Many Not Enthusiastic About HBCU Presidents Meeting with Trump: ‘It’s Really, Really Bizarre’

More than 85 leaders of HBCUs met with President Donald Trump ahead of Tuesday’s meeting with Republican lawmakers. Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Republican lawmakers are making good on their promise to reach out to leaders of America’s historically Black colleges and universities, even amid sharp criticism from those who remain skeptical of the GOP’s efforts to aid the cash-strapped schools.

President Donald Trump welcomed dozens of HBCU leaders into the Oval Office Monday, Feb. 27, setting the stage for a highly anticipated meeting between Black university leaders and GOP legislators at the Library of Congress on Tuesday. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) are slated to lead discussions among over 85 presidents and chancellors of HBCUs at the gathering, according to The Washington Post.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida also are expected to participate in Tuesday’s meeting, while contested Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will deliver the keynote address.

“[HBCUs have] transformed lives through education and helped to lead our country to a more perfect union,” Vice President Mike Pence told the group, adding the Trump administration was devoted to making sure that historically Black colleges “get the credit they deserve.”

“The president and I admire the contributions of historically Black colleges and universities,” he continued. “Our administration at the president’s direction is working to find new ways to expand your impact so that more students, especially in the underserved communities of this country, have a chance at a quality education.”

In early February, the White House was reportedly in talks to draft an executive order related to HBCUs, seemingly an effort by Trump to one-up former President Barack Obama, whom many argued didn’t do enough to help HBCUs during his time in office. Politico reported that the president could put his stamp of approval on the rumored legislation as soon as Tuesday. Republican leaders said they hope the executive order will be the first step in mending the frayed relationship between Trump and the African-American community.

HBCU leaders slated to attend Tuesday’s meeting include those from Howard University, Florida A&M University, and Fisk University, among others.

The director of university relations at Fisk University told Atlanta Black Star it had no plans to release a statement on the meetings, while officials from Florida A&M and Howard haven’t yet responded to requests for comment.

Though dozens of school leaders agreed to meet with GOP lawmakers, advocates for the historically Black schools remain skeptical of the right-wing leaders’ intentions.

“It is unprecedented,” said Johnny Taylor, president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which supports HBCUs. “It’s really, really bizarre, is the only thing I can say. It’s so counter-intuitive, you can’t make it up.”

“People were really, really suspicious about [the meeting].”

Walter A. Kimbrough, president of Dillard University, issued a statement about the gathering. In it, he revealed that the meeting was initially supposed to be between Black university leaders and education secretary DeVos. Things went left, however, after the HBCU presidents were called into the Oval Office to meet with Trump.

“I’m still processing that entire experience,” Kimbrough wrote. “But, needless to say, that threw the day off and there was very little listening to HBCU presidents [Monday]. We were only given about two minutes each, and that was cut to one minute, so only about seven of maybe 15 or so speakers were given an opportunity today.”

In his would-be statement to DeVos and other Republican leaders, Kimbrough, along with leaders of the United Negro College Fund, hoped to make the case for Trump and his administration to provide better funding for HBCUs. The UNCF asked that Trump, in his executive order, raise the maximum for Pell Grants, restore year-round Pell Grants that would enable students to finish school earlier and graduate with less debt, and abolish time limits for part-time students who may need more than 12 semesters to graduate.

“Pell is a vehicle to prevent hallucinations of opportunity, while helping to fuel HBCUs, engines of social and economic mobility driving families toward the American dream,” Kimbrough wrote.

HBCU leaders will meet with Republican lawmakers on the same day Trump is expected to make his first official address to Congress. It’s still unclear exactly what the outcome of the meeting will be, but some say it’s a step in the right direction.

“It was very empowering to witness so many HBCU leaders from all over the nation assembled in one place to discuss approaches to help us all improve,” Dr. Larry Robinson, interim president of Florida A&M said in a statement provided to Atlanta Black Star.  

“I’m very hopeful that these listening sessions will be followed by bold actions in the nation’s capital to advance our institutions and help us better serve our students around this nation.”

Critics, on the other hand, would beg to differ.


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