Sunday, May 22, 2016

HBCU Presidents: Prince's New Power Generation

Yesterday I spent the day with a unique group of HBCU presidents. We are generally early 50s and younger, have children under 18, maintain an active social media presence, and have working spouses. Two years ago I noticed that there was a shift happening in the HBCU presidency. From 2004 to 2014, about 15 new HBCU presidencies were given to people under 50, approximately twice as many as there were from 1994 to 2004.

These younger presidents were also beginning in a social media era, with Facebook starting in 2004, Twitter in 2006, and Instagram in 2010. So it made sense for us to have an informal network of peers to discuss issues from family balance, to being seen sometimes as the kids in higher ed leadership, as well as the issues that all presidents face. Our initial meeting was a dinner during the HBCU Week conference in September of 2014 and the idea was to do a one day summer retreat, which we held in New Orleans last summer. We had a dinner as well this past September, and our retreat yesterday.

Currently, 22 of the 78 four year HBCUs are led by presidents who are in their early 50s or younger, so I think it is fair to say we have a movement. Just in the past 2 weeks two younger presidents were named at West Virginia State and Texas Southern Universities. So our group has great potential in helping to shift the narrative about HBCUs.

Yesterday we were hosted by Florida Memorial University led by President Roslyn Clark Artis. Seven presidents attended, as well as Dr. Lorenzo Esters from USA Funds which sponsored our summer meeting this year. A lot of the work that USA Funds is doing is important for HBCUs, and we actually have an opportunity to lead in efforts to improve student success.

I'm really excited about the networking and support that occurs during the year with this group. We generally have had about 12-15 people attend the fall dinner, and hope to have the summer meeting grow as well.

I want people to know that HBCU presidents are working together to leverage collective ideas and initiatives to strengthen our sector. Younger presidents have an opportunity to impact this sector for several decades, and we're committed to work collectively to change not only the narrative but the reality of HBCUs.

The Prez

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Dr. Cecil Wayne Cone (1937 - 2016)

I just learned yesterday of the passing of Dr. Cecil Wayne Cone. I met Dr. Cone when I was president of Philander Smith College as he was an alum. He is the brother of Dr. James Cone, father of Black liberation theology. Cecil Cone was a theologian in his own right, including author of "Identity Crisis in Black Theology."

I heard him preach a couple of times. One of the times he used the topic, "The Cross, the Lynching Tree, and the Electric Chair." Talk about a sermon on justice starting with Jesus, going through slavery and Jim Crow and then today's prison industrial complex. He also had a pendant that incorporated all three elements.

Dr. Cone was a past president of Edward Waters College, so maybe that was one reason we connected (as well as being Alphas). But he always sent me a letter every December with a sizeable gift to the college- without fail.

Dr. Cecil Cone was one of the legends of Philander Smith College. I hope current students will learn about his legacy.

The Prez

Friday, April 1, 2016

Taylor Bell, Hip Hop and Ethics

One of the assignments of my class, Hip Hop, Sex, Gender and Ethical Behavior, is the writing of an op ed. We focused this semester on how lyrics are being used in court cases against rappers. We had a special Skype lecture from Dr. Erik Nielson of Richmond. He was awesome.

We spent time discussing the case of Taylor Bell, a high school student in Mississippi who was disciplined for rap lyrics. I am not sure how many people knew about the case but recently the Supreme Court declined to hear it. I wrote a piece of this case that I want to share (showing my class that I also did the assignment I asked them to do). But they did a great job with their editorials.

The Prez

Taylor Bell, Hip Hop, and Ethics

It was quite common for college presidents in the 18th and 19th centuries to teach a course, usually on ethics. As a 21st century president, I like teaching ethics too, but to make the course relevant today, my class is called “Hip Hop, Sex, Gender, and Ethical Behavior.”

We just completed looking at hip hop and the law, and this year had a chance to follow the Taylor Bell case from Itawamba County, Mississippi. Recently, the Supreme Court denied the appeal to hear Bell’s case. As you may know, Bell was the high school student who made a rap song about alleged sexual harassment by coaches. The nature of the lyrics, which included profanity and allusions to violence, caused Bell to be suspended and spend several weeks in an alternative school.

One of our assignments was to look at some of hip hop’s biggest stars who have had legal issues, and argue the ethics of using their lyrics in court. After having a guest lecture from Dr. Erik Nielson who penned an amicus brief with several hip hop stars, we engaged in debate.

As I listened to my students and thought about the Bell case, I was even more convinced that using Bell’s lyrics to suspend him was wrong. First, there was never an argument made about Bell’s character. In legal cases where rap lyrics have been presented as evidence of character or past behavior, there was never a case made that Bell had discipline issues, arrests, or violent incidents. So the assertion by coaches that they “feared” for their safety seems baseless. Ice-T rapped about being a “Cop Killer,” but never arrested for threatening the police, and in fact, has played a detective for over a decade.

