Since recently announcing his retirement, Howard University [HU] President Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick has been vocal about what the university will accomplish prior to his departure, particularly as it relates to upgrading campus amenities, improving student experiences and stabilizing HU’s finances.
During a recent State of the University address, Frederick gave a presentation that attempted to lay to rest concerns about transparency that some students, faculty and alumni have raised in years past. At the end of his biannual address, Frederick did not mince words about what he described as a pathway to achieving long-term goals for the university.
“We are committed to continue to build a university that can stand on its own. It’s a process that takes time and requires all of us to participate,” Frederick said April 14. “Part of my participation is having a listening ear and [for] my team and board of trustees, it’s having a robust plan as we move forward.
During his hour-long presentation, Frederick highlighted HU’s investment of $785 million that would finance the revitalization of facilities and dormitories along with the construction of a new teaching hospital. He also explained how HU’s philanthropic and endowment growth have, in part, been used to cover students’ tuition and secure future faculty salary increases.
Another topic of discussion involved campus safety and ongoing efforts to protect students through partnerships with local and federal law enforcement and other entities.
“The journey and path is not one in which we agree but we must have dialogue,” Frederick said.
“The issues are complex so I’m happy to explain it. Most of these things we’re going to get right. Some we’re not and we’re going to own that. And we’re always going to be committed to fixing those things,” he said.
Federick’s retirement will take place in the summer of 2024 to allow a smooth transition in power. By the time he steps down, Frederick would’ve spent more than 35 years at HU including a decade during which he served as university president. Over the last few years, Frederick, like other university presidents throughout the country, has facilitated university operations amid a pandemic that put into question the future of higher education.
Though HU enjoyed a boost in enrollment at the beginning of the 2021-2022 academic year, students and faculty members raised issues about COVID mitigation and dorm conditions. Since students’ return to in-person learning this year, the campus has been the epicenter of three protests, the most recent of which involved nurses demanding better compensation and safer work conditions.
For some, like one faculty member who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Frederick’s tenuous relationship with community members reaffirmed the vote of no confidence HU’s Faculty Senate gave him and HU’s board of trustees in 2018.
In the months preceding Frederick’s announcement, adjunct and part-time faculty members, in their effort to secure a union contract, threatened to strike before reaching a resolution with attorneys. Just weeks into the academic year, students led a protest that would later become known as the Blackburn Takeover. That, too, ended in a resolution between students and administrators and an agreement by the university to provide adequate housing for students.
Even with the recent wins, the faculty member of less than a decade said HU’s board of trustees has directed Frederick in boosting HU’s economic viability at the expense of resources and important aspects of the HU experience. Even with Frederick’s transition, the faculty member said nothing stands to change.
“A lot of the same top-down patriarchal leadership has continued and that has to do with the board of trustees and how they envision the university,” the faculty member said. “While a lot of people are happy to imagine a new president, we’re generally concerned about the direction the board wants to take HU.”
Meanwhile, an HU sophomore said they wanted to see a Black woman assume the role of president, especially if she takes into consideration the perspectives of students and faculty. One pressing issue the student, who requested anonymity, pointed out involved where they would live next year since HU doesn’t guarantee campus housing for upperclassmen.
“It’s inevitable for every middle-class junior or senior to expect food or financial insecurity,” the student said. “You can apply for housing but your chances are slim. The surrounding area’s kind of expensive. It’s hard for students without free rides who are trying to work and be full-time students. That has been a consistent theme for anyone who’s attended HU.”