President Sidney A. Ribeau, head of Howard since 2008, his top deputies and two trustees spoke with The Washington Post for nearly two hours Saturday evening. The interview took place in advance of a story, published Tuesday, about a letter in which Howard’s academic deans contended that “fiscal mismanagement” was damaging the university. Ribeau vigorously denied that allegation.
Ribeau sought to frame the debate, which has been simmering for weeks as Howard confronts revenue shortages on multiple fronts, in terms of the university’s larger goals.
What has been missing, he said, is context.
“This is a journey,” Ribeau said, “the story of where we were moving to renew the legacy of Howard University.” The renewal, he said, is about academics, facilities, faculty and administration. “The whole renewal process was done in a way that was collaborative and transparent.”
Ribeau noted that the university’s financial statements, audits, credit agency reports, treasurer’s reports and tax returns are posted publicly online.
Howard’s academic renewal effort has received some notice already. In 2010 The Post covered how Ribeau was coordinating a phaseout of some of Howard’s weaker academic programs — such as bachelor’s degrees in anthropology, classical civilization and fashion merchandising — to concentrate resources on its strengths.
In addition, the university has offered faculty voluntary retirement incentives and spent millions of dollars to upgrade buildings such as Downing Hall, home of the engineering programs, and the College of Medicine, which has a new surgical simulation center.
Construction began in the spring on two student residential halls on Fourth Street NW, expected to cost $107 million, and an interdisciplinary research building on Georgia Avenue NW, budgeted at $70 million.
Administrative renewal, as Ribeau terms it, is getting intense scrutiny. In a nutshell, the concept is to reorganize management, services and systems so that the university functions more efficiently. In practice that has meant some staff cuts. Exactly how many is unclear. The university disclosed in June that it is cutting 75 non-faculty staff positions, which led to 53 layoffs as of June 7. The university had 3,636 non-faculty employees as of June 14.
Officials say that they have balanced budgets and significantly cut administrative overhead, improving on the fiscal conditions they inherited when Ribeau took office five years ago.