Wayne A.I. Frederick, the president of Howard University. (Photo by Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)

Students were holding a peaceful protest in the administration building of Howard University on Friday, writing concerns about financial aid, housing, unreliable wifi and a host of other issues on sticky notes that they plastered onto columns.

Frustration with delays in financial aid, problems with registration and other issues boiled over Wednesday when students made the #takebackHU slogan go viral on Twitter. The private, historically black university is deeply loved for its legacy, but alumni were also quick to say that they understood the complaints and had experienced similar problems in years past.

President Wayne A. I. Frederick and other university leaders met with a group of students Thursday night and told them they were working to address their concerns.

On Friday morning, officials were working to expedite financial aid processing to get money back to students, as protesters were gathering.

An e-mail from the provost and chief academic officer, Anthony K. Wutoh, sent Friday morning to some other leaders at Howard, obtained by The Washington Post, describes some of the fixes they are putting into place:

Colleagues,

Good morning. I wanted to update you regarding the activities of yesterday. Last evening, President Frederick, Mr. Kindle, Ms. Laura Jack (Interim VP of Advancement) and I met with @25-30 students leading the #TakebackHU group for over an hour.

Students voiced a number of concerns including; improved customer service throughout campus and focused on advising, financial aid, Registrar, etc.; consistency in information that they receive from various offices; better communication overall; improved infrastructure in buildings, supplies and equipment in their academic programs, etc.

President Frederick acknowledged a number of shortcomings in the distribution of aid this year and apologized for the inefficient implementation of various services (primarily refunds, etc.).

He also committed to improved customer service in all areas, and noted that HR will be rolling out a Customer Training program for all employees.

He then provided context regarding software issues with Banner, level of service provided by contractors (several under review), over $750 million in deferred maintenance, and relatively low level of giving by alums, etc.

In context, last year the University received @ $200 million in tuition payment, and provided over $100 million in scholarships and student aid. This is against the total budget of over $800 million.

Several of our infrastructure problems will require longer term solutions, leveraging of our real estate assets, creative financing, etc.

The meeting concluded with several updates from Financial Aid. Thus far, the patch to enable continued communication with the Department of Education is working.

The Federal Pell Grant disbursements were completed yesterday afternoon.

We have also contacted Treasury and they agreed to be on standby for a refund file which was sent late last night. We are awaiting confirmation of bank receipt this morning. Provided that it is confirmed, students will receive refunds between today, Saturday and through next Wednesday, depending on their banking institution (and noting that Monday is a banking holiday).

Meanwhile, the students have begun their peaceful sit-in protest in the Administration building.

We are hardly under siege, but Campus Police are taking no chances and there is a high level of security in the building. If you are coming to the A building, you may want to use the rear entrance near the parking lot. I will keep you updated. Thank you.

On Thursday night, students also received this message from the interim vice president for student affairs, Constance Ellison: “We are pleased to offer a Student Customer Service Help Desk to assist you in triaging concerns regarding registration, financial aid, housing, health insurance, and other topics related to life on campus.”

The volunteers would be available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday in the lower level of Cramton Auditorium, she announced, documenting questions and concerns, directing people to the right office or staff member, and following up to be sure that people have responded (or given an estimated response time).

The help desk would continue next week after the Labor Day holiday, she wrote.

And the protest spread to the help desk area later on Friday morning.

George Middendorf, a faculty member in the biology department, noted that, “student concerns are certainly warranted, that those concerns have been recognized by the administration, and that appropriate measures seem to have been suggested.

Middendorf added, “At this point, the focus needs to shift to effective implementation moving forward.”