DeVos’ Howard Visit Fuels HBCU Executive Order Buzz

by: James Wright Special to the AFRO jwright@afro.com
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In her first official act, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visited Howard University in the District of Columbia. On Feb. 9, DeVos accompanied by Omarosa Manigault, director of communications for the White House Office of Public Liaison, met with Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick and student leaders. Manigault is a Howard alum.

Protesters gather outside Jefferson Middle School in Washington, Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, where Education Secretary Betsy DeVos paid her first visit as education secretary in a bid to mend fences with educators after a bruising confirmation battle. (AP Photo/Maria Danilova)
Protesters gather outside Jefferson Middle School in Washington, Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, where Education Secretary Betsy DeVos paid her first visit as education secretary in a bid to mend fences with educators after a bruising confirmation battle. (AP Photo/Maria Danilova)

DeVos described the discussion as vigorous in a statement. “It was a pleasure to meet with Howard University President Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick and several student leaders,” the secretary said. “We had a robust discussion around the many challenges facing higher education and the importance of historically Black colleges and universities. Howard University plays a unique and valuable role in the fabric of our higher education system, and I am honored to help celebrate its 150th anniversary.”

Howard University was founded in 1867 and is a private, research university comprised of 13 schools and colleges. It has long been considered the premier Black higher education institution in the world, with 10,300 students and graduates such as U.S. Associate Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, U.S. Senators Edward Brooke, Roland Burris, and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), actresses Phylicia Rashad, Debbie Allen, and Taraji P. Henson and District of Columbia mayors Walter E. Washington, Sharon Pratt, and Adrian Fenty as well as Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

As education secretary, DeVos is a member of Howard’s board of trustees as the patron ex-officio. Frederick, in a statement, said he had a meaningful conversation with the new secretary. “Howard University is pleased that Betsy DeVos, the new Secretary of Education, chose to visit our institution as her first official campus visit,” Frederick said. “We have a longstanding, successful relationship with the Department of Education and I look forward to advancing this relationship under the secretary’s leadership. Our conversation was a meaningful one and I welcome the opportunity to continue discussing the many ways we can work together to forward the work of higher education, specifically that of Howard University, Howard University Middle School of Mathematics & Science, and HBCUs in general.”

DeVos said she will visit other schools across the country to discuss how the administration can increase access to affordable and quality higher education.

The visit by DeVos occurred as the Trump administration is reportedly considering an executive order concerning HBCUs. President Trump reportedly expressed interest in the plight of HBCUs at a meeting of selected Black leaders on Feb. 1 at the White House.

While many Black organizations have expressed concern about the Trump administration, the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) issued a statement on Nov.10 “congratulating Trump and Vice President Pence “on their successful campaign.”

“We look forward to working with the Trump-Pence administration to create better futures for all Americans through education,” the statement said. “When only six percent of African American children graduate from high school college-ready, and only 21 percent of African American young adults have earned bachelor’s degrees, it is clear that our education system still struggles to provide access to a quality education for students of diverse backgrounds, while the need for that education grows more essential each year.”

The Thurgood Marshall College Fund went a step further and offered the Trump administration assistance in creating an HBCU-friendly executive order. “Shortly after the November 8th election results, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund wrote the Trump administration and offered to assist them in drafting a new executive order for HBCUs that A: transferred the White House Initiative on HBCUs back to the White House from the Education Department and B: directed federal agencies to target an aspirational goal of 10 percent spending on government contracts and grants with Black colleges,” Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, said in a statement obtained by the AFRO.

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