"The things about it that I love are its mission and its motto: truth and service. Howard (University) has influenced not just the US, but the African Diaspora in a major way," said Dr Wayne Frederick during an interview at the T&T Guardian recently. Frederick, 42, a surgical oncologist, was named interim president of the Washington DC university in October.
Frederick has had a 25-year relationship with Howard and is just one of many Trinidadians for whom the school is an alma mater. "I think Howard and T&T have had a very fruitful relationship based on some of the luminaries who have spent time on our campus like Eric Williams and Stokley Carmichael (Kwame Ture–people who really went on to influence not just the university, but also had a major impact back in T&T," he said.
In 1989, at just 16, Frederick left his Diego Martin home to study zoology at Howard.
Having suffered with sickle cell disease since childhood, Frederick had dreams of finding a cure for the disease and admired Howard's Sickle Cell Centre. In 1994, at 22, Frederick graduated from the Howard University College of Medicine. Later, he received a third degree–an MBA–from HU as well.
Frederick then served as the associate director of the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center and the director of surgical ontology at the University of Connecticut Health Center and returned to Howard in 2006.
Since then, he has served as a professor, associate dean in the College of Medicine, division chief in the Department of Surgery at Howard University Hospital, director of the Cancer Center and deputy provost for health sciences. Prior to being named interim president, Frederick served as provost and chief academic officer.
Frederick would like to deepen Howard's relationship with T&T and he has already begun. In 2012, while provost, he made his first overseas recruiting trip to T&T.
During his visit in late November, he met with members of the HU T&T Alumni Association. Frederick would like to see Howard build a more systematic relationship with T&T.
"On a broader scale I'd like to see more tangible programmes where both sides can benefit and I would like to see broader relationships with UWI and UTT and other institutions of higher education in T&T."
He would also like to see more students from T&T and other parts of the world attend Howard and return to their home countries to make positive contributions to their societies.
Frederick said one of the university's immediate goals is to increase the international student population at Howard, which has dropped from ten per cent to four per cent in recent years.
Frederick attributes the drop to rising costs to attend universities and also growing opportunities in the Caribbean. Currently, 25 per cent of Howard's international student population is from the Caribbean while 10.8 per cent of the international student population is from T&T.
Increasing the international student population is just one of Frederick's goals as interim president. His appointment to the position came at a time some would call tumultuous. In June, a letter written by the vice chairwoman of Howard's board of trustees, Renee Higginbottom-Brooks, expressed concern that HU may not exist in three years time due to financial and other mismanagement.
In September, Moody's Investors Service downgraded HU's credit rating claiming a "loss of patient revenue and volume at its hospital and cuts in federal funding."
Howard is just one of many HBCUs–historically black colleges and universities–that have lost federal funding recently. Also in September, two lawsuits were filed against the university claiming discrimination and retaliation for whistleblowing.
Following months of bad press, the Howard's 16th president, Dr Sidney Ribeau, resigned. And if this wasn't enough, at the school's annual Homecoming celebrations, in late October, eight people were injured when attempts to control crowds failed. Consequently, one of Frederick's goals is to change the public discourse about Howard.
"In terms of the stories over the summer, I have not found any financial mismanagement or malfeasance and certainly if I do I will address that. But I have no concerns right now that any of that exists. What I think we have to do right now is refocus and keep our eyes on where we need to go," said Frederick.
He also spoke well of Ribeau, although many had expressed a lack of confidence in his leadership.
"I still enjoy a very good relationship with Dr Ribeau and I think he did a solid job.
He came in during tough economic times and it's always difficult to run a university when resources are limited and I think he stepped up to that challenge."
The reports of a "stampede" at Homecoming–the annual festival for alumni–were also exaggerated, according to Frederick.
"I wouldn't describe it as a stampede.
"I was there the entire time. The incident grew out of the fact that the year before we had about 22,000 people on the yard (the main quadrangle on Howard's campus) and the Metropolitan Police Department was very clear that we couldn't have that many people on the yard. So we attempted to fence off the yard and admit people to try to get the numbers down to 14,000 and that just wasn't ideal."
Yet, Frederick says some of the criticism of Howard has been undue. "There's a lot of magic happening on Howard's campus and we need to talk about that. We have to be sure people are clear that we are providing excellence. We graduate African Americans at twice the national average. We graduate about a third of the black dentists in the country. We have alum doing good work all over the world and we need to talk about that."
Frederick says his main plans are to ensure that the university operates efficiently and with the most up-to-date technology. He also wants to increase graduation and retention rates. "Our students are expecting better use of technology and we have to provide that instruction in a more efficient manner and in a different manner. That means flip classrooms and more online content," he said. "My other main thrust around that is to make sure that the supporting arenas around the educational product are running more efficiently whether it's IT, whether it's administration, all of those are being looked at right now."
Even with this many goals for the university, Frederick, said he has not yet made a decision to present himself as a candidate for president. "I'd be humbled if I were to be the 17th president of the university. Right now I'm really focused on seeing them through this transition, but any opportunity to serve Howard University is an honour."
What is an hbcu?
Historically black colleges and universities are tertiary institutions founded before 1964 which were established to serve the black American community. There are more than 100 HBCUs in the US. The most recent edition of US News & World Report's Best Colleges Report ranked Howard University as the third best HBCU. First and second were Atlanta, Georgia-based Spelman and Morehouse Colleges respectively.
Notable Caribbean HU alumni:
Dr Eric Williams–T&T's first prime minister was a professor of history at Howard from 1939-1944.
Kwame Ture–Trinidad–born civil rights activist and icon of the Black Power movement graduated from Howard in 1964 with a degree in philosophy.
Dr Keith Mitchell–The former president of Grenada earned his master's degree from Howard in 1975.
Shaka Hislop–Former national goalkeeper graduated with an engineering degree from Howard in 1992.
Michelle Cross-Fenty–Current Inter-American Development Bank representative for T&T. Cross-Fenty graduated from Howard Law School and is of Jamaican heritage.
Howard University is a private, research university founded in 1867. Howard is comprised of 13 schools and colleges. Students pursue studies in more than 120 areas leading to undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees.
Since 1998, the University has produced two Rhodes Scholars, two Truman Scholars, a Marshall Scholar, 30 Fulbright Scholars and 11 Pickering Fellows. Howard also produces more on campus African-American PhD recipients than any other university in the US.
Notable alumni include the first African American Supreme Court Justice and civil rights activist Thurgood Marshall, Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, actors Phylicia Raashad and Ossie Davis and singers Roberta Flack and Meshell Ndegeocello.