Bell’s art was inspired by life; his life never imitated his art.

Second, the character of the school board is questionable. This is the same school district in 2010 that attempted to cancel a prom to prevent lesbian student from bringing her girlfriend. They were sued, and lost. My guess is that the shenanigans surrounding this event, including the staging of a “fake prom” for the student in question to attend, one that also happened to host the 2 disabled students, shows a penchant for discrimination. It would have been great had someone filed ADA charges as well for excluding disabled students.

The final point is that this case shows how the school board marginalizes female students. The news these days is full of stories of teachers having inappropriate and sometimes illegal sexual engagement with students. In fact, in 2009 an Itawamba high school coach was arrested (and fired) for sending sexually explicit material to a student via text. The board never denied or in fact expressed concern about the allegations. Their response was simply the lyrics were vulgar and threatening, and that Bell should have presented his concerns another way.

Higher education is scrutinized for Title IV violations, particularly the lack of investigation. The law does not require allegations to be presented in any particular form. Once the board was aware of the allegations, they had a duty to investigate. I have not been able to determine if this was done. I would encourage interested persons to file a Freedom of Information Act request for their board minutes to determine if this was done, because if not, they have violated the law, something that Bell never did. And given the fact they have had a documented Title IX violation from 2009, can the school board show they have implemented training for all employees to prevent allegations like these?

I understand the need for order in high school, and agree the song caused a disruption. But the disruption was not due to violent lyrics; it was a “here we go again” moment with coaches and female students. The question is would Bell have been disciplined if no violence or profanity were used in his song?

In the end, the real tragedy is that they missed a teachable moment. Administrators of the school district took the lazy way out- they wielded power to punish. Problem solved. And yet they could have engaged all students in discussions about what free speech is and is not, and what limits might apply and in what cases.

But most of the education is needed for the administrators. With some estimating that white are 70% of hip hop consumers, the actions of the school board show the consequences of a generation gap and lack of cultural competence. The irony is that hip hop is the best vehicle to educate both groups in the areas where they need more information.

This is what we do in my class, teach students how to be ethical, critical thinkers that can tackle issues like this and help provide greater meaning for all. Seems like the Itawamba County leaders need to enroll next fall.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Week ending March 19

Spring break at Dillard but lots going on during this Lenten season.

On Monday I was a featured speaker for the NASPA conference in Indianapolis. So for back to back weeks I had a chance to speak at the 2 major student affairs conferences- this was a great honor.

While I was traveling my friend Dee-1 came by Dillard to talk to students about student loan debt. He has the hottest viral video right now, "Sallie Mae Back," about paying back those student loans! One of the things people don't know is that if they default on their loan the institution gets dinged for it. Too many defaulters jeopardizes the school (which I don't think is fair- no one punishes car dealers when buyers default. But I guess they can always reclaim the car...)

Our men's basketball team had a great run this year. We won 22 games this year- more than the past 5 years combined. We won our conference tournament, and our first round NAIA game. So not bad. But with no seniors, expectations are high for next year. We won't sneak up on anyone anymore...

Students had some spring break experiences. Waiting to get pictures from a social justice trip, but some pre-law students heard closing arguments in Judge Reese's court. We are launching a mock trial team and Judge Reese is our coach (BIG COUP!)

And our pre-law advisor took some students with her on Friday night as she was the speaker for the Loyola Black Law Student Association dinner.

Finally, our Louisiana UMC bishop, Cynthia Harvey, spoke at chapel tonight. Really good message about this time from Palm Sunday to Easter. Great quote: "I'm not called to institutional preservation. I'm called to transform the world."

Getting ready for a new week, with the highlight being Tuesday's Honors Day Convocation (always one of my favorite events each year).

The Prez

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Week Ending March 12, 2016

Very busy week at DU and for me. Yesterday I had a chance to do a Google hangout with The Links, Inc. Southern area on the state of HBCUs. Great conversation that is posted on You Tube.

Our local UNCF Mayor's masked ball was last night. Dr. Michael Lomax, president of UNCF (and the 5th president of Dillard) was on hand for a record breaking $1.7M raised (and counting).

On Thursday for our Freshman convocation Shaun King, activist and writer, spoke with our students about being engaged in justice. He did convocation presentation, lunch, then open discussion. I know it was good because he was to meet with the afternoon group for only an hour and he went over 90 minutes with them (so I gave up my time!) He'll be coming back.

Mara Brock Akil, creator of the popular BET series "Being Mary Jane" spoke for Brain Food on Tuesday. What a great role model for students (for us all), and she gave great advice about how to place yourself in a position to chase your dreams.

And of course, last Sunday. We went into Xavier's house, and on their floor cut down the nets as the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference champions! Now on to the NAIA tournament which for us starts Thursday.

The Prez

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