Roll Over & Die, or Shut Up & Sell Out: HBCUs & the Talented Tenth in the Obama Era

A Black Agenda Radio Commentary by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

When the Obama administration changed college loan rules in 2011, 28,000 students dropped out of HBCUs due to economic stress. The institutions themselves are facing fiscal doomsday unless something changes. The black misleadership class has led them into a corner, in which they can die or be auctioned off to corporate sponsors. Shamefully, some want Condoleeza Rice to be the next president at Howard.

Roll Over & Die, or Shut Up & Sell Out: HBCUs & the Talented Tenth in the Obama Era

A Black Agenda Radio Commentary by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

HBCUs constitute three percent of America’s colleges but produce 20 percent of black graduates, 50 percent of black public school teachers and lawyers, 80 percent of black judges, and 90 percent of black BA’s...”

If there is a talented tenth, the phrase W.E.B. Dubois coined a century ago to denote the black elite whose success will enable them to somehow lift up the other 90% its beating heart lives those black colleges and universities. But the first black president is no fan of historically black colleges and universities.

Back in 2011, the Obama administration, more in tune with what its Wall Street contributors want than what its voting constituents need, made student loans significantly more difficult to get. Its new policies immediately caused 28,000 mostly African American students to drop out of historically black colleges alone for lack of funds to continue their education, and denied historically black colleges and universities a crucial $150 million a year in revenue. In the two years since, historically black colleges have begged for the restoration of the old rules on college loans but to no avail. The Obama administration has compounded the injury by releasing what it calls “college scorecards” that rank schools by graduation rate at a time when poorer students are dropping out in huge numbers nationwide due to economic stress.

Under these circumstances, the only way for historically black colleges to survive is to do the impossible --- to attract ever wealthier students at a time when overall black family incomes are dropping. This is a financial crisis that HBCU trustees across the country know they cannot survive unless something changes.

Many have noted the past two years that if these things happened under a Bush-Cheney administration the black colleges, their alumni and traditional civil rights organizations would have been in federal court a long time ago. But the black misleadership class's true causes are the careers of its own members and seeking the favor of those in power. So despite the title of an otherwise pretty good New Republic article “Why Black Colleges Might Sue the Obama Administration.” the spectacle of black colleges suing a black president to restore their students' access to higher education is just never never never going to happen.

What's their alternative? Jarret L. Carter of HBCU Digest is absolutely in tune with a large section of this class when he suggests that Condoleeza Rice be named the next president of Howard University, bringing her blood-stained rolodex of contacts from the board of Chevon, which once named a double-hulled oil tanker after her, and her record of lying and promoting genocidal warfare around the world to that office. Rice, he contends, can sell corporations on the proposition that “investing in” --- basically taking over the cream of historically black colleges and universities will somehow benefit them. How any of this “uplifts” more than the tiniest fraction of African Americans who become admirals, generals and corporate fixers is unclear.

Those are the choices our black misleadership class sees for historically black colleges and universities. They can roll over and die. Or they can shut up and sell out. This is the corner they've led themselves into, and why we call them the black misleadership class.

For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He is NOT an HBCU alum, and lives and works near Marietta GA. Contact him via this site's contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)





Don't Cry for HBCUs

I know that one of BAR's mainstays is the furious poking in the eye of Obama at every chance, and certainly I applaud the effort, but this particular article misses the mark wholly. Do not cry over HBCUs for the whooping Obama has, is, and will continue to give them --this is THEIR faults. HBCUs are not the weak willed, uncoordinated, politically unsophisticated organizations that people tend to see them as... indeed, this cover has only allowed them to become the thorn in Black people's collective foot.


Tell me something: when has HBCUs or their students ever been economically well off? Why is 2013 different from 1933 or even 1893 in this regard? How did they survive then as opposed to now? I will tell you... because HBCUs were a critical, necessary, and much beloved aspect of our Black communities, even if it was as the pseudo-elite Duboisian Talented Tenth who thought that they were the lords over the backward Southern Black poplace. At least then they felt the need to defend us, we had to stick together for obvious reasons. With those obvious reasons out of the way for the most part, this gentry was free to leave and exploit poor Blacks, which they did with gusto, first by latching to the governmental titty in 1964 through the official creation of HBCUs in the first place. Now they choose to sing and dance for governmental finances (don't get me started on private foundations, please look up the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations and how they effectively usurped Black educational institutions waaayyyy before the government got in on it, but I'm on a roll here).


Why haven't HBCUs found out a way to finance themselves and their students by themselves? I guess it would take too much cooperation with the poors, the students, the faculty and staff by a corporate outlet and we all know that CEOs... oops I mean college presidents... get hives when talking to people below their pay grade. Shouldn't colleges and universities who cater to the known poorest and least served constituents have a better plan to get these groups help than following the same method used by schools who serve primarily rich people? Ask yourself, what is the role of HBCUs in this gentrification movement in our cities. What have the " 20 percent of black graduates, 50 percent of black public school teachers and lawyers, 80 percent of black judges, and 90 percent of black BA’s" done for us lately?


When the last HBCU falls, do not mourn it. They are fossilized canary in the coal mine foretelling what will happen to all schools who decide to turn their backs on those who loved them. Cry, instead, for the poor dupes of the system that tells us that we must purchase and receive proof of payment (diplomas) of our education.



There is no Competition, Only Destruction

I hear where you are coming from but I would propose that the idea of HBCUs competing with any other groups of institutions is the problem in itself. Indeed, once segregation was destroyed, a good chunk of their captive audience went to the other side, but HBCUs could have always made use of the fact that they had friendlier environments, higher graduation rates, more cultural understanding, and a strong activist faculty/staff to mediate their obvious lack of some big school furnishings (like they do now). HBCUs can NEVER compete with ANY white school on the grounds of financing or having state of the art technology, but that would have been alright if they would have stayed true to their communities and passion for liberal arts. Why, out of all of the economic professors or even purely talented member of the community, wasn't a novel strategy developed that insured the financial stability of these schools? Why, instead, did it decide to go the corporate, rightwing route along with every other white state and private university? Hell, these days you couldn't find a better president for Howard University than Condoleeza Rice.


I guess my biggest question about HBCUs (from a person who graduated from one) is why did they allow ourselves to fall into the hands of people who never cared for us in the first place? How did they think that allowing financing from corporate and governmental bodies would bring about anything less than their destruction? When you give, you can also take away, and I refuse to believe that all of these schools' faculty/staff/administration were so stupid. Thus, the only answer can be either that the leadership of HBCUs are wholly complicit in the dismantling of these highly important institutions for the white power structure or these schools were never Black people's in the first place. If you study the creation myths of schools like Spelman, Morehouse, Clark Atlanta, Howard, and many others, you will find that the latter is probably the case.


There is nothing to compete against, in my opinion. There are only two paths that Black people can take. A Maroon mentality which will secure us safely as the empire collapse or Creolization/Assimilation which will have us fall with the emperor. Anything that isn't the first is the last.


The issue of HBCUs really irks me and I guess gets me rather 'ranty'. They have betrayed me and many in my position into going willfully and foolishly into a debt that we may never escape from. I will never see this miseducation system in a positive manner again.