Lawmakers Call on White House to Postpone HBCU Conference After Trump's Charlottesville Response
The White House has no plans to reschedule its conference for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) scheduled for next month, despite calls from lawmakers and other leaders to postpone the event.
Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), slammed the Trump administration in a call with reporters on Monday, noting that nothing has changed since HBCU leaders went to the White House in February.
“They brought all those HBCUs to town. They took a picture in the Oval Office and then they did nothing,” said Richmond. “If you look at President Trump’s budget he has a number of actions in it that actually hurt HBCUs.”
Instead of a conference, Richmond called for “substantive policies” to help HBCUs.
“I don’t think you need a conference in D.C. in order to do that,” Richmond told reporters. Further, he said, “This White House is not serious about improving our HBCUs, our institutions of advancement.”
A White House statement has left HBCU supporters questioning if the president’s support for HBCUs was in fact just a photo op.
President Trump signed an executive order in February establishing a White House Initiative on HBCUs. But despite fanfare surrounding the order and the White House-HBCUs listening sessions (at which there was “very little listening,” according to a subsequent blog post by Dillard University President Walter M. Kimbrough), no progress has been made, and Trump has not yet assigned someone to be in charge of the initiative.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported last month that the Trump administration is struggling to find someone willing to lead the effort. A spokesperson for the White House reportedly told the outlet that there are several finalists in the running for the position.
Meanwhile, Trump’s budget released in March proposed a 13.5 percent budget cut for the Education Department, going from $68.2 billion in 2017 to $59 billion in 2018. HBCUs and the Pell Grant Program were promised no additional funding, and the Pell Grant Program was set to lose its $3.9 billion reserve fund. Various programs that provide funding for students from low-income and disadvantaged backgrounds to attend school were to severe budget cuts or be eliminated entirely.
Johnny Taylor, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, suggested in a letter to White House officials that substantive action be taken rather than hosting a conference, according to HBCU Digest.
“If the event is postponed, we request that the administration use the intervening period to hire an executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs and appointing the membership of the President’s Advisory Board on HBCUs; these appointments are necessary first steps for this administration to show its commitment to advancing the HBCU agenda,” the publication reported the letter as saying.
HBCUs and Pell grants will receive no additional funding, will Pell grants in fact losing their reserve funding entirely.
Citing “recent events” and inaction from the White House regarding HBCUs, Congresswoman Alma Adams (D-N.C.), chairman of the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus Foundation, said in a press release the event should not take place yet:
“Earlier this month, my colleagues and I asked the administration for an update on their progress regarding HBCUs. In February, the President signed an executive order outlining greater investments and additional resources for HBCUs. It has become painstakingly clear that these promises are not being kept. In this current environment, and with zero progress made on any of their priorities, it would be highly unproductive to ask HBCU Presidents to come back to Washington.”
Adams did not explicitly mention Charlottesville in her statement. Following the violent rally that left a 32-year-old counter-protester dead at the hands of a 20-year-old white supremacist, Trump insisted there were “very fine people” on the neo-Nazi side of the rally and described violence “on both sides.”
According to Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, Lezli Baskerville, president and CEO of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, directly addressed Trump’s remarks after Charlottesville in a letter to HBCU leaders.
Baskerville “made it clear that President Trump’s response to the ‘national disgrace that was Charlottesville and the false equivalency he made between the Nazis/white supremacists and those who opposed them’ have many people questioning his competence as president,” the publication reported.
Omarosa Manigault, director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison for the president, confirmed in a statement to BuzzFeed News that the conference would go as planned.
“President Trump’s commitment to the HBCU community remains strong and unwavering,” Manigault told the outlet. “Registration is currently at capacity and we are looking forward to welcoming HBCU presidents, students, and guests.”
“Though Manigault-Newman’s statement indicated that the White House would roll out announcements on the board and advisory committee during the conference, a source advising the White House on HBCUs said he’s talked to ‘multiple people’ in HBCU circles who have privately slammed Trump’s comments with disgust,” BuzzFeed reported.
The conference is scheduled for Sept. 17-19 in Arlington, Va.