Op/Ed: Morgan State President Dr. David Wilson: Follow-up on White House Meeting

(BALTIMORE – March 2, 2017) -Follow-up on the White House Meeting,March 1, 2017:

Dear Morgan Family and Friends:

I wrote to you on February 24, 2017, informing you that I would be attending a meeting at the White House on February 27th. I also informed you that I had accepted an invitation to attend the HBCU Fly-In hosted by Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) and Congressman Mark Walker (R-NC) on the following day, February 28th. I am writing to update you on these events.

On Monday morning, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) held a convening meeting at its Washington office for presidents and chancellors of public HBCUs. The purpose was to acquaint us with some of the initiatives of TMCF, and to expose us to presentations on Moody’s bond rating, as well as funding opportunities from other philanthropic entities. There was also time set aside to do some brainstorming regarding an HBCU investment agenda to present to Congress and the White House. We were also informed that the White House had planned a listening session in the afternoon to hear directly from us, and that it had pushed the signing of the Executive Order to Tuesday instead of Monday afternoon.

On Monday afternoon, I accompanied approximately 70-80 presidents and chancellors to the White House for what was supposed to be a “listening session”. We initially met in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where Secretary Betsy DeVos of Education, and representatives of many of the other federal agencies had assembled. We were told ahead of time that several of us would each be given 90 seconds to speak, and that the officials of the federal agencies were there to listen to what we had to say. However, after arriving at the Eisenhower Building, we were informed that we were going to visit the President in the Oval Office. Given the amount of time it took to get from one building to the other and back again, coupled with the remarks made by the Vice President, and the Secretary of Education, much of the “listening time” had expired. The remaining time for listening amounted to a total of about 15 minutes. Each president was given one minute, and only five or so presidents were heard, in alphabetical order. I did not speak in that setting.

Prior to my accepting the invitation, I was informed that leaders of the TMCF, National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) and United Negro College Fund (UNCF) had been meeting and providing input to the Trump Administration on the suggested content of a proposed Executive Order. There was great expectation that the Executive Order to be signed by the President would have an aspirational, numerical percentage goal for the federal agencies, such as the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, NASA, etc., to invest in HBCUs. It is in these agencies where the hundreds of billions of dollars are lodged, and we were hoping that five to ten percent of the resources they oversee would be targeted toward HBCU investments. However, as many of you know by now, the Executive Order signed by the President did not include any such goal, and I was disappointed by this omission. The only major change to the Executive Order signed by President Trump from those signed by previous Presidents was the restoration of the White House Initiative on HBCUs to the White House. It had previously been housed in the U.S. Department of Education.

Show Us the Investment

Now that the President has signed the Executive Order indicating continuation of the White House Initiative on HBCUs, we are calling on the White House and on Congress to make major strategic investments in these institutions in order to execute and make the Order meaningful. The presidents and chancellors have coalesced around a plan for what a strategic investment in us could look like. Put succinctly, we are calling on the Administration and Congress to maintain and fully fund those existing federal programs targeting HBCUs, such as, Pell Grants, and Title III, among others. But we are also calling on the President and Congress to appropriate a one-time investment of $25 billion to our institutions. This investment would be allocated to each institution based on an agreed upon formula, such as institutional size and/or mission, and the funds would come to the institution to be used to support initiatives such as scholarships, infrastructure, program enhancement, laboratory enhancement, or facilities. I will certainly push the three associations representing us in Washington (TMCF, UNCF, and NAFEO) to work as quickly as possible with the HBCU presidents and chancellors to produce this plan for Congress and the White House as quickly as possible.

I returned to the campus on Monday night because we were hosting the Black Enterprise BE SMART HBCU Summit and did not return to Washington for the official signing ceremony at the White House on Tuesday, February 28, nor did I participate in the Fly-In activities hosted by Senator Scott and Congressman Walker.

As we develop the overall funding plan to present back to the Trump Administration and to Congress, please know that I will keep you informed and updated.

Please let me know if you have any questions.