A Den of Thieves: Black College Administrators and Regents

The popular title and book by James B. Stewart, entitled Den of Thieves, recounts the insider trading scandals involving Ivan Boesky, Michael Milken and other Wall Street financiers during the 1980s.  The book is a fascinating tale of the arrogance and complacency that beset Wall Street in the 1980s.  

Why choose this title to characterize what is taking place at many HBCUs across the country? Because I see parallels between what took place on Wall Street in the 80s and what is taking place at many HBCUs.  For one, the same level of arrogance, complacency, and theft that rocked Wall Street is being played out at many HBCUs across the country.

Hubris by administrators and their cabinet members and regents is demonstrated by both the exorbitant salaries regents are paying presidents of HBCUs and the hands-off approach regents are taking when they allow presidents of these colleges to pay their cabinet members and other administrators in the administration obscene salaries.  Far too often, total administrative salaries are higher than the money presidents of the colleges and their staff have been able to raise. 

Such salaries and raises to administrators cannot be justified in the face of abysmal graduation rates and in cases where the combined salaries of administrators and their cabinet are more than the total amount of money raised by the leadership and its team.  To remedy this, presidents’ and their cabinets’ salaries should be tied to graduation rates and fundraising. At present, administrators are raiding the coffers of colleges at the expense of student academic support services with impunity.  Regents are complicit, because far too often many of the incompetent people serving in the president’s administration are direct placements and referrals from the regents.

Moreover, on top of paying obscene salaries to HBCU presidents and their cabinets, far too often an inordinate amount of money is spent on consultants at these institutions, because many of the members of the president’s cabinet are not qualified for their jobs.  Here too we see the fingerprints of regents.  Many of the consultants have relationships with the regents and the presidents of the colleges.  The efficient thing to do would be to fire the incompetent administrator, but this rarely happens.

Presidents and regents of HBCUs are able to administer as they please because of the complacency of the alumni, faculty and students.  Although there are faculty and student organizations on campus charged with participating in governance, in too many cases the leadership of these bodies has been coopted by the administration.  Perks such as increased salaries to faculty and student leaders are doled out under the table.  The constituents of these groups never demand an accounting from these leaders, and the few that do often also are angling for a payoff.  The alumni have altogether ceded their voice to the administration, and the few instances where they are vocal usually relate to some athletic issue.

Finally, I submit that the excessive pay to administrators and the inordinate use of consultants at HBCUs at the expense of supporting student academic and support services is theft.  At many HBCUs there is no funding for tutors and computer labs, and many HBCUs have substandard libraries.  Given the students that many HBCUs enroll and the needs of society, more funding should be allocated to the student academic and support enterprise, not the administrative and consulting enterprise.  Funding should never have been skewed toward administrative salaries and consulting fees at HBCUs given their mission and students’ needs.  By doing so, black college administrators and regents remind me of the characters in James B. Stewart’s book. The characters in Stewart’s book nearly destroyed Wall Street with their actions.  Unfortunately, for many students, the actions of the administrators and regents at HBCUs have destroyed many students’ lives, because they have been undereducated, and not educated at all in some instances, due to a lack of needed education resources.

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Posted by: Byron E. Price

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