1. New Leadership
For a few weeks, I considered beginning this article by calling for a new president. I decided against it. President Sidney Ribeau is a good man. Some of his ideas are good--others, questionable-- he has experience working with institutions in transitional phases. He is patient, sometimes to the point of seeming docile, which is my biggest grievance with him.
We don’t necessarily need a new president. We need a new direction as a university. We need to recognize that the gears of global civilization are spinning faster than ever. Now is the time to act on opportunities, not react to catastrophes.
Howard is in trouble. The problem is simple: we cannot afford our students. As the cost of tuition increases and the Amerikan economy tightens around the neck of Black people, more and more students are not returning to Howard. In response to this trend, the prevailing theory has been to double down on investments (new dorms, academic buildings, health facilities, etc.) so that we can attract the type of students who can afford to go to Howard for four years, i.e. white students, hence, the economic demographic of the student body changes just as quickly as the racial demographic.
Frankly, that is not a sustainable solution for Howard University. We must consider our history and our mission. We cannot offer an education of “exceptional quality” to students who come from historically disenfranchised groups if our only budgetary means for doing so is to raise the cost of tuition. That may be a solution for a predominantly white institution; not Howard.
We need a president that will step up to the plate and tell the Truth. We need him/her to stop defending policies that do not benefit students. Education cannot continue to be a commodity. Education, food and water, shelter, and healthcare must be viewed as human rights if we are to survive as a people. My gut says President Ribeau can do it, but then again, my gut tells me to pick the Vikings on Madden every time I play, and that never ends well.
2. Fire CFO Robert Tarola
The first step in the right direction President Ribeau can take: calling for the resignation of Robert Tarola, Howard University’s Chief Financial Officer. For the past seven years Mr. Tarola and his company have been sucking in over one million dollars per year in compensation for serving as the external auditor of the university. For the past two years he has served as the interim CFO of the university.
Mr. Tarola has proven to be a magnet for negative media attention. Articles of financial mismanagement plagued our institution’s name this summer. This has immeasurable economic implications for a university that is in the process of rebranding itself. He has also failed at his job in a fundamental way.
In 1998 Gary Anderson missed his first field goal of the season in the NFC championship against the Atlanta Falcons. I cried real tears that day. Kickers have one job: successfully kick field goals. Similarly, Mr. Tarola’s job is to manage the finances of the university. I am not an economics or finance major, but it does not make logical sense for an institution to pay bonuses to administrators, furlough professors, raise tuition, cut programs, and cash out on land investments all at the same time...unless you are preparing for a new clientele. These policies stem from the same system that birthed the idea that universities are corporations and students are customers. It is a fundamentally flawed model devoid of the influences of history and economics. This is not how you build strong nations. This isn’t even a good corporation! Bro, you got to go.
3. Fix Student Activities
There are only two things missing from the department of student activities: students and activities.
Students pay $125 towards the student activity fee annually. The money accumulated from this fee is designated to fund everything from intramural sports to student government budgets, homecoming, and The Hilltop. But for the most part, the average student cannot access these funds because they have not heard of these funds. Thus, the only people who have ever submitted proposals were people who knew the committee existed. Let’s just say it helps if your roommate from freshmen year is the current HUSA president.
Last year, I had the opportunity to sit on the Student Activity Fee Allocation Committee. This committee is responsible for the annual allocation of around $425,000.00. According to the HUSA constitution, these meetings are to be public and open to the student body. Last year, however, they took place in a tiny meeting room where Sodexo served little sandwiches and cans of soda to a select group of student “leaders,” myself included.
Why don’t students see this money?
Sometimes they do. The Hilltop. Homecoming. Part of the reason that students don’t see much of this money is because “student leaders” are using it to fund private trips for themselves and their friends. Another reason is because funding often gets locked in the archaic and asinine bureaucracy of Howard’s administration.
I reached out to Mrs. Lennon Jackson, Director of Student Life and Activities, for comment. She referred me to Dr. Barbara Griffin, Vice-President of Student Affairs.
