HBCU scandals don’t die, they multiply like vultures stalking a starving child. Black misleaders prey on Black students and faculty for their own advancement. Pretending they represent autonomous Black institutions, independent values, and cooperative development, they are, on the contrary, an embarrassment in how they wield respectability politics to discipline Black youth for purported future success. These college leaders openly preside over bankrupt educational standards, sexual impropriety, theft of student’s financial aid, repression and misdirection of student activists in pursuit of personal wealth.
The heat is on. The Committee for Reconciliation and Truth at HBCUs (CRTHBCU) has put in a Freedom of Information Act request that the government records of financial monitoring of HBCUs be disclosed. Modibo Kadalie, the facilitator of this independent committee informs us, the federal government has sent a letter and told the appropriate office Marcia Boyd’s MSURSD (the Minority Serving and Under Represented School’s Division) to start disclosing these documents. A major step in the reconciliation process is exposing the ills that continue to plague HBCUs respectively.
Arkansas Baptist College
Richard L. Mays, the Chair of the Board of Trustees at Arkansas Baptist College is reportedly involved in a national scandal. NXIVM is a self-help fraternity, multi-level marketing scheme, that has executive coaching courses – on the surface. In fact, it has been documented as a pyramid scheme that is a front for sex trafficking and a sex cult led by Keith Raniere where women termed “slaves” have been physically branded – nobody says anything in Little Rock. Though his participation has been recorded in the New York Times, Daily Beast, and San Francisco Chronicle (not simply in right wing blogs who resent his long-term connection to the Clintons). This scandal has come to the public’s attention again recently because of the role of a Seagram’s heiresses Clare and Sara Bronfman, and “Smallville” actress Alison Mack.
Mays is the same man who has a record of multiple real estate schemes, campaign finance scandals, and selling Black prisoner’s contaminated blood for profit. Mays appointed to interim president former Black FBI agent Regina Favors who served during the COINTELPRO repression of the Black freedom movement from 1965-1968. This was denounced by the Little Rock community, but she was elevated anyway. The Higher Learning Commission, (HLC) the accrediting body of Arkansas Baptist College, has not taken the accreditation away from the worst performing HBCU in the country in terms of graduation rates by any standard after numerous on-site visits. The HLC is in regular dialogue with Marcia Boyd’s MSURSD at the Department of Education. How can HBCUs be reformed if the worst one is not sanctioned and shut down for reform by those that monitor it?
Fort Valley State
In Georgia, two people were arrested of a team of seven prominent high-level school administrators at Fort Valley State for running a prostitution ring and battering a teen girl. The initial details about the multiple accused individuals left many speechless: a mortician who works part time as a county commissioner; an assistant principal; a city manager; and former legal counsel for the university. The executive administrator to the college president, Alecia Johnson, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., the oldest Black sorority, was charged with running a prostitution ring or pimping female students out so they could pay to join the organization. She is also charged with conspiring to steal student’s financial aid. It is said she arranged sexual encounters with male and female students who were paid from 2013-2017. Johnson’s attorney argued the case against her may not be strong for she only faces misdemeanor charges and has argued if there is a madam, who is the madam? Legally while pimping and pandering is a felony in most places, supervising those who sell their body for money is a misdemeanor. So, at Fort Valley, the executive administrator to the college president was a low-level manager of those who did such things. Great defense strategy!
Philander Smith College
The Philander Smith College president, Dr. Roderick Smothers, participated in an interview that gave cause for pause and definitely raised a few eyebrows. Smothers stated that the enrollment has increased at his college in each of the last three years. He did not say that the retention rate of students in the turn to their sophomore year is very poor.
He also expressed that the school has a prized collection of African art received as a donation in 2015. This is true. But according to their website and course catalog, there are no credible Africana Studies courses, no African Art, African History, African Religion courses available over the last two semesters 2018-2019. What is PSC doing with the art? Does PSC really graduate students who can speak intelligently about West and Central Africa? Where are the faculty who have this knowledge?
