By Paul Holston
Updated 4:15 PM EST, Mon. February 29, 2016
About 100-200 Howard University alumnae, faculty, staff, and most importantly, students, gathered to hear Howard President Wayne A.I. Frederick give his first student State Of The University Address Feb. 25 at the School Of Business auditorium.
The address was moderated by the Howard University Student Association’s 55th administration executive council, HUSA President Brendien Mitchell and HUSA Vice President Lindsey Foster.
Frederick covered numerous topics across the board surrounding his SOTU address, his fourth address in the past 12 months (two previous with faculty senate and one with alumni during homecoming). Frederick said his goal was to do this type of address towards the student body twice a year.
“The focus is to really talk about the university comprehensively,” said Frederick.
Below is an overview of the main points that were focused on during Frederick’s SOTU address:
“One of things that we must continue to always do is to make sure that our vision has a contemporary look as it relates to our mission.” –Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick
Priorities Frederick addressed surrounding this was building a culture of academic excellence and rigor, as he acknowledged that although known to many as a “party school,” Howard University should be also emphasized as an academic school. He desires to stray away from some of the stigma of Howard only being a party school.
“I think it’s a reality of part of our culture, but I certainly think that it shouldn’t diminish that we are a very vigorous, academic environment,” said Frederick.
Frederick also emphasized the importance of maintaining and increasing the student life experience at Howard. He introduced a possible option of experiential learning credit to be included into student academics, assisting students in earning credits for activities they committed to such as co-curricular and internships.
Old Howard VS New Howard
“I hear a lot about the Old Howard and New Howard…to a certain extent, I think that it’s offensive to be quite frank. We have a rich legacy, but that legacy is not a five-year, not a 10-year, not even a 30-year legacy from when I enrolled in 1988. It’s a legacy that goes all the way back to 1867…and if we want to talk about an Old Howard and a New Howard we have to make sure that we have to put that in a context of what Howard University is.” –Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick
Frederick explained during this segment that if the University stays the same way that it did in 1867, it would not have a robust conversation of how those changes are today. He expressed that what has made Howard thrive and grow is that it has consistently been changing to meet the environment and the circumstances of the current times.
The examples that he gave to the audience of the change of the times at Howard was introducing the first faculty members of the College of Medicine that only enrolled two Black men, who were Dr. A.T. Augusta & Dr. C.B. Purvis. Another example was the presidential history, in which out of the 17 total presidents of Howard University, 10 have been white and only 7 have been African-American.
Student Financial Health Indicators
“Students who have [financial] needs are stressing out trying to pay the bills. What we want them to do is to be able to focus on being in the classroom.” –Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick
During this segment, Frederick focused on giving an in-depth view of the financial capabilities Howard provides in lieu with student finances.
Some of the statistics that stood out from Frederick’s address was that Howard University enrolls a very high number of Federal Pell Grant recipients (59 percent), with an average gross income for the majority of undergraduate families at around $60,000. Howard University unbeknownst to many has at least 95 percent of its students rely on some type of financial aid.
Howard University also holds a federal appropriation of $220 million for FY16, far more than any other Historical Black College and Universities (HBCUs). Although high, the amount has been static for numerous years, to which Frederick hopes that all involved with Howard will advocate to have the amount go up and not down.
Transparency and Communication
“Part of the purpose here is to get more advocacy and increase the transparency between the student body, faculty, staff and administration.” –Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick
Calvin Hadley, student ombudsman and strategic initiative advisor for the Office of the President, has created the “Bison Teaching Bison: A Networking Series” for students, giving them an opportunity to receive information sessions with leaders of the different areas of the administration. Frederick suggested that staff and students alike actively participate in order to learn more in-depth engagements directly.
