Great acrimony hangs over Georgia Avenue today. Howard has assets that should make the university the most desirable, elite job in historically black higher education. But with changing financial culture for African-Americans of all classes, shifting perspectives on how higher ed can best service American industry, and growing crises in black communities requiring the aid of HBCU research and outreach, Howard is not a job for the hesitant or one who does not yield power and influence outside of the office of the president.
Howard needs a rare leader. One who yields sway over corporate benefactors, high academic credentials, and a complex understanding of challenges facing black people and black communities. The list is long of potential candidates who can pull off one or two of those qualities, but short on folks with the triple crown.
But the one Howard should be targeting, if it's leaders haven't done so already, is Condoleezza Rice.
There was no doubt that the Howard University Board of Trustees had lost confidence in President Sidney Ribeau. It's vice-chair, Renee Higginbotham-Brooks, went nuclear on her alma mater with a scathing review of the challenges facing America's HBCU. The chair, Addison Rand, responded by acknowledging the challenges, but never expressed confidence in Ribeau to right the ship. He never even mentioned his name.
And now, Ribeau has announced his retirement.
Dr. Rice is fiscally and socially conservative, a perfect fit for Howard's culture of student recruitment and development. Her intellect and humor have allowed her to transcend race and gender at the highest levels of influence in domestic and international policy shaping. Along the way, she has made friends and allies with global influencers who have the financial savvy to turn Howard into the nation's top institution of higher education, no HBCU or PWI excluded.
Students, current and potential, would be drawn to her star power and her academic prowess. And her guide for personal and professional excellence would build upon an already respected brand in Washington and throughout the nation. Alumni may be chilly on welcoming Dr. Rice into the HU fold because of her politics, but she has never lacked for charm, has never been held in universal contempt by black America, and could easily communicate a plan and a passion for making Howard reach its ultimate potential.
Plus, the noted sports fan could turn around HU's sports program in about a week.
Dr. Rice would be an immediate rock star in higher education, and her arrival would usher in a new level of attention and support for HU and HBCUs nationwide. As the Mecca goes, so goes the HBCU culture. Certainly, both could use a shot in the arm with the hiring of a dynamic, globally respected diplomat and scholar.
The hardest sell for Dr. Rice to Howard would be Rice herself. Insiders say her heart is inclined towards the plight of African-Americans, but would Howard be the kind of cultural challenge she wants to take on? She is not moved to be the messiah for HBCUs or for black folks, and is smart enough to avoid the potential pitfall of being portrayed as such.
But if she can be sold on the job, even if for a five-to-seven year run, her influence on the university and the HBCUs who follow it could be game changing. Her leadership would signal to most that HBCUs are beyond the stinging past of higher ed discrimination, and are moving towards inclusive partnership with a world through a steadfast love and respect for the prize of American equality.
Sidney Ribeau met an unfortunate turn of the cards as Howard's president. He was smart enough, charismatic enough, and dialed in enough to make positive changes for the institution in the face of difficult challenges. He played his hand right.
Now Howard needs to go get the woman who not only can play the game, but owns the deck from which she can deal.