It is with great pride that I write to you on the joyous occasion of Howard University’s sesquicentennial celebration.
As I reflect on my journey at the Hilltop, I am reminded of these words that express my sentiments toward Howard University—an institution that has given more to me than I could ever give in return, “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.” spoken by the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 3, 1968 during his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech.
Howard University celebrates, this week, 150 years of excellence in truth and service. These founding principles still guide us today. We are an institution where freedom of thought, choice, and expression are ever-present. The journey of one’s academic pursuit will be tortuous, at times uncomfortable, and certainly never convenient in order to ensure that students and faculty alike gain insights into the variety of experiences of the human condition. The essence of which is engagement, not isolation.
The recent election of Donald Trump has exposed the deep divisions that exist in our country, bringing them into sharp focus. It is no illusion that these divides exist, but the prior presidential elections of Barack Obama might have made them blurry. The current climate in our country has made university campuses instant Polaroid cameras versus the sharply focused digital cameras they should be.
The recently confirmed Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, visited Howard University and met privately with me along with two students and Provost Wutoh subsequently. This was my first time meeting the Secretary, however, like the rest of the country I had the opportunity to learn a lot about her from the confirmation hearings. Secretary DeVos proved to be thoughtful and a good listener. We spoke about Historically Black Colleges and Universities, a federal designation that resulted from the Higher Education Act of 1965, referring to schools started before 1964 and dedicated to the education of “Negroes”. Our conversation traversed the outsize impact these institutions have on diversifying many fields in America. Our Pell grant student population stands at 60% of Howard’s undergraduate population. Despite their financial circumstances, Howard students represent the best and brightest of higher education students in the United States and we have a proud, dedicated faculty leading them. Our alumni are stepping up as well. We are in the midst of a 300% increase in our alumni giving participation rate.
For 150 years, this institution has remained committed to developing scholars and professionals who will drive change, and make significant contributions by creating solutions to contemporary global problems—particularly, disparities impacting the African diaspora. My administration and I look forward to bringing plans to fruition that will alter the way we approach higher education such as offering a three-year degree tract, supporting and enhancing the Howard University Parents’ Association, providing a 10% tuition discount for families with two or more siblings who are enrolled simultaneously, and degree completion options for students who were previously unable to complete their degree requirements. Howard University has and will continue to remain at the forefront of educating the future freedom fighters of our time and answering the call to address the nation’s challenges.
A fundamental support to Howard is in the form of a federal appropriation, and we are one of two non- military institutions in the country that are included in the budget. Some members of the Howard community have suggested that any proposed funding by this Administration should be rejected and considered a compromise to our principles—I disagree. In fact, I find it appropriate that the American Government uses federal funds to support programs and institutions like Howard University that have produced the best of what America has to offer.
It is my hope that as we embark an unpredictable terrain we will do so in a manner that is respectful and open-minded. This doesn’t mean we compromise our values. Rather, it requires us to boldly affirm who we are and what we stand for while committing to real action. This doesn’t mean that we stand idly by and condone misogynistic, xenophobic, or racist rhetoric. Rather, we must remain vigilant and organize accordingly. This doesn’t mean we ignore the anxiety, fear and angst felt by members of our community. Rather, during these times of uncertainty, we must stay informed, lean on one another for support and remain engaged.
James Baldwin noted the urgency required in these eloquent words: “There is never time in the future in which we will work our salvation. The challenge is in the moment; THE TIME IS ALWAYS NOW.”
Excellence in Truth and Service,