The next “Bison Teaching Bison” series is on March 2, 2016 with Howard Police Chief Brian K. Jordan, chief of police and executive director for safety and security from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the School of Business Auditorium. (RSVP: http://goog.gl/forms/sBypNzwdfs)
“One of the things that we need is to make sure is that we have a very holistic approach to what is happening in the classroom and outside the classroom must compliment each other.” –Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick
In terms of student life, Frederick expressed that Howard has to make sure that it takes a holistic approach in making the student experience as best as it can be. With newly appointed Vice President of Student Affairs Mr. Kenneth Holmes, Frederick hopes for Holmes to achieve this goal.
Facility Repairs and Renovation Costs/Decisions
“Our deferred maintenance [total repairs for Howard University] is anywhere from $274 million to $700 million.” –Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick
Frederick expressed that the age of the buildings at Howard are significant and as a result, the deferred maintenance becomes very dramatic in terms of cost.
Understanding the major issue, he emphasized the importance of diversifying the revenue stream, such as the decision to sign the recent deal for Meridian Hill dorms to be leased and the recent decision to participate in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auction, which both would allow additional revenue to Howard’s financial issue.
For Howard’s East and West Towers, which Frederick admitted that both need a “major gut renovation,” the total cost of repairs would be an estimated $50 million, to which he is exploring the possibility of privatization for both properties.
“The support of the university is key. Alumni giving is an absolute strong indicator of our help.” –Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick
The national average of undergraduate alumnae giveback is 8.7 percent, according to the U.S. News & World Report. Since Frederick’s tenure, the Howard alumnae giveback has increased to just 9.1 percent. Although increased since his reign, Howard alumnae are still ranked one of the lowest in giveback rate among other HBCUs. To continue to increase, Frederick voiced that it will take a lot of engagement and participation with alumnae by both him and students.
After the address, the HUSA55 executive council opened up into a question and answer dialogue towards Frederick from students who submitted questions prior to the event as well as those in attendance.
The almost two hour, in-depth Q&A ranged from questions about the quality of the university’s infrastructure, the future of campus life, the value of student organizations, the status of the Howard University Hospital and disclosed Undergraduate Library, the stigma of the national black flag raised last year, the auctioning of the WHUT spectrum with the FCC, the conditions of the counseling center and Frederick Douglass Memorial Hall, politics, mental health as well as the continuation of engagement between students and the administration.
Concluding the event, students expressed appreciated thoughts about the address with moderate perspectives about the Q&A.
“The state of the university address was a premier and unprecedented opportunity for the student population to be engaged with President Frederick,” said HUSA55 President Mitchell. “He was raw, candid and intentional with his presentation.”
Jordan Roper, a junior accounting major expressed that the SOTU was a great step in continuing the conversation between students and administration.
“We got some insight as to his [Frederick’s] experience at Howard University and the rationale behind some of his decisions that have created a lot of backlash from students,” said Roper, who is also running as a VP candidate for HUSA’s 56th administration. “One surprising moment during the SOTU was his anecdote on his interactions and mentorship/friendship that developed with a concerned student rather than the harsh disciplinary action that the public assumed he took [referring to the black national flag concern].”
Although very informative over the almost three-hour event, the School of Business Auditorium was still filled with many empty chairs across the space as some students noticed the absence of their peers. The university comprises of about 10,000 students.
“The information [he gave] was very important and relevant, but as students, we have to do more and do better,” said Jerron Hawkins, a freshman political science major and chair of the political action committee of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) Howard University chapter. “There are a lot of students that take issues to social media, but when it came to attending the SOTU address, we were few in numbers.”
“There were probably more faculty members than students and that is a problem because a SOTU was for the students,” he said. “I’m sure the faculty and staff are up to date with the university’s statistics and numbers, so as students, we definitely have to do more, come better and come stronger.”
“I believe that students need to stop being so opinionated if they are not willing to engage in conversations and solutions. I hope that people will engage with administration,” said Mitchell. “We must realize that the university would not exist without students and administrators. If we press on our issues when we are able to engage in these spaces, we will see positive results.”
“I’m confident that adequate progress can and will be made on this campus if we remain active in all the conversations.”