March 3, 2017
Jackson State University's interim President Dr. Rod Paige applauded President Donald Trump's executive order in support of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across the country. Trump's order creates a board of advisors on HBCUs that reports to him as well as effectively moves HBCU programs to the executive office instead of the Department of Education.
Paige, a former U.S. Secretary of Education under George W. Bush, said he was encouraged by Trump's executive order.
“HBCUs have played an integral role in providing access to education and to the American dream for minorities for nearly two centuries. We are encouraged by the White House Initiative on HBCUs and look forward to the enhanced visibility and the opportunity to develop strategic partnerships with other agencies," Paige said in a press statement. "Moving the initiative from the Department of Education back to the White House is significant. This gives HBCUs greater access to other departments under the White House umbrella, such as the departments of agriculture, commerce, defense, health and human services, and so many others."
Trump signed the executive order on Feb. 28 the same day that new U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released a statement using HBCUs as a bastion for school choice, a statement which drew ire from politicians and academics alike.
"(HBCUs) started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education. They saw that the system wasn't working, that there was an absence of opportunity, so they took it upon themselves to provide the solution," DeVos' statement said.
"HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish."
DeVos' statement completely ignores the fact that HBCUs were born out of segregationist policies, like Jim Crow laws and state sanctioned segregation that did not allow African American students to attend public schools or universities, or even earlier in some cases as the Washington Post reports, "historically black colleges date to the pre-Civil War era when public policy in parts of the nation barred blacks from education."
Since Trump signed the executive order, some HBCU presidents have taken the opposite approach of Paige. The Root boiled down the essence of some presidents' response to the executive order simply as: "We got played."
The president of Morehouse College wrote that expectations of a president doing more than Barack Obama would have meant increased funding, but as President John Silvanus Wilson Jr. wrote, "...instead of the long-awaited executive order containing or signaling any of those outcomes (increased funding, scholarships etc), the key change is a symbolic shift of the White House HBCU Initiative from the Department of Education to the White House. It is not possible to measure the impact of this gesture anytime soon, if ever."
Wilson Jr. went on to correct DeVos' mis-statement on HBCUs, pointing out that HBCUs were created not "because the 4 million newly freed blacks were unhappy with the choices they had. They were created because they had no choices at all." How Trump's HBCU advisory board will operate or help HBCUs in the future remains to be seen.
"In general, the meetings were a troubling beginning to what must be a productive relationship," Wilson Jr. writes. "Trust that the HBCU community will continue to press for the kind of funding that educational excellence and national competitiveness require!"