No one can doubt that Wayne A.I. Frederick knows his way around Howard University.
Named interim president of Howard this month, Frederick holds three degrees from the school in Northwest Washington: a bachelor’s in zoology, a doctor of medicine and a master’s in business administration.
Frederick, 42, a native of Trinidad, lives with his wife and two children in the Cabin John area of Montgomery County. He was provost and chief academic officer under retiring President Sidney A. Ribeau and director of the cancer center at the university’s hospital — all while maintaining his practice as a cancer surgeon. He faces fresh challenges as the temporary leader of Howard, following Ribeau’s abrupt announcement that he would step down at year’s end, a decision that came after months of internal debate over the university’s management and finances.
Frederick spoke with The Washington Post one recent afternoon on campus. Here are edited excerpts.
The university’s been through a lot this year. What does it need now?
I think we need to come together as a community. We have a very strong community of alumni, faculty, students and staff, and our board [of trustees]. Collectively, we all need to come together and to really focus on the future.
How long do you believe the interim position will be?
I don’t know how long it will be. I would imagine a national search for a university of our prominence and stature is a significant undertaking. . . . It could take through the academic year.
Will you be a candidate as the university looks for a new president?
My focus is to really get the job done as the job is laid out right now. I think once we get to that issue of the national search I’ll consult with my family, as I always do, and make a decision at that point.
Is there anything specific that you’d like to move on this year?
We’ve had a focus in the academic arena that has been a very, very sharp focus. That’s a focus on retention and graduation rates. . . . We have a center for academic excellence that we intend to roll out, which would be an umbrella for a lot of activities, including a focus on our honors programs. . . . I would love to see us get through the year having that really in full flight. . . . We’ve signed an agreement with Pearson [an education company] for Howard online. The primary goal of it is to increase our instructional environment. I would love to see that continue on the trajectory it is on right now. It’s going very well.
Are there particular steps you need to take to keep costs under control?
We certainly have to deliver all of our academic and instructional product in a fashion that is very, very cost-efficient. That really requires taking dead aim at any excesses we may have in the system, any redundancies, and really making those as streamlined as possible. I’m not saying that we have a lot of those.
Any layoffs in the works?
None that I can see.
Might some of your faculty be able to expect a raise?
I would say I’m optimistic, but very measured about that optimism.
What was your reaction when the board said they’d like you to be interim president?
It was extremely humbling. My ties to this university go back 25 years. And so to be tapped to lead my alma mater is probably the third-most-humbling thing that’s happened to me, the birth of my two kids being the two most humbling events. I felt extremely privileged because I know the enormity of the task, but at the same time I know the greatness of the mission.
Anything you’d like to add?
We have a strong legacy to protect, but we also have a very, very bright future to engage in. That’s the intent.