I got an e-mail last week asking me if I were interested in going to New York to be on the Melissa Harris Perry Show. Uhh, yeah! Easy call for me. The challenge was I was going to be in Orlando Saturday for a 3pm session at a conference so I had to make sure it was possible to get there. I found a flight to get me in right before midnight, and since I wasn't on until 11 am I had plenty of time.
So it was definitely cool and I was happy to be there. I had a chance to talk about privilege, HBCUs, and even hip hop. Definitely up my alley.
Great time today with Dillard students at the President's House. Our biggest crowd in the 4 years we've done these dinners for students who can't go home for Thanksgiving. Always fun being able to do this for students.
Let me begin by thanking the US Department of Education for offering this public forum. My name is Walter Kimbrough and I enthusiastically serve as president of Dillard University, located in New Orleans.
The White House and the Department of Education have been tremendous supporters of Dillard. We’ve practically completed our recovery from Hurricane Katrina, a natural disaster which caused over $400 million in damages. This support has further been seen throughout the HBCU community from the student aid and fiscal responsibility act. President Obama’s goal is to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. The plan to make college more affordable is a key initiative in reaching this goal. But when the idea of a ratings system was introduced, I became concerned. I authored an op-ed for Inside Higher Education on September 30th which attempted to show that a fair rating system has to account for the degree of difficulty each individual institution faces based on the demographics of their student body.
But today let me take a different approach. I understand the rising cost of college. Bloomberg noted that since 1985, when I was a college freshman, the cost of college has risen 500%. My kids are 7 and 5- I get it. But I am frustrated by the notion that nonprofit colleges and universities are responsible for controlling costs when they must do business with entities designed to make lots of money.
How am I supposed to control costs when technology changes frequently and systems we use constantly require new software and training? What do I do when our health insurance company comes to us with a 19% increase because last year they paid out more in coverage than they received? I assure you when they collect more we don’t receive a rebate. And heaven forbid a natural disaster like Katrina. Our property insurance increased from less than $300,000 a year to over $2 million a year. Eight years later we still pay about $1.8 million.
Costs are rising because Americans expect more security after Virginia Tech. Colleges are frequent targets for lawsuits. Higher education is already one of the most highly regulated industries with significant reporting requirements. This new rating would be on top of our already substantive accreditation and assessment expenses.
My boggled mind begins to wander & wonder why no national forums discuss controlling the cost of incarceration. Here we are, in Louisiana, incarceration capital of the United States, the incarceration capital of the world. A 2012 Vera Institute study indicated we spend over $31,000 per inmate annually, or more than EVERYTHNG for a year at Dillard. Louisiana spends enough in incarceration that if applied to Pell grants, would give every Louisiana Pell recipient almost three times as much Pell funding as they receive now.
That same is true when we think about national defense. Every US president when inaugurated swears to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. How can I get poverty on the list of domestic enemies? How can I get unequal access to a quality education on that list?
I re-read the fact sheet on the president’s plan to make college more affordable, subtitled "A better bargain for the middle class." The middle class. An MSNBC story listed ways to know if you’re middle class. These included making between $40- $100K per year (not $250K), since the median family income is $68K. The middle class saves for college, goes on a vacation, own homes, have secure jobs, and have health insurance.
So if this new rating system is focused on the middle class, how will it impact schools like mine? Yes I have middle and upper middle class students. But our average family income is about $31,500, less than half the national median family income. 78% of my students receive the Pell grant, one of the highest campus percentages in the nation. If the original idea does not even acknowledge my campus, how can I expect it not to be harmful? Higher education is being told do more with less. But when you already charge half of the national average for private colleges, with a small endowment and lots of high need students, you’re essentially telling me to do more - with nothing.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Without considering all of these factors, it is clear what road we’re on. Lots of smart and well-meaning people will work on this rating system, but recent history shows me that this group will not be diverse and inclusive enough to catch blind spots, like the recent Parent PLUS loan fiasco, and there will be collateral damage.
My suggestion today is that if it is absolutely necessary for a rating system (and I remain skeptical) the widest, most diverse group would develop it to attempt to avoid unintended consequences I’ve outlined.