According to Dr. Griffin, the biggest challenge facing the department of student life and activities is attaining “...adequate funding to acquire professional personnel to carry out the university's mission to develop leaders for the local and national communities.”
Considering that Howard is in the midst of massive budgetary shortfalls, we cannot hire more “professionals”. We don’t need more bureaucracy. Soon, they will have a form to fill out to rent air.
The only solution is to clarify the roles and responsibilities of administrators currently on payroll and to diffuse as many responsibilities as possible to student body. Some people are skeptical as to whether or not Howard students can handle such an enormous task. This is a model that has worked at other universities and has been largely successful. More student involvement does two things: firstly, it saves money. Secondly, it provides students with hands-on experiences; the types of experiences that can get jobs, keep jobs, and, most importantly, create jobs.
There is a crippling assumption at Howard that students need assistance from administrators to spend our own money. We do not. We need advice, guidance, support, and encouragement. It is time for a STUDENT to chair the STUDENT activity fee committee, not an administrator on payroll.
Intramural sports, student publications, student government, and the like, would thrive if administrators would know their role and step out of the way. Re-invigorating the undergraduate experience at Howard is imperative for the survival of our institution. But with so many administrator hands in the cookie jar, students are too often left with the crumbs. It is time to claim what is ours as students and it is time for the administration to respect us as a student body.
To my fellow students:
4. Wake Up
There are warships in the Mediterranean Sea called destroyers. They are armed with missiles designed to remove the flesh from human bones with a single flash of fire.
We bought them. You did when you pumped your gas, bought your milk, ordered your new shoes. I did when I rode the bus and picked up a Gatorade before class. We shipped them across the ocean. We aimed them at civilians. People. Mid-joke. Taking their children to school. Sitting at the park.
Bang. That one was for freedom. Bang. That one was for democracy. Blood running through the streets like children. The president is standing at a podium preaching about peace and prosperity. Bang.
Howard University, we must wake up. Our planet is under attack by humans. The life style perpetuated by a global capitalist struggle is not sustainable for the planet we live on. This is about who will have access to food, water, shelter, healthcare, and leisure time to pursue happiness. Not in the context of an “American” society, but a global one. Brazil, India, and China have economies that are moving at a pace that makes the United States economy look stagnant. The problem is -- Earth has enough resources for everyone to have enough, not for everyone to have everything. If countries with massive populations try and compete with America, everyone will lose.
If we want our children to have ground to walk on, air to breathe, and water to drink, we must begin to take seriously the political climate we find ourselves in. The future belongs to the nation of people that can innovate and provide everyone with access to resources without harming the ecosystems and social systems that provide those very resources. Let us strive to create creatively and consciously. Let us build a society in which peace is the only thing aimed at another person, where love fills the air like nerve gas, and where the Truth washes into your shore like a fleet of warships.
Being conscious is not good enough. Wearing your hair in locs and taking pictures of you and your friends at the March on Washington memorial is not going to do anything. In 1963, there was a march for jobs and freedom. In 2013, there was a march for symbolism and apathy.
If we are truly tired of our sons lying dead in the streets or dead in cages, we have to go beyond picket signs. If we are tired of our grandmothers choosing between medication and food, we have to do better than a twitter revolution. We must fight. We must resist with every fiber of our being -- with our dollars, with our talents, our ballots, our bullets, the very breath that fills our lungs.
There was a question on my Facebook timeline: “How do you reform an immoral system?”
You don’t, you abolish it and replace it with something new; something that can provide for the justice and freedom of all people. We must completely divest from a system of oppression and exploitation and invest in a set of social relationships that benefits the whole society. Every dollar counts. Every vote counts. Jericho is going to fall.
I am a product of a liberation theology. I believe that we can find heaven and hell right here on Earth. It is within the capacity of humanity to create and to live in both. Let us dedicate the entirety of our collective efforts to the uplift of the human spirit by any means necessary.