To Alums, Students, Parents, and Friends

Dear Alumni, Students, Parents, and Friends,

When asking the question, “Why are HU faculty important?”, you may get a variety of answers.  Many answers sometimes don’t quite capture what the faculty do, and only hint at Howard University’s potential.  If you give me a few minutes, I’d like to describe something a bit daunting in its implications and some of the reasons why I love coming to work at Howard every day.

What do HU faculty do and why are they important to our communities?

By example and practice, many Howard University faculty challenge students to live a life of critical thinking and discovery within a particular discipline, while actively practicing, defending, and passing on the values that have protected the African American community for centuries.  This is one of the reasons why it’s important to have faculty that understand, appreciate, and can pass on these values to generations of students at HU.

What is academic freedom and tenure and why are they important to our communities?

Issues such as gentrification, graduation rates, hypertension, wealth disparities, mass incarceration, and violence in our communities, are solvable problems within the African American community.  When one thinks of these issues that African Americans face, it should be remembered that many Howard University faculty have devoted decades of research to solving these problems.  In fact, one of the fundamental responsibilities of tenured Howard University professors is to tell the truth about the impacts of discoveries on our community, regardless of retaliation from racist or corrupt politicians, unethical business leaders, or managers of our own institution.   This academic freedom at Howard University has always been and will continue to be worth fighting for.  It is consistent with the best values and traditions of the African American community.

Why is the statement “The faculty are the university,” important to our communities? 

This is not said in arrogance or to be provocative.  The faculty train students and conduct the university’s research.  Historically, university faculty had boards and administrators to take care of day to day operation and management, allowing faculty to deal with producing the value of the university: unique knowledge, expertise, and skills.  Students attend universities because of this.  Corporations and government agencies seek faculty for these specialized skills.  As older faculty retire, younger faculty are brought on board with new skills and knowledge.

What do HU faculty want?  (Or, in our opinion, what does an HU look like that reaches its potential?)

In general, Howard University faculty want to move HU towards multi-billion dollar fundraising campaigns, enhanced research and academics supporting African American communities, and becoming a top academic university.

What essential values are needed for HU to realize its potential?

The essential values of HU and most successful universities are integrity, competence, transparency, and accountability.  The HU faculty feel strongly that these core African American values are the bedrock of Howard’s success, and form the basis for HU to reach its potential.  For example, donors, alums, and corporations won’t donate to Howard if the University doesn’t have the integrity to hold itself accountable for (and be transparent about) failures due to incompetence.   In fact, it’s possible to create a destructive cycle that shrinks the University and causes its eventual failure.  For example, not holding accountable those responsible for failures due to incompetence (paying students late, damaged buildings, embezzlement) leads to a loss of donors, and eventual painful budget cuts (firing critically needed staff) which leads to more competency failures.  The cycle then repeats.

Quick summary

I’ve tried to write a bit about how HU faculty don’t just teach subject matter, but they also train our students to become great accountants, scientists, doctors, lawyers, writers, etc. and still be true to a healthy conceptual framework that’s kept African Americans alive for centuries.   In addition, we considered the responsibility HU faculty have to the African American community because of their tenure and academic freedom.  We also described a Howard University that realizes it’s potential with multi-billion dollar fundraising campaigns and becomes one of the best academic and research universities in the world.  We finally considered how a healthy Howard is impossible and could eventually shrink (remembering that the faculty are the university and have some of the skills to help solve our community’s problems and train our students) dramatically without a commitment to integrity, competency, accountability and transparency.

Marcus Alfred, Chair HU Faculty Senate, 9/22/19