By Rosetta Miller Perry
Dr. Wayne Riley, former Meharry President, accepted a new position recently. He will now be President of SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York. The roughly 157-year-old SUNY Downstate Medical Center touts itself as the nation’s first medical school to bring teaching out of the lecture hall and to the patient’s bedside. With more than 6,000 employees, it is one of the largest employers in Brooklyn. The State University of New York has 64 college and university campuses. During the 2015-16 academic year, it served nearly 1.3 million students.
Dr. Riley is the third high profile Black male leader in recent years that has left an area HBCU. That is a brain drain we can’t afford, but too often are unable to prevent. Mainstream institutions for many years claimed that Blacks were too inferior to be students, and that there were no qualified professionals who could serve as either professors or presidents.
That’s no longer the case today. White institutions are welcoming some of our most experienced professionals, giving them lucrative jobs and both clout and power. Former Fisk President H. James Williams, President, Mount Saint Joseph University in Cincinnati. , former Tennessee State University Vice President Sherette Stokes are two others who’ve left local institutions to go elsewhere. Stokes is Vice President for University Advancement at Saint Xavier University in Chicago.
Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with people seeking more lucrative positions, or going to work for bigger schools. But it poses a challenge HBCU’s must meet in the 21st century. Because it has never been more vital that these schools be able to lure top talent. Black students need to see these people in key roles, and they in turn have the opportunity to help the Black community, be a role model and mentor to African American students.
We’ve have had high caliber professionals in our communities for many years. They were aiding the cause of higher education for Blacks during eras when many couldn’t care less whether Blacks attended college and grad school or not.
In addition, both Riley and Williams were willing to publicly address critical problems. Riley fought against constant efforts to downgrade and diminish the role of General Hospital. Williams worked hard to get Fisk’s educational credentials and stature back in order. Stokes was also a very effective person behind the scenes. .
HBCUs, like everything else in Black neighborhoods, are now under siege. There is an administration in power with someone at the top who truly doesn’t know about nor value Black achievement or empowerment. The Trump idea of aiding Blacks is putting someone like Dr. Ben Carson at the head of the nation’s most important cabinet post dealing with urban centers, or having a reality star like Omarosa serving as his so-called “Black advisor.” Her qualifications for the post are making a repeated spectacle of herself on national TV and promising during the campaign that everyone would “bow down to Trump.”
Against that backdrop of incompetence, HBCUs need the very best leadership, both at the top and on its boards. It is going to take great vision and incredible dedication to make it through the next four (or eight) years of a Trump administration.
He’s already shown through his selection of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General how clueless he is to America’s history of racism and injustice. He plans to appoint hardcore conservative types to the Supreme Court, despite the prospect of critical cases coming up involving voter suppression, police abuse, educational disparity and even such things as the digital divide.
Every institution in the Black community needs the very best people available, and most certainly that applies to HBCUs. .The Tribune understands and urges that these schools embrace the challenge. Continue seeking and hiring more men like these three to continue the tradition of excellence and accomplishment that they helped ensure during their time.
The United Negro College Fund mantra that “a mind is a terrible thing to waste” has never been more true than it is now. Our HBCUs are a lifeline to the Black community, and it is urgent that they continue attracting and empowering the best and brightest in our ranks.