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Why America Needs Its HBCUs

Then when you put it in context of where that funding is now: We have the largest endowment of all HBCUs at $750 million. The institutions that we’re competing with for students are in the Ivy League, and you’ve got Ivy League schools with endowments between $20 billion and $40 billion. If they take 5 percent of their endowment and put it into operating expenses, which is what most of our endowments do, they will be spending $2 billion. With $2 billion dollars, you run my institution with $750 million of operating revenue; you double my endowment with another $750 million; and the other $500 million is gravy; you probably build five buildings. That’s just to put it into context, what spending 5 percent of their endowment in one year would do to Howard, and Howard is at the extreme in terms of financial resources of all the HBCUs. It is a danger to the national interest to not invest in these institutions.

Harris: Let’s switch gears and talk about the town/gown relationship. Howard is in an interesting position where, as D.C. gentrifies, you still have this legacy institution there. How do you manage that relationship as the area around Howard gentrifies?

Frederick: When I became president, I had a meeting with the [Advisory Neighborhood commissioners], the faculty, students, and staff of Howard in the boardroom of the university. I did that every month to make sure everyone was educated about why this 150-year-old institution was there in the first place. Sometimes in our society we just assume that people are going to move into this city, move into this neighborhood, see this university there, and just assume great things. And that’s just not the society we live in. Most of those people would move, take the train, and never even walk on that campus or pick up the news and figure out that this place has produced more black physicians than any other place in the country. So you really have to have an interaction; that’s one.

Then I think we need to look at some of the gentrification differently. I’ve recently been in a discussion with the city about potentially moving Howard University’s hospital to the St. Elizabeth’s campus, and building out our health-sciences complex with the four health sciences—nursing, pharmacy, medicine, and dentistry—around there. That way, you put 1,100 to 1,200 African Americans there who can interact; it could create jobs for the people in that neighborhood. You have 170,000 citizens there and you have no acute-care hospital where a woman can deliver a baby. You have two grocery stores.

We talk about gentrification, but the subplot there is a racial issue, and we unfortunately leave that elephant in the room and talk around it by putting the word gentrification around that elephant. But the truth of the matter is, we should be looking at [the question of]: How do we empower people in that neighborhood so that they can raise their income levels and raise their quality of life?

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