The White House’s new head of historically black college initiatives had a “very frank” dialogue Friday at Southern University about the many challenges and self-inflicted problems of the nation’s black higher education institutions.
John Wilson, the new executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, also known as HBCUs, focused his presentation to the Southern University System Board of Supervisors on the many perceptual and operational “shifts” that HBCUs must make.
He particularly referred to correcting years of HBCU leadership and fundraising problems.
Southern Board Chairman Tony Clayton said afterward that he was impressed enough that he wants to speak with Wilson about being a candidate for the Southern presidency.
A day after President Barack Obama visited New Orleans, Wilson in Baton Rouge cited a need for “tough love.” He said some HBCU presidents nationwide have the wrong goals and “some boards are clueless.”
There are 105 undergraduate HBCUs nationally, six of which are in Louisiana and three of which are Southern University schools.
HBCUs are too “tuition dependent,” Wilson said, and they must do a better job increasing their endowment sizes and finding other revenue sources.
“Most of us are stuck in survive,” Wilson said of HBCUs, when he said they should be more centered on thriving.
HBCUs must stop feeling sorry for themselves, he said, and switch their focus from playing violins to trumpets.
“We play the violin too much,” Wilson said. “We think people owe us something.”
Prior to historically white colleges opening their doors to black students in the late 1960s, “We didn’t have to sell ourselves too much,” Wilson said.
“But now we have to compete.” Now, about 75 percent of black undergraduates are in what used to be white colleges, he said.
Before taking over his appointment in July, Wilson worked at prestigious institutions such as George Washington University, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He graduated from both Morehouse College, which is an HBCU, and Harvard.