The 2021 HBCU Presidents’ Resolution: Preach From Your Bully Pulpits!

I am modifying this piece I wrote last year on this date. It’s timely.

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UNCF presidents with Rep. Nancy Pelosi at 2020 UNCF Annual Dinner

For the past few years I’ve made a resolution for my HBCU presidential colleagues to write more editorials (right- I’m making resolutions for them but since my younger colleagues call me the Dean of the young-ish presidents, I can do that!). I shared a number of quotes from presidents over the years saying we have to use our voices in the public sphere. My favorite was from Benjamin Elijah Mays, who in a 1951 article entitled “What’s Wrong With Negro Leaders,” wrote “the first thing wrong with all too many Negro leaders, whether on the local or national scene, is fear. Fear makes cowards of us all.”

Ryan Craig’s December 20, 2019 editorial for Inside Higher Ed reminded me of my resolution. He writes

The existential question facing higher education in 2019 isn’t about taking a political stand, or doing anything brave or controversial besides speaking out — vocally and repeatedly — for critical thinking, reason and sense. Colleges and universities stand little chance of making sense to students when they’re continuing to base their value proposition on sense but are too blinded by their parochial interests to defend it.

His article links a POWERFUL piece by Scott Sherman for The Nation in February of 2013, “University Presidents — Speak Out! Where are their voices on the major issues of the day?” At a minimum I hope every college and university president reads this article- applies to us all. The article contains a number of biting quotes:

Sherman: “Think about it: When was the last time a college or university president produced an edgy piece of commentary, or took a daring stand on a contentious matter?”

Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus (2010): “Once upon a time, university leaders were seen as sculptors of society.” Now they “are chiefly technocrats, agile climbers who reach the top without making too many enemies or mistakes.”

Jonathan Cole (2009): “Presidents have done a very, very poor job of using the bully pulpit for higher education… There aren’t many presidents who are fighting against the powers that be.”

Theodore Hesburgh (2001): “We cannot urge students to have the courage to speak out unless we are willing to do so ourselves.”

So, if you know an HBCU president, send them this article and ask them to join me in writing an editorial this year. Look, in education everyone thinks they are an expert. People write all the time about HBCUs who have never held any meaningful leadership position in one, or engaged in serious study.

We’re the experts and we have to see framing HBCUs accurately as part of our job (among a million other things I know). But if everyone does just one we would begin to develop a body of work based on those doing the work.

But as leaders of some of the foundational institutions in our communities, one of the pillars described by former Morehouse President Robert Franklin in the text, “Crisis In The Village,” this is our obligation. My own board chair recently said in a conversation, “If you’re afraid to speak up working at institutions like these then you’re at the wrong place.”

Our voices are MORE important today as America begins to go into rehab as some of our citizens are addicted to Trump and his trumpism drug (Frank Lucas would call it orange magic I’m sure). We have to say more than this is not who we are as Americans, because this is who we are. We have to say that we have the potential to be so much more and let’s work toward a beloved community.

YOU WILL GET CRITICIZED! I don’t like getting beat up on social media either. Sometimes I write controversial but needed pieces to make sure I haven’t gotten scared to take the beating. When I am afraid to do so, it is time to retire.

As I wrote last year, I still believe Mark 8:36:

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? KJV

or the Message translation

What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?

Nothing. So find something else to be mad at me about.

A number of my colleagues did write last year so allow me to highlight some of their writings:

Dr. Herman Felton, Wiley College

Dr. Roslyn Artis, Benedict College

Dr. Michael Sorrell, Paul Quinn College

Dr. David Thomas, Morehouse College

Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell, Spelman College

Dr. Roderick Smothers, Philander Smith College

Dr. Glenda Glover, Tennessee State University

Dr. Wayne Frederick, Howard University

Dr. Wayne Frederick, Howard University; Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, Morehouse School of Medicine; Dr. David M. Carlisle, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science; Dr. James Hildreth, Meharry Medical College.

Dr. Dwaun Warmack, Claflin University

Dr. David Wilson, Morgan State University

Dr. William Harvey, Hampton University


Written by

7th president of Dillard University

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