But my prayer is that we properly resource education, like we eagerly do prisons, instead of continuing to look for discount education. Sure, we can do education cheaper. But it will be cheap which means in the long run, will be more expensive.
Congratulations to senior Nicole Tinson who won a scholarship from the HOPE Scholarship Initiative (http://www.thehopescholarship.org/). The organization works to raise money and has a special emphasis on HBCUs.
This past weekend we hosted the members of the Beta Phi chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity as they celebrated their 75th anniversary. There were social events, a service project, and a formal banquet. The national president is chapter and Dillard alumnus Mark Tillman '89.
As a part of their weekend, they worked to raise money to endow a scholarship at Dillard. This comes on the heels of Delta Sigma Theta giving $75,000 for the SAFE fund targeting students needing money to stay in school. However no Greek organization at Dillard has an endowment.
Their goal was $25,000 which was raised (actually more than that). Their plans are to continue to add to the fund so that the scholarship given will grow annually. My goal is for every Greek organization at Dillard to endow a scholarship as well.
Congrats to our Athletic Director, Kiki Baker Barnes, who was named by Gambit Magazine as one of their 40 Under 40. Kiki is working on her doctorate at the University of New Orleans (I am on her committee), and her study is very interesting. Can't wait until she gets it done.
The second Brain Food lecture of the year was Jim Wallis of the group Sojourners. This spring he published a book entitled, "On God's Side." I was reading it during the government shut down and the book actually described what was happening. It was very prophetic. We spent 16 days talking about winners and losers versus governing for the people. So Wallis led a discussion about how we focus on the neediest in our society.
My favorite part of the lecture was when Wallis indicated that schools like Dillard should be involved in formation of students, not just providing information. That really spoke to me in the age of MOOCs and on line education. So I need to finish reading this book. His lecture was very thought provoking.
This week I attended a meeting with the officials of the United Church of Christ (UCC). They met with the 6 HBCUs that are affiliated with the church. These schools were founded by the American Missionary Association (AMA), in the late 1860s. The schools are:
It was a great meeting and we look forward to closer ties with the UCC.
We kicked off Brain Food for this academic year, and this year I was able to fully implement my plan to involve new students in running the events. So I have a group of 24 new students, as well as one sophomore who serves as the team director, who worked their first event tonight. Two spoke on the program and another served as the personal assistant for our guest.
I can't wait to watch them progress through their Dillard years.
It's almost time for the 2013 UNCF Walk/Run at Audubon Park, on Saturday, October 5th. Last year was my first year, and based on this picture, I was STRUGGLING! Trying to cut down on my time this year, and I am in much better shape (I hope).
There is still time to get a team. Please see the link below and participate in this event that raises funds for UNCF and its New Orleans institutions, Dillard & Xavier.
After a year's hiatus (since I really needed to learn Dillard), I have resumed teaching a freshman orientation seminar. These are always important courses because they help students transition from high school students to college students. As our faculty staff institute speaker Dr. Diane Dean reminded us, they are still high school students- just on campus.
Here at Dillard (and the same was true at Albany State and Philander Smith), there is a weekly convocation or chapel experience. Our first this year featured Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus. He was in town commemorating Hurricane Katrina which hit 8 years ago today. Just this past Saturday he was a speaker at the March on Washington. So when he let me know he wanted t come to Dillard today, I was elated.
So our students had a powerful experience today and he will be back for more engagement.
We kicked of our academic year officially on August 14th with our faculty-staff institute. Our keynote for day one was Dr. Diane Dean, co author of Generation on a Tightrope. She painted a clear picture of today's student, and how we have to change our ways to meet their educational years. This group is the first generation of Digital Natives. While they are tech savvy, they have weak social skills. One key quote from Dr. Dean was "students are essentially alone, together."
Our day 2 speaker was Dr. Charlie Nelms, past chancellor of North Carolina Central University. He challenged us to see students as more than test scores, and that we have to move them toward their goals. We talked about surrounding them in a network (like the Verizon commercial) to support them through the process.
We also had lots of nuts and bolts sessions which helped refresh and orient faculty and staff, we recognized all persons working at Dillard in excess of 25 years.
Late Sunday night we welcomed 25 Brazilian teachers of English. We have a
partnership with the Brazilian Government called the Professional Development Program for Teachers of English Language in the US (PDPI). These K-12 teachers come from all across the country and will spend 6 weeks here improving their English.
