By Kaylin Young
Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick sat down in Blackburn Student Centerfor a town hall meeting where he answered questions from students, faculty, and alumni on topics ranging from tuition changes to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ campus visit, Monday, April 17. Questions submitted via email and the town hall was moderated by Dr. Greg Carr, chair of Howard’s Department of Afro-American Studies.
“Betsy DeVos couldn’t wait to surround herself with some black people less than 24 hours after her confirmation,” said Carr as he lightened the crowd before asking if Frederick would have done differently regarding their meeting.
“In retrospect, I would have publicized it,” said Frederick. Frederick disclosed that he was contacted about DeVos’s visit just the day before she came. He made comments about the relevance of maintaining a relationship with the current administration but also spoke to the need for better results in the future. “What we have to do is come up with contemporary solutions for African-American students,” said Frederick.
The questions took a lighter turn, but some in the crowd were not pleased by Frederick’s responses. One of the few students in attendance was freshman political science major, Durmerrick Ross, who was unimpressed by both Frederick and Carr. To Ross, this was just another “event.”
“That was an event. There should not be photographers there. Students should not have to submit questions to an email, but they should be able to get an open mic and dialogue with the students,” Ross said.
A few members of HU Resist openly laughed or loudly commented profanities disagreeing with Frederick’s statements. Ross, who is a part of HU Resist, but was not disruptive at the town hall, knows the solution is not just a discussion.
“He [Frederick] has to do a much better job at listening and creating a space where listening can happen…he [must] respond to student concerns and change the talk into actions,” Ross said.
While Frederick was a source of frustration for students, Carr’s position during the town hall – or lack thereof – was also a disappointment to the few in attendance. Carr knew that students would challenge his approach.
“I absolutely understand that. People respond to the theater of things rather than the substance…but for anyone who thinks I may have let the president off the hook, transcribe the conversation and read it cold. Without the smile, without the jokes,” Carr said.
From the time he was invited to moderate, Carr expected “an open unvarnished discussion about challenges and a vision going forward,” and knew he wanted exact answers out of Frederick. Carr referenced a few times throughout the conversation when he brought up serious subjects with a smile or in between jokes.
As the town hall continued, the questions were directed toward the overall state of the school, rather than Frederick. Questions regarding the selling of various Howard properties came up and Frederick detailed the cycle of selling and maintaining property to create capital for the university. Frederick disclosed that in 2013, a campus survey was taken to determine how much university-wide maintenance would cost. At the time, the cost for deferred maintenance was $750 million. Howard’s endowment was only $500 million.
“We received bonds to build new residence halls instead of renovating the old ones… After the Towers’ renovation is completed, 62-70 percent of beds will be less than 5 years old. That’s the direction we want to head in, with academic buildings as well,” said Frederick.
Sophomore Taylor Rainey said she gained a better understanding of the difficulty surrounding decisions made by Frederick.
“I thought it was appropriate for President Frederick to give context and history on Howard’s monetary situation. By giving his perspective and stating the facts, as a student, I received insight that made his past decisions seem more justified,” said Rainey.
The meeting lasted nearly three hours in an un-air conditioned ballroom, but students and faculty were determined to hear out the president. More faculty than students were in attendance, with nearly 70 percent of the room as Howard employees.
Frederick said, “The goal is not for the conversation to be different. The point is about honesty in our dialogue.” Hopefully, this town hall will lead to more honesty in communication between the president and the Howard community.