Earlier this week, over 100 presidents and chancellors of historically black colleges and universities spent two days meeting with Donald Trump and congressional leaders. Trump made a big deal of the gathering, promising that he would “do more for HBCUs than any president has done before.” Well, the president of one of those schools now realizes that he and his colleagues had been taken for a ride.
John Wilson, Jr. is president of Morehouse College in Atlanta. For most of the time before the Civil Rights Movement, Morehouse was reckoned as the black version of Harvard. In an open letter to the Morehouse community, Wilson revealed just how wide the gulf was between what he and his fellow presidents expected and what they actually got.
Wilson said that when he heard Trump’s boast, he thought that HBCUs were about to get at least $500 million in federal money in this year alone. It was the only way that Trump would have even begun to outdo what Obama did for HBCUs. Under Obama’s watch, HBCUs received $3 billion more than they got during George W. Bush’s last six years. But Wilson thought there was more in store.
“And beside the expectation of new funding, there was advance talk of changes like an aspirational goal of 5 to 10 percent for federal agency funding to HBCUs, a special HBCU innovation fund, large boosts in Pell Grant and Title III funding, and extra tax breaks for those in the private sector who contribute to HBCUs.”
All well and good, right? So you can understand why Wilson and his colleagues had very high hopes when Trump signed the executive order. Watch here.
But what did they get? Well, not much beyond this photo op.
As it turned out, the actual executive order only shifted the HBCU initiative from the Department of Education to the Executive Office of the President. While it was hyped as a sign that Trump was committed to making HBCUs a critical part of Trump’s “urban agenda,” Wilson would have liked to have seen something more tangible. As it stands, he says, there is no real way to “measure the impact” of making the HBCU initiative part of the West Wing “anytime soon, if ever.”
Wilson was also perturbed at Education Secretary Betsy DeVos touting HBCUs as a textbook example of school choice. Wilson decided to give DeVos a mini-lesson on the legacy of HBCUs.
“But HBCUs were not created because the 4 million newly freed blacks were unhappy with the choices they had. They were created because they had no choices at all. That is not just a very important distinction, it is profoundly important. Why? Because, if one does not understand the crippling and extended horrors of slavery, then how can one really understand the subsequent history and struggle of African Americans, or the current necessities and imperatives that grow out of that history and struggle? Slavery has a long shadow and the school choice debate was not at all alive under the menacing loom of that shadow at emancipation!”
It’s hard to believe that DeVos wasn’t aware of how HBCUs were founded in the first place. This can’t be chalked up merely to her lack of experience in education. Unless she slept through her history classes at Holland Christian High School and Calvin College, somewhere down the line she should have heard about it. Seen in this light, Wilson was remarkably kind to her, saying that she merely “missstated” her position.
Add Wilson to the long list of people who have been seduced by Trump hype–only to realize they got played, bigly.
(featured image courtesy Trump’s Facebook)