Smothers actually remarked recently that they are currently trying to recruit students that take seriously reading, writing, and critical thinking. What type of students have been recruited to PSC in the last three years? If they are, as Smother suggests, one of the fastest growing 4-year institutions in the state of Arkansas, when should the reading, writing, and critical thinking begin? Smothers argues “our students began to have positive experiences and recruited their friends to come” but what does this suggest about the experiences previously? Smothers explains recently PSC established a task force to restore the arts and humanities at the school – but Smother says he believes PSC is a liberal arts institution.
HBCU Digest Inveighs Against Morehouse Students
College students at Morehouse College ran Papa John’s pizza off campus for being racist – the chain leader John Schnatter‘s behavior has been a national scandal. In response, HBCU Digest argues that more Black campuses should continue to do business with them and redeem their soul. Papa Johns could allow more people of color on its corporate boards, more Black owned franchises, and teach students earning minimum wages about entrepreneurship. Better yet, Black people with capital should get more, and Black workers who toil for starvation wages should learn their place. This is not the first time HBCU Digest has chided student activism and proposed instead collaboration with white supremacists. They attacked Howard University Students and blamed them for their campus administration’s financial mismanagement. Is this an HBCU tradition? A false pride in protest by elites who then turn around and repress the students and become friends with the oppressors? This is a historical pattern that we are not supposed to know about. HBCUs have always repressed Black student activists and disoriented their initiatives.
Paine College and TRACS
Paine College, an HBCU in Augusta, GA, lost its accreditation from SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) two years ago as a result of financial mismanagement. The college president Dr. Jerry Hardee sued in court, filing a restraining order against SACS – and lost. Afterward Hardee publicly proclaimed though they have another accrediting agency in their back pocket. This new accrediting body is the Dallas based TRACS (Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools).
TRACS also accredits Bob Jones University. Bob Jones is that South Carolina Christian school that didn’t admit Black people until 1971, and more recently stated that Mormons and Catholics are not really Christians, and rejects the theory of evolution as an unworkable hypothesis. All their science teachers are “young-earth creationists.” To be clear, any educational standard can be professionally justified if there is exchange of enough money.
TRACS justified giving accreditation to Paine because of a claim that they have two years of clean audits, balanced budgets and reduction of debt. Hardee while maintaining TRACS is a legitimate accreditor, nevertheless is still strangely looking to restore the college’s relationship with SACS. Paine was managed so poorly from 2012-2017 the number of full-time students went from 894-370. Still, it doesn’t seem like the hustles have come to an end. Yet the Board of Trustees gave President Hardee a unanimous vote of confidence. Hardee says Paine would like to keep both accreditations – for they cover athletic programs under two associations. In reality, they wish to keep both so they can say to whatever a creditor who questions their financial or academic standards “go about your business,” as President Hardee put it. Hardee, sassy shaking his tail feathers, believes he is carrying out a tradition of Black Power whose key allies approve white supremacy.
The Coming Student Uprisings
At Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Florida, students turned their campus upside down and refused to attend classes. They wish for their college administrators to disclose the financial records of a sweetheart real estate deal where a residence hall was contracted to be built for tens of millions of dollars above the market price bankrupting the college. Two who took part in the making the self-aggrandizing deal, the former college president Edison Jackson who was allowed to retire, and another high-ranking administrator, Hakim Lucas, left to be hired as president of Virginia Union, an HBCU. They are now being sued by B-CU. But Hubert Grimes, the interim president and board of trustees continue to stonewall the students.
Bethune-Cookman students have asked the interim college president if the school will be closing shortly and if not, to disclose its financial records. The campus leader would not disclose those records and without proof, says the college will be open for many years to come. Students are alert, and don’t wish to be victimized.
Black students, as embodied by Bethune-Cookman, are on the right track to uncover what will be an explosive pattern of scandal nation-wide. Black students at HBCUs are preparing for the coming risings, consistent with this demand. The students are most certainly reading the CRTHBCU statement. Those interested in Black educational autonomy and the crimes of the empire of capital are reading this same statement across the African world: Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Africa. African colleges and universities are also facing economic and ethical crises and those struggling are in conversation about strategy.
A Black college is not a bloc of capital for nefarious entrepreneurial schemes for Black leaders to get rich or die trying. The pursuit of wealth by private individuals is not a cooperative project of all the social classes in the Black community while hierarchy and domination are sustained. It is under this premise that students at Bethune-Cookman, Morehouse, and Arkansas Baptist College resist being victimized.
