The cuts are part of an “administrative renewal” plan that trustees approved two years ago to improve efficiency. “This process requires that we make difficult decisions,” she said.
The university gave no information about which positions were cut or how much money would be saved. The other planned position cuts may occur over a period of months.
The job cuts at Howard come as the university community has turned its attention to the financial well-being of the historically black college in Northwest Washington, which functions as a private institution but receives more than a quarter of its annual operating funds through a federal appropriation. The concerns have grown since the June 7 disclosure of a letter by a Howard trustee, who warned that the school “is in genuine trouble.”
The university “will not be here in three years if we don’t make some crucial decisions now,” board Vice Chairwoman Renee Higginbotham-Brooks wrote in the April 24 letter to trustees.
Higginbotham-Brooks, a Fort Worth lawyer and Howard graduate, has given the university $350,000 and raised hundreds of thousands more — evidence, she said, of her loyalty to the institution. She cited falling student enrollment, cuts to the federal appropriation and expenses from the university hospital as major concerns.
Board Chairman Addison Barry Rand fired back Monday. In his own missive, Rand wrote that the publication of the Higginbotham-Brooks letter had painted “an unduly alarming picture of the University’s condition.” Rand, who is chief executive of AARP, said Howard “remains academically, financially and operationally strong.”
A roster on the university’s Web site shows the board has 33 members, including Howard President Sidney A. Ribeau, who has held office since 2008. Among the notables on the board are former Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder and Atlanta Mayor M. Kasim Reed.
Ribeau, Rand, Higginbotham-Brooks and numerous other trustees declined requests for interviews. The university has not made any of its top officers available for comment since June 7.
There is consensus that Howard, founded after the Civil War under a charter Congress enacted in 1867, faces significant fiscal challenges. Its total student enrollment fell 5 percent in fall 2012, to 10,002. Its federal appropriation of $234 million a year — a funding arrangement rare in higher education — is expected to be cut about 5 percent because of the federal budget sequester. Ribeau temporarily suspended some payments to employee retirement plans and took other steps this year to save money.