West to Princeton. Why Not West to Howard?
Much of the recent eruption of opinion and reporting on Cornel West and his decision to leave Harvard for Princeton left me wondering: What if one of the most high profile African American scholars in the world chose to leave an Ivy League school for an Historically Black Institution (HBI)? What if West would have left Harvard for Howard? Or, what if Howard, or a school like it, had even been mentioned in the where-will-West-end-up stories? The sad fact is, at no time during this period was an HBI discussed in any way as a potential stop for the West Express.
I suspect that there are numerous reasons why HBI's were not in the mix, some legitimate, some less so. The bottom line is probably money, which is fine by me. Unfortunately, the money issue does not portend well for HBI's in the marketplace for African American scholars. Rarely do African American scholars at White institutions consider moves to HBI's. Moreover, some of the most talented African American scholars are leaving HBI's at a rapid pace for administrative positions or faculty posts at majority institutions that will pay more, with more reasonable work loads. Many of those who haven't left yet are open to offers while newly minted African American Ph.D.'s are hesitant to enter the academy at an HBI. As a result, African American students are losing the opportunity to learn from some of the most talented minds in academia.
The pay issue is particularly important. As high profile African American scholars leave HBI's for White institutions, the "losing" school tends to sing the "we have no money to compete" blues. But how real is that? Well, if alumni giving rates (AGR) are the standard, then the answer is: very real. HBI's are in serious trouble in the competition for talented young African American scholars in particular. But what do alumni giving rates have to do with it? Alumni giving rates are a direct gauge of what graduates think of the institution from which they emerged. Consequently, the better a graduate feels, the more likely he, or she, is to give regularly. That provides more money to the institution, and puts it in a better position to recruit and retain talented African American faculty and better educate its students.
According to 2001 data from U.S. News and World Report, graduates of some of the largest and best known HBI's are poor givers compared to alumni of White institutions. According to data compiled by the Report, the rate of alumni giving at the top ten White institutions far outpace that of HBI's.
The top ten majority White institutions, in terms of its AGR are: Amherst (68%); Centre College (68%); Princeton University (66%); Williams College (60%); Carleton College (58%); Swarthmore College (56%); Bowdoin College (55%); Washington and Lee University (54%); Davidson College (53%), and Haverford (52%). Other notable majority institutions include: Yale (49%); Harvard (47%); Duke (45%); Brown (43%); University of Pennsylvania (40%); Wake Forest (38%); Stanford (37%); Brandeis (35%); Columbia (32%); Northwestern (29%); and University of Virginia (29%).
Conversely, the top ten HBI alumni giving rates are: Morris College (59%); Alabama A&M (43%); Clafflin College (37%); Morehouse College (26%); Fisk University (24%); Bethune-Cookman College (23%); Johnson C. Smith University (23%); Benedict College (19%); Philander Smith College (19%); and Livingstone College (16%). Notable HBI's include: Spelman (15%); Dillard (14%); Hampton (11%); Howard (9%); Lincoln of Pennsylvania (12%); Xavier (12%); St. Augustine's (12%); St. Paul's (12%); Barber-Scotia (10%); Albany State (11%); Coppin State (10%); and Delaware State (9%).
I can hear you from here: "But, White's have more money that Blacks." True. But, I'm not talking about the total amount of giving, but the rate of giving. And almost every graduate can give something. It's time for more African American graduates of HBI's to dig into their wallets and give something to the schools from which they graduated. I'm not asking for people to mortgage their homes, or put off buying the car of their dreams. I am asking them to consider the following: if you want high quality African American scholars on the faculty of your alma mater when your child gets there, then understand that it will cost. When you consider the alumni giving rates of majority institutions and HBI's, it's no wonder the Howard's of the world aren't keeping up. Increased alumni giving can help change that, and put some HBI's in the conversation when the Cornel West's of the world consider their next moves.
I must go now. As a graduate of Hampton and Howard–and one who, admittedly, hasn't always given like he should–I have checks to write.
© Michael K. Fauntroy, Ph.D.
May 30, 2002
Race and American Culture •