When will the Teachers at HBCUs Join the Rebellion?
Recently, Savannah State, an HBCU in Georgia, “let go” 26 of their junior faculty abruptly. The teachers have been blindsided and victimized. The campus administrators say they have to cut $7 million from their budget. In the last three years enrollment has dropped from 5600 to 3400. Why? There have been a series of crimes on campus, both shootings and rapes, and a death of a student. While insurance can compensate the settlements with families, there is no confidence in the campus security, a leader of which was terminated for sexual misconduct. In short, there is a decline in student enrollment at Savannah State because of the campus administration’s mismanagement and a general crisis of public safety. Will the teachers gather and help recognize the reforms necessary and record the corruption and decay that has displaced them by expressing solidarity with the students?
The Latest Diversion: Do HBCUs owe the government or does the government owe HBCUs money?
The latest diversion to keep the HBCU misleaders afloat comes from a misinterpretation of a report by the American Council on Education to create a phony dispute with the federal government. Does the Department of Education owe the HBCUs? This dispute is invented to cover up the stealing from HBCU students and to discredit the CRTHBCU statement. It is a good thing to expand monies allocated to HBCUs after they are reformed and evaluated by ordinary Black people once the financial monitoring records are disclosed.
A common thread of all the economic scandal at HBCUs across the country is the disappearance of student financial aid and its relationship to sweet heart land and building deals, exorbitant and spiraling debt and the brink of bankruptcy for colleges who live off financial aid money for they have no endowments.
A new hustle is being placed forward by Black college presidents and administrators. It is similar to the Caribbean reparations campaign where imperial governments come saying Black misleaders must pay debts, and their reply is, actually, “you owe us.” This is meant to rally the masses with Black pride around conservative Black administrators who never have disturbed the empire of capital.
The new HBCU hustle says that the government has not paid back Perkins loans to HBCUs where previously the federal government forgave student loans for those pursuing teaching, military and police careers under certain circumstances. But what was forgiven was the student debt from these loans. This money was not the property of the HBCUs. Where suggested interpretations of these reports show HBCUs may have lost $3-5 million in revenue each, this is a false reading of the situation.
HBCUs, like all colleges, when they manage financial aid, are supposed to use a formula to account for financial aid that must be returned to the federal government. This aid largely corresponds to student enrollment and student loans/debt. When HBCUs don’t maintain any admission standards, and under the guise of open-admissions, allow any student to attend (without remediation where necessary) in the name of non-discrimination, basically the college is admitting students who a large percentage will drop out between early in the first semester and by the end of the second semester.
Students are not supposed to accrue debt as if they have attended a full two or four years of college if they barely have attended. But HBCUs without an endowment have to rely on these monies to open their doors every semester and so the misleaders can pocket their large salaries, and plunder.
The reason why many small HBCUs notoriously need mentoring from the government, and fail time and again to meet professional standards of monitoring financial aid properly, including using the most up to date computer software, is so the funds can be stolen. With the Department of Education MSURSD division (Marcia Boyd’s office) giving exorbitant amount of years for these colleges to account for missing monies, this is why students are angrily protesting the stealing of their money. It is not just that financial aid monies are lost in real time. Students find themselves in debt for classes and semesters they have never attended, and yet the HBCUs have pocketed their money.
We know these college campuses generally have some very poorly paid teachers and campus workers. But usually the college president, financial chief executive, and cabinet administrators get paid large salaries. On some campuses, the light, internet, and phone bills are not consistently paid. The campus food is often of poor quality. Many campus buildings are antiquated. Many building projects initiated never are completed or paid for in entirety. Meanwhile the average college president at an HBCU lasts around two years, and the Board of Trustees largely stay on.
Towards Reconciliation and Truth
This perennial crisis at HBCUs may teach the next generation of our community how to liberate itself, overcoming the veil of Black faces in high places who say and do nothing that is not to their personal advantage. If HBCU students can figure out how to pursue the education, the political, and economic self-reliance they wish, without getting entrapped by these misleaders, and figure out how they can know power without the Black college presidents, administrators getting the power they desire at their expense through the students being the pawns in their game, the next development in political thought for the entire Black community will likely emerge.
Dominica Dunbar Dessalines may be reached at [email protected]
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