Black Caucus Criticizes GOP Effort to Help HBCUs
By Charles Dervarics
The June summit of congressional Republicans and Black college leaders continues to stir interest on Capitol Hill, with the Congressional Black Caucus leader criticizing the meeting as Republicans begin to map plans to expand these discussions.“If [the GOP’s] past is any guide with respect to how they have handled education issues, those Black college presidents had better watch out for the possibility of having their collective pockets picked and their prized federal education dollars reduced, redirected or eliminated,” says Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the current Black Caucus leader.Citing past Republican efforts to dismantle the U.S. Department of Education and block many education grant programs, Clyburn says the GOP’s new role as a friend to HBCUs is suspect. “It is hard to imagine that the ‘summit’ was little more than a photo opportunity for members who have absolutely no history of involvement and support for HBCUs and who, in fact, have a track record of hostility toward these very institutions,” he says.GOP leaders sponsored the summit in June under the leadership of Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., the only African American Republican in Congress (see Black Issues, July 6). Watts, who is not a Black Caucus member, says his goal is to increase federal support for HBCUs while giving them information and access to corporate leaders with a strong track record of employing professionals of color.There are 39 African Americans in Congress, and 38 are Democrats. However, none of the 38 was invited to the summit even though they have “consistently struggled to aid Black colleges,” according to Clyburn. Watts’ staff dismisses the criticism. “We credit the CBC for doing a lot of work for HBCUs,” says Bill Shapard, a spokesman for the congressman. But, he says, Black Caucus members believe “they are the only ones to get credit for helping African Americans. Whether they like it or not, Republicans are the majority party.”As for not inviting CBC members to the summit, Watts’ goal was to develop a Republican task force on HBCUs. “Democrats could have had their own summit,” he says. “But their view is ‘you can’t do something for my friend — only I can do something for my friend.’ “Clyburn also charges that the Republican National Committee, the GOP’s political arm, paid for much of the summit, possibly including travel costs for HBCU presidents. Republicans deny the claim, but the RNC did host a reception for Black college presidents during their visit, Shapard says.For his part, Watts called the summit unprecedented and one that will lead to more cooperation among lawmakers, business leaders and HBCU presidents. “We took the opportunity of this summit to hear the concerns of historically Black colleges on this highest level,” he says, noting that the college presidents had an opportunity to discuss their concerns with top House Republican leaders.Nonetheless, some Black college presidents acknowledged it was awkward to attend a Republican-sponsored summit on HBCUs. More than 70 college presidents attended the conference, however, and many praised the effort.A senior Watts staffer says the Oklahoma congressman soon will announce the next step following the summit —a formal 13- or 14-member House Republican HBCU Task Force. Chaired by Watts, the panel will include up to 10 HBCU presidents along with Reps. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., Jack Kingston, R-Ga., and Jay Dickey, R-Ark. The schedule for the task force is still under discussion. It might meet monthly or quarterly.At the same time, Watts is expected to announce formation of a corporate advisory committee of business leaders who can meet with and counsel HBCUs. Cathy Fort, director of minority educational initiatives at Lockheed Martin Corp., will chair the panel. Watts will release details on the task force and advisory council sometime this month.
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