Howard University trustee acknowledges writing critical letter

A Howard University trustee acknowledged Saturday that she had written a letter asserting that the school “is in genuine trouble” for various fiscal and management reasons, but she declined to elaborate.

The letter from Renee Higginbotham-Brooks, a vice chairwoman of the Howard board of trustees, was addressed to the board and dated April 24. The Chronicle of Higher Education obtained a copy and published it Friday.

“For the record, I acknowledge that I wrote the letter,” Higginbotham-Brooks wrote in an email to The Post. “It is a matter between the Howard University Board [of] Trustees and the University and I have no further comment.”

In the letter, Higginbotham-Brooks cited concerns about the fiscal situation and management of the historically black university in Northwest Washington, reported in this story in The Post. She also indicated that she was upset about changes in the governance of the board that she believed would “marginalize” her position as vice chairwoman, which she has held since 2005.

Apparently, a second vice chair position was created in April.

“I was never consulted or advised of the bifurcation of my position as Vice Chair until one minute before I walked into the boardroom on Saturday,” Higginbotham-Brooks wrote in the letter. “I was shocked, truly offended and extremely disappointed with this under-handed tactic, which is inconsistent with the manner in which we do business as a Board.”

In a statement Friday, board Chairman Addison Barry Rand said the board and university leaders were working “tirelessly” to address issues that universities like Howard face. “The University remains competitive and is continuing to grow,” Rand wrote. He cited new construction on campus and praised the record of the school’s pharmacy, medicine and dentistry programs and its PhD programs.

Rand added: “Having two vice chairs is an emerging best practice in higher education governance as reported by the Association of Governing Boards. The Board decided on two vice chairs because of an increased focus on development and fundraising. We created a second vice chair to address administrative matters, both require tremendous time and attention.”

Nick Anderson covers higher education for The Washington Post. He has been a writer and editor at The Post since 2005.

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