Examining the Transformative Role of Faculty at HBCUs

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Pamela Petrease Felder

When I was a graduate student, one of my peers asked me if I would ever return to an Historical Black College or University (HBCU) as a faculty member. Given my research interests on the role HBCUs play in supporting historically marginalized students in their transition to doctoral studies, and being an HBCU alumnus myself, without hesitation I remember thinking, “Of course I would.” I recall his look of disbelief. After all, we were in graduate school pursuing “elite” graduate degrees—why would we want to work at institutions that face so many challenges?

I wasn’t puzzled by his response as I knew why this sentiment existed. That is, graduate school is a huge personal and financial investment and the idea of making a professional commitment to institutions that have been known to struggle is unrealistic for some graduate students. However, HBCUs have a history of resilience and have made great contributions to higher education. When thinking about institutional transformation, I often wonder about the kind of professional commitment necessary to support institutions that have had to accomplish more with less to support historically marginalized student populations. Specifically, in what ways do faculty members contribute to the future success of HBCUs?

Fast-forward several years, and in 2014, I returned to my undergraduate alma mater, The University of Maryland Eastern-Shore, as a faculty member in an HBCU graduate program. After a grueling job search, looking to find a home where my teaching and research interests would be well aligned with the institution’s mission, I was delighted to return to the very place where my postsecondary educational journey began. I returned with high hopes to do what I could to make my institution a better place—to give back to it what it had given to me, especially through my research in the area of doctoral education.

However, I couldn’t help thinking about my previous conversation with my peer regarding whether I would consider returning to an HBCU as a faculty member. To reflect in deeper analysis about my return and contribution, I participated in several conversations with my faculty colleagues to get a sense of their perspectives regarding what affects their ability to transform the future success of HBCUs. Many of the conversations related to the findings of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institution’s report titled, The Changing Face of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including: workload, salaries, and the lack of shared governance.

Workload

HBCU faculty work extremely hard to support student success in ways that are not typically measured or quantified. I’ve witnessed my colleagues spend tremendous amounts of time outside of scheduled office hours and classroom time mentoring students. This mentoring often consists of sharing important life lessons and teaching students how to manage life challenges that greatly influence their lives and degree completion. Since this kind of work is essential to the academic success of students, it’s important to provide faculty support and recognition to build awareness of this activity. Also, providing resources that contribute to the process of mentoring would allow faculty to share this expertise in more meaningful ways. This might consist of formalized collaborative opportunities across departments, schools, and institutions where faculty can share mentoring practices. For example, mentorship practices that addresses the institution’s function to support racial and cultural awareness could serve to promote institutional diversity initiatives.

Salaries

There are significant national average salary disparities for HBCU faculty. While HBCUs do their best to secure financial resources in order to increase faculty salaries, thereby directly addressing this inequity, other areas of compensation should be examined to minimize this gap. For instance, some HBCU faculty members could receive course releases for their mentoring efforts. Also, HBCU faculty members with twelve-month contracts could receive nine-month contracts to allow for increased research productivity through grant and publication writing during the summer months.

Shared Governance

HBCU faculty have a lot to say about the governance of their institutions. However, conversations about governance are minimized to the margins of the governing process. Faculty discussions about governance are often powerful and transformational, but the opportunity to share these perspectives often don’t exist in ways that directly shape institutional leadership. It’s important to understand why opportunities for faculty engagement are not part of the governance process. This would help lead to identifying strategies that strengthen the participation of HBCU faculty in ways that broaden their potential for involvement in institutional decision-making.

In conclusion, what I learned about my return to an HBCU and from conversations with my colleagues is that it’s critically important to understand the relevance of faculty leadership to the future success of HBCUs. This involves understanding the influence of faculty participation on the mission and culture of HBCUs and the ways this influence can be supported to develop avenues for future success. There is much exploration to be done to uncover areas for innovation in this area and further research is necessary.

An infusion of resources is needed to support these faculty members’ mentoring, teaching, research efforts, and professional development.

