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Howard University looks at the challenges and difficult questions about black universities

At one time black colleges are seeing jumps in applications and enrollment – Howard had a 25 percent increase in applicants this year, to almost 21,000 – the sense of crisis speaks of a contradiction that confuses leaders of many black universities: As their institutions grow, they are still burdened by financial problems. And few face more scrutiny than Howard.

"Everyone looks at Howard, especially in the black community," said Amos Jackson III, a junior at the university and president-elect of the student government. "We are the Mecca of African-American learning, of African-American cultural and social interactions, and we establish the premise of how that looks."

The aid scandal came to light when an anonymous publication on the Medium website alleged that school workers had embezzled almost one million dollars in financial aid. The president of the university, Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, soon recognized that, for several years, some employees who had received tuition assistance also received university grants inappropriately. Six were fired.

The revelation was "the straw that broke the camel's back," Jackson said. Protests led by HU Resist, the group behind the list of demands, broke out on campus.

"This was the first mass mobilization of students and shows the power of this generation of students in an HBCU," said Alexis McKenney, Howard student and leader of HU Resist. "That made a great statement."

Federal officials also took note. The week in which the aid scandal was made public, the Department of Education informed Dr. Frederick that he would conduct a comprehensive review of the administration of the university's financial aid, according to current and former officials familiar with the details of the notification. .

The university's report on the financial aid dispute described violations over a six-year period, beginning before Dr. Frederick took office, which involved $ 369,000 in embezzled funds.

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The sit-in in the administration building, which for some on campus recalled previous student occupations in 1968 and 1989, ended on April 6, when Howard issued a statement of commitments that seemed to address many of the students' demands.

The commitments were significant, if they are indefinite. Mr. Jackson, Mrs. McKenney, a fiduciary of the university and Dr. Frederick met on the steps of the administration building to announce them. They included a recommendation to freeze undergraduate enrollment, an extension of time for housing deposits, more students say in administrative appointments, and the creation of working groups to examine mental health and sexual assault services, among other agreements.

the experience, "McKenney said," really highlighted a big gap between the student experience and the board's perception of the custodians about the student experience. "

A student demand was a call to the Dr. Frederick's resignation, which was later rescinded after the session organizers concluded that such an effort would be unproductive.

But shortly after, Dr. Frederick received a vote of distrust from hundreds of members Howard's faculty, a public coup only days after he seemed to have arranged some of his divisions with the student organizers. Last year, the faculty had given him a similar measure of no confidence, which cited the continuing financial problems of the University and its concerns about transparency.

Dr. Frederick also faced criticism weeks before the sit-in, when a student He posted a screenshot of an email he received from him in which he seems to reprimand her after he expressed concern about the housing of the students and the shortage of rooms. "His tone and tenor are inappropriate," he writes in the email. Later, Dr. Frederick apologized, the student said.

"Our president is very good at the books: we've raised lots of money, new bedrooms," Jackson said. "All these great things on the C.E.O. side, but we have to recognize that there is more to that, where you have to have a relationship with the students."

Dr. Frederick, who declined to comment on this article, has received support from key campus groups: the trustees, the alumni association, and the college dean council, speaking on behalf of the principals of the Howard schools and faculties. Some instructors, against the predominant mood of the students, have urged patience with the established order.

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Professor Hogan, who graduated from Howard in 2003, was part of a group of 20 faculty members and staff who signed a letter in support of Dr. Frederick during the sitting. Since then, he had to defend himself against annoying students because of his public support for the president.

"Under the supervision of a president, good things can happen and bad things can happen, and those things can be attributed to the president in ways that he or she might not be responsible," said Professor Hogan.

One of the president's central responsibilities is to collect private donations to supplement the money the university receives from the government. The financial aid scandal occurred when the school was celebrating increases in federal funds, including nearly $ 40 million for a program that supports black universities and $ 10.6 million for academic programs, staffing and Howard's hospital, which has had problems with demands and dismissals in recent years.

The administration of that hospital, together with a large undergraduate university and several professional and graduate schools, has overshadowed Howard with heavy financial burdens. That many of Howard's students come from modest backgrounds and depend on financial aid (the majority of students at historically black colleges and universities rely on Pell grants) only adds to those tensions.

This made the announcement of financial aid even more agonizing misappropriation for students and staff members of Howard, many of whom said that the university often remained a standard-bearer for black universities.

"People feel that Howard can experience these problems, what does that mean, does it mean for other HBCU that they are not as big as Howard, that they do not have the federal allocations that Howard receives from the government?" Said Robert Palmer, associate professor of education at Howard. the university.

Some of those smaller universities have lost their accreditations. Others have been persecuted for the decline in donations from alumni.

"This is the cycle that prevents them from donating again, once they see problems," said Bakari Sibert, a sophomore Howard transferred from Morehouse College, a H.B.C.U. in Atlanta.

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"If there were any reworking of the system, this stigma that HBCU would not be efficient would resolve itself," added Sibert.

Marybeth Gasman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who historically studies black universities, said that Howard's most recent judgments are a repetition of a phenomenon she observed for a long time: that black universities are publicly responsible for their problems and of others in a broader form, most white universities do not.

of this, "he said about the conflicts in Howard," is that if you are in an institution, that is your experience. "You do not know what is happening in other institutions."

External observers, said Professor Gasman, "take one H.B.C.U problem from the university and generalize it."

Despite recent conflicts, there have been waves of optimism in Howard. Student interactions with administrators and subsequent college commitments have encouraged the institution's long-term health faith.

"It's always an inside joke from the Howard family: the new Howard, old Howard, I think this is the turning point of the new Howard, where we can really start a new tradition of student administration," Jackson said. "That's what he's going to do to make us here for another 150 years."

Even in the midst of this month's protests, while participants drank sandwiches for the homeless, registered voters and trustees, the rhythms of academic life endured.

Near the end of the occupation earlier this month, Keneshia N. Grant, assistant professor of political science at Howard, asked her students if they wanted to talk about the protests that happen a few meters away. where they were sitting. They were interested, Professor Grant said, but after 10 minutes they asked to return to a discussion on gentrification. The class was in order.

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