Howard University in “Genuine Trouble,” Trustee Says

"Howard will not be here in three years if we don’t make some crucial decisions now": Renee Higginbotham-Brooks

A Howard University trustee says the school could shut its doors within three years due to "genuine trouble," including mismanagement and financial problems.

"Howard will not be here in three years if we don’t make some crucial decisions now," wrote Renee Higginbotham-Brooks, vice chairwoman of Howard University's board of trustees, the Washington Post reported.

Her April 24 letter to other board members was recently obtained by The Chronicle of Higher Education and published on their website (subscription required).

Higginbotham-Brooks confirmed to the Washington Post Saturday that she was the author of the letter, but declined to comment further.

Monday afternoon, Board of Trustees Chairman Addison Barry Rand issued a response, saying the letter "without proper context paints an unduly alarming picture of the University’s condition."

Rand's letter points out that despite the pressures of the economy and the need to serve as many students as possible with financial aid, Howard had balanced its budget for three years in a row and restored its endowment to $500 million.

"I want to assure you that working together with input from all of the University stakeholders, Howard University remains academically, financially and operationally strong," the letter from Rand read.

Higginbotham-Brooks pointed to her concerns about the pressures facing the university. Competition from less-expensive public universities has led to dropping enrollment, she wrote, and the school is also facing possible cuts in government funding due to the sequester.

A surplus of employees -- approximately one for every two students -- and expenses from the university hospital are also draining the school's coffers, she wrote.

Compounding the problem, Howard lacks a strong fundraising program to compensate for decreased tuition revenue, Higginbotham-Brooks wrote.

She also criticized the performance of university president Sidney A. Ribeau, saying it "has resulted in many poor decisions.... [and] has damaged our University’s brand."

Rand's response said the board would work with the administration to continue to address Howard's challenges, "with appropriate transparency and sensitivity to the concerns and well-being of the institution and to all members of the Howard University community."

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