The teachers are working to strengthen their English as well as learn new teaching techniques. Dillard is the only HBCU serving as a host for this program
The Dillard tradition is for graduates to walk down the Avenue of Oaks. They look forward to this day for their entire career. Well, this year it rained- hard and for days. So we had to decide to find a new location, one indoors that would seat everyone. So we moved to the UNO arena where we had about 3,700 attend. So despite the initial disappointment, the crowd made the graduates forget about the change, as did our powerful speaker, Jeff Johnson. He reminded them that walking down the avenue was not most important, but where they go after Dillard.
I enjoyed my first commencement, and realized that I knew a good number of the graduates. This is simply one of the best days of the year when you talk to families of students and you can see their joy.
We had a great commencement weekend. It started with the production of Dreamgirls. Simply outstanding!
Last Friday night was the baccalaureate service. Due to rain it was held inside. As you can see, we had a full house to hear our preacher, Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, senior pastor, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. His title was "Nothing to Lose" from II Kings 7: 3-9.
He challenged us not to be comfortable as captives suffering from self-imposed disenfranchisement, but go into the communities to be a blessing for others. Dr. Moss had us on our feet, challenging us not to be afraid and bless our communities. It was the right message at the right time.
Last night we hosted a tremendous pre-commencement production of Dreamgirls. It was awesome! That performance clearly verified that we deserved the Big Easy Award for Best University Production, and most recently nominated for Best Fine Arts program for the 2013 HBCU Awards.
The packed house witnessed perfection. I mean, I really can't adequately describe how great it was. Hats off to Professor Cortheal Clark who leads our theater program.
We're down to the last week of the academic year. On Monday we had the senior awards. A range of awards were made, including departmental as well as top honors.
I also reinstituted the best all-around award, now named for Dr. William Sutton '53. The first 2 recipients were named Monday. Rachel Williams from Baton Rouge is also the salutatorian with a 4.0. She will be enrolling in Vanderbilt this fall for graduate school.
The second is Jerome Bailey from Houston, who will be attending Columbia University to study journalism. Both of these students were involved in a wide array of activities as well as maintained strong academic performance. Each received a medallion as well as $1,000.
This week I invited a group of exceptional seniors to give us feedback on their Dillard experience. We do lots of surveying on campus,but I find it good to do qualitative surveying as well. Simply asking open ended questions can be extremely useful, and we received geat feedback.
This group isvery impressive, and they gave us not only suggestions for improvement but also what we've done well.
Tonight we kicked off BRAIN FOOD: The Dillard University President's Lecture Series.Over 400 people came out for the start of regular lectures on campus, and I was exited to host them. Special thanks to Harrah's for providing lodging during the series.
As always, Michael Eric Dyson shuts it down. Tonight he talked about our history of oppressing groups in this nation, and how African Americans unfortunately have done the same. So he challenged us to fight for justice for people regardless of race, class, gender or sexual orientation. It was good stuff!
BRAIN FOOD will resume in September. Hope you'll come out.
On the way back from the Bleu Pride Rising Tour from Los Angeles, I bumped into a former Albany State Unuiversity student who is a bodyguard. He introduced me to his client...
... K Michelle. Some of you know her from Love and Hip Hop. Found out she is a FAMU grad and about to do a college tour. Maybe she'll swing through Dillard?
So I then go to my gate and get on the plane. After a few minutes I look up at the person about to sit next to me, and it was Lisa Leslie. Through conversation I learn that her niece is a Dillard student and plays for our women's basketball team. So it wasn't a surprise when our AD sent me a note saying she was on campus with the team today.
She gave them some great pointers after watching them practice. Definitely a great experience for our students.
Recently the New Orleans UNCF office hosted the Ball in the City, sponsored by Mr. & Mrs. Alden McDonald of Liberty Bank. The event is a fundraiser for UNCF, and the two member institutions here- Dillard and Xavier.
Me and Dr. Norman Francis
We were joined by Dr. Michael Lomax, President of UNCF, and Mr. Maurice Jenkins, VP for Advancement. Entertainment was provided by Chante Moore and Zapp.