Howard University, despite its prestige, is struggling like many other Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Last year the school announced it would make 200 cuts to its staff and recently cut another 84 staff positions.
Few at Howard are happy about this. But the university claims the job cuts are part of a restructuring plan started to make sure the 148-year-old survives.
Howard and other HBCUs are suffering for various reasons: increased competitiveness from rival institutions, shifting demographics, financial pressures from the recession, cuts in federal allocation, cuts to Pell Grants, as well as the drop in Black wealth by 30 percent between 2010 and 2013.
According to the Washington Business Journal, Howard had a $44 million debt for fiscal year 2014. Thus, the layoffs.
Still, some say the cuts are harsh. In fact, poet and literary activist E. Ethelbert Miller was among the fired. His firing has angered not only students, colleagues, protégés but the literary community worldwide.
According to Miller, 64, in an interview with the Washington Informer, he had not been told directly that he was fired even after the recent cuts were announced. But on April 17, Miller cleared out his office.
“I’ve had my boxes packed for a couple of years,” said Miller. “The reasons for cuts are vague. I want to see what the ages (of those let go) are, where they were (in the system). This could be harming the infrastructure of the university. They have consultants just looking at numbers. I understand if you’re the president this is a tough part of the job.”
Although Miller says he is not upset at the university over his firing; but he is upset at his severance package. Miller, who served as director of the Afro-American Studies Resource Center at Howard University, had been with Howard for 40 years.
Miller says there are deeper problems that plague Howard, “The university doesn’t want to be honest with itself. I’ve seen the corruption and mismanagement. This is a sacred trust, not a job. I looked at the thousands of hours of sick leave. I lost that. They’re giving you one week for every year that you work. This is the chicken coming home to roost. Time for me to retire, and there are no eggs for Bert. They want me to go quietly. I’m not angry; I know my worth.”
MadameNoire reached out to Howard for comment on this story and the situation at the school overall and haven’t received a response. If we receive a response, we’ll update this story.
Update: We received a copy of a statement from Howard’s President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, dated April 2. In part, the statement reads:
…To continue our 148-year legacy of providing students with a unique, culturally- and globally diverse academic experience, as well as serve as a world-class research institution and employer of choice in our nation’s Capital, the University must remain financially strong.
To meet these high standards and to serve the needs of our primary customers – our students – the decision has been made to eliminate 84 staff positions from the University, effective Thursday, April 2, 2015. The men and women directly impacted by these personnel decisions have been notified individually by their manager.
…To assist displaced employees, they have been offered a severance package, an extension of their insurance and health care benefits, outplacement assistance and other information resources, based on individual eligibility.
The decision to reduce staff is never an easy one. Please know that University leadership carefully evaluated a variety of options before concluding that eliminating these positions was necessary to ensure long-term financial stability for the University.