoing investigation. Howard President Wayne A.I. Frederick methodically oversaw this investigation and personally handled reporting it to the U.S. Department of Education.
Would the Howard University community have been prepared to hear the absolute truth about the misappropriation of millions in institutional grant funds, while the institution itself was still trying to gather information to help in prosecuting those involved? To assert that President Frederick lied about this situation, covered it up, or made light of it would be to suggest that he, along with those implicated in the wrongdoing, also potentially broke the law.
Raise your hand if you believe that President Frederick would risk imprisonment on the behalf of Howard University.
President Frederick, along with everyone involved, should be held accountable for this breakdown of systems and order in the financial heart of the campus. But I also want to ask the same of the greater Howard University community. While some have righteously taken to Twitter to voice displeasure at our leadership and their poor decisions, I have been thinking of how we fail to demand the same integrity and energy from our peers.
Let me paint a picture for you.
Many students, alumni, and employees knew about this financial aid problem since before May. How many of us reported it to university officials?
The leak of this information was not an altruistic nod at Howard’s motto of Truth & Service. He tried to extort the university for his personal gain. And now that the university has responded, we know that Frederick and the rest of the administration had long had the info he wanted to use as leverage. So what was intended to finesse a president and an institution, has now turned into potential evidence of attempted extortion. Don’t ever play yourself.
How many of us are using this incident to criticize Howard and convince others to not invest in the Mecca, when other schools which have faced similar crisis use controversial moments to galvanize support? It worked for Penn State years ago, and may work for Michigan State this year?
People who stole money did so to enrich their own lives at the expense of others. People who use this story to suggest “Yep, Howard ain’t sh*t,” do so to empower their own negative feelings about the university, rather than using controversy to spur their own actions to make a better HU. And people using this situation to compare Howard or HBCUs to PWIs are doing so to smooth over their own guilt about endorsing white privilege, or easing the pain of dealing with the very real disparities faced by black people and institutions all over the world.
All of us can name someone who has had to leave Howard due to finances. We all know someone who could have benefited from the availability of those discretionary funds. Hubris and greed brought us to this point. To this point of revelation that “it really be ya own Bison.” it is our own Bison using this unfortunate moment to advance our own agendas, disguised as concern for the university.