Howard University continues to pick up the pieces after a after a whistleblower’s bombshell blog post exposed six Howard University employees who allegedly stole more than $1 million from the university. The fallout has led to public relations nightmare for the world-renowned HBCU, protests by angry students, numerous questions from alumni and donors, and a social media field day as one of the biggest offenders became a hashtag on Twitter and the butt of jokes on late night TV.
Howard president Wayne A. I. Frederick, along with the school’s board of trustees, has gone into full damage control mode over the last few days. They have tepidly addressed the scandal, but there is a lot of work to be done. Here are five things they must do, or keep doing, to help calm a very angry (and influential) alumni base and student body. They cannot repeat the mistakes several schools have made in the face of various scandals.
Howard only needs to look at how Grambling State University handled a 2013 walk out by their football team, which was in protest of the firing of two popular coaches and the dangerous conditions of their athletic facilities. The walkout even led to the forfeiture of a game against Jackson State. Grambling’s president did not have any answers for the team, and it took an intervention from former coach Doug Williams to end the boycott. Frederick released a statement acknowledging there were university grants were misappropriated by employees. However, it was also the first the students and alums had heard from the school’s president. It was managed to keep both what happened and who was punished fairly vague. Keep the dialogue open with students and alumni, because this will not just go away.
The media did not cause this. It wasn’t simply one rogue employee (more on him later). This was an institutional failure that was the fault of no one except the university itself. Howard is a private institution, but it has a lot of public influence among African-Americans. They must directly acknowledge what went wrong. Answer questions and not hide behind canned statements. Keep it 100 with the people that keep Howard alive.
Address the Tyrone Hankerson situation
Yes, he very likely brought it upon himself, but this young man is going through the ringer. He told Roland Martin that he is being used as a foil to take down Frederick. The school needs to directly address what happened with Hankerson as he has become the face of the scandal. What was his position there? What access did he have to the system that determines who receives aid? Who else knew what was happening and what was done with them?
Announce new safeguards
Whether the scandals involve money, improper athletic favors, or something as heinous as sexual assault, when a breakdown of the system occurs it needs to be addressed, quickly, decisively and directly. At Michigan State University, in a much worse situation, 14 high ranking officials inside of the university, including now-former president Lou Anna Simon and a number of coaches, knew of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of hundreds of young women and girls. It was not until this was exposed that wholesale changes began to be made there. Other schools such as Florida A&M, Baylor, and Penn State have had to make similar changes after more devastating scandals. Be ready to fire others and force resignations where needed. Changes must be made and being open and detailed about what is next is vital to getting out of this.
Address the Student Body Directly
Howard University’s students and its administration have had an, at times, contentious relationship at times. This situation has only made it worse. Directly addressing students, perhaps through a series of town hall meetings, is one way to mend that fence. E-mails to anxious and angry alumni are not enough, not when questions about money are involved. It’s time to swallow pride, get in front of those kids (and potentially their parents) and promise them that you’ll work hard to insure this will never happen again. Period.