This support must address HBCU faculty experiences and the ways they contribute to these institutions beyond what we’ve known them to do (doing more with less). Support must help HBCU faculty members’ efforts to strive towards their greater potential for transformation in higher education. Honoring the voices of HBCU faculty is important for increasing awareness about the culture and vitality of HBCUs.

Dr. Pamela Petrease Felder is an Associate Professor at the University of Maryland – Eastern Shore (UMES) and an affiliate of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

HBCU Athletics Demonstrate Black Excellence

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Louis Bolling

As a former Morgan State University student-athlete, I understand the power and relevance of athletic programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). As a journalist with the nation’s oldest African-American newspaper, The Philadelphia Tribune, I understand and respect the power of media’s ability to tell stories to the masses.

Collegiate athletic programs are a vital component of the higher education system and college experience for a variety of reasons. However, the rich history, traditions, and achievements of people of color in HBCU athletics—their successes and historical relevance—often go untold.

Forty-five years ago, Howard University’s Men’s Soccer program made history while embodying all of the positive characteristics of collegiate athletics, even espousing the spirit of Olympism: blending sport with education and culture.

In 1971, led by Head Coach Lincoln ‘Tiger’ Phillips, Howard’s Men’s Soccer team won the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Championship. The team was stripped of the title only to win it three years later in 1974. ESPN’s new platform, The Undefeated, recently captured the story through a short film, Redemption Song.

“The premiere [of Redemption Song] reawakened emotions that had been buried for decades,” said the film’s producer, Mark W. Wright. “But while it’s great to get this story out to the world, what comes from it is what matters. Awareness is good, but awareness fades. We want to learn lessons. We want to right wrongs. We want to know our history to learn from it,” exclaimed Wright.

Formerly a Director of Content & Events for ESPN Events in Charlotte, a position he held for almost 10 years, Wright recently joined the staff of The Undefeated to develop content around HBCUs.

Redemption Song is as personal to me as any story I’ve ever worked on in my career. For starters, it’s about soccer—the game I grew up playing and loving in Jamaica. It’s about my alum mater, Howard University. And, it’s about my former soccer coach, Ian Bain, who is more than a coach but a mentor and father figure. Journalistically, Redemption Song stands on its own merits, having all of the elements that make for a good story.”

Phillips, Howard’s legendary men’s soccer coach, called his program’s trials “a setback” that were “a set up for a comeback.”

“Our team’s situation was taking place during the rise of black consciousness,” said Phillips, who also founded the Black Soccer Coaches Association.

Recently named a 2016 National Association of Black Journalists Pioneer Award recipient, Phillips stated “we wanted to be the best at a sport dominated by white people in this country. Our team was more than an athletic program; it became an extension of the civil rights movement in a way only sports can.”

Phillips’ teams consisted of American and international student-athletes from countries in Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. This was a unique dynamic in itself, placing Howard at the forefront of recruiting international student-athletes, which is even more impressive when taking into account that the teams’ members maintained collective grade point averages over 3.0.

With plans to build original content and investigative journalism related to Spike Lee Lil’ Joints documentary shorts, Redemption Song presents a myriad of issues for The Undefeated to explore and for HBCU athletic supporters and preservationists to take action on.

Reinstating and conferring the 1971 Howard University Men’s Soccer team as NCAA Champions, inducting Coach Phillips into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame, and hiring more soccer coaches and athletic administrators of color at higher education institutions are a few of the topics that deserve further examination and advocacy.

Former Howard University student-athlete and renaissance man, Rock Newman, passionately stated “This wasn’t just about a soccer championship. This was about Black excellence.”

To watch Redemption Song, visit https://theundefeated.com/videos/redemption-song.

Louis Bolling serves the University of Pennsylvania community as an Interfaith Fellow to the Athletics & Recreation Community with the Office of the Chaplain. He holds a BS in Physical Education with a concentration in Sports Administration from Morgan State University. He is a freelance writer with The Philadelphia Tribune and Huffington Post. His interests include athletic administration at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, sport for development and peace, Olympism, university-assisted community schools and community-based sports issues.