We chat with journalist and author Masha Gessen, whose newest book explores the complicated family history behind bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
Wayne Frederick came to Howard University from his home in Trinidad at age 16, earned three degrees there and joined the faculty in 2006. Last week, the well-respected oncologist and administrator became Howard’s 17th president. Frederick takes the helm at a time of economic challenges at D.C.’s historically black school. Concerns about the medical school prompted two recent credit rating downgrades and charges of fiscal mismanagement roiled the board of trustees last year. Frederick joins Kojo to talk about his plans for a way forward.
- Wayne A.I. Frederick President, Howard University
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHoward University's new president is the ultimate insider. Not only does he hold three degrees from the school in zoology, medicine and business, he's been on the faculty since 2006, rising through the administrative ranks to be named acting president in October after the school's leader abruptly resigned. Now, cancer surgeon Wayne Frederick becomes Howard's 17th president, chosen by the board last week to lead the historically black university here in northwest Washington.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut the job will have its challenges, starting with securing the future of Howard's teaching hospital, which lost money last year and prompted the school's credit rating to be downgraded twice. But Howard also has reason for optimism. Two new dorms and a new academic building are opening this fall and the city's hot property prices are boosting the value of the university's real estate.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining me to look at the future of this local, national and international institution is Wayne A.I. Frederick, acting president then of Howard University, now president of Howard University. Dr. Frederick, thank you for joining us.
DR. WAYNE A.I. FREDERICKOh, thanks for having me.
NNAMDIYou too can join the conversation. If you have questions or comments for Wayne Frederick, call us at 800-433-8850. What do you think the top priority should be for Howard University's new president? 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet @kojoshow. You have a long history at Howard, as I mentioned, arriving from the Trinidad and Tobago at the age of 16 with dreams of becoming a doctor. What drew you to Howard for both your own education and your career?
FREDERICKThank you. First, let me say that it's a humbling honor to take over the mantle of leadership at the university as the 17th president. I'm certainly glad that you've given me this opportunity as well to talk to the community. Howard University had a significant reputation and impact on my life in Trinidad from a very, very personal point of view. Physicians who delivered my siblings and me were Howard trained. My mom was particularly say infatuated by the changes made in my country by Eric Williams who served in the Political Science Department.
NNAMDIPeople should know that Eric Williams was the first prime minister of an independent Trinidad and Tobago and he, too, was a prior graduate of Howard University.
FREDERICKThat's absolutely right. He was a graduate of Oxford and came to the Political Science Department of Howard University, joining the faculty and refer to Howard as a black Oxford back then. So growing up, Howard University was seen as an important place to receive an education, as a place where you would be excellent.
FREDERICKYou would receive an excellent training and as a place that you would also learn a lot about the society around you because of the backgrounds of all of the students and faculty that were there. So as I pass through high school, going to Howard University became a very, very significant dream.
NNAMDIYou started at Howard when you were 16 years old?
FREDERICKI did. I was accepted at age 16. I finished high school at the age of 14 and spent two years doing what was then known as A levels, pre-college courses before coming to Howard University at that time.
NNAMDIYou did A levels at 14?
FREDERICKThat's right. I started my A levels at 14. I was finished at 16.
NNAMDII was educated in the same system, couldn't A levels until I was 18. What was wrong with me? You've been acting president for nine months. So is the honeymoon already over? What do you see as your top priorities now that you know that you'll be staying in this job?
FREDERICKYeah. My relationship with Howard University is one that I would say I hope to be in a perpetual honeymoon. I came here in 1988 and it's been a honeymoon since then. This place has provided me a great opportunity with respect to getting an education. And I think as an administrator, it's provided me a great opportunity to make a significant different. Priorities, as you would imagine, given all of the challenges of higher education, (word?).
FREDERICKBut I would say my first priority is to galvanize our community. And to do that, I have to engage in a transparent fashion the entire community, not just the alumni but the faculty, the students and friends of the university as well, staff as well, so that everyone understands where we are, what direction we're going in and why. We had a very extensive presidential search process, which involved engagement of the different constituencies.
FREDERICKAnd that feedback is important. It's important for me to make sure that people see to that feedback, is influencing the decisions that I make. Underneath that galvanizing of our community, we then have to look at the financial management of the university. Higher education is in a state of flux and the financial management as to be astute. We will certainly be doing that and that would be a key priority.
FREDERICKWe are in the business of education and our outcomes must reflect that we are excellent at what we do. My expectation is that you will see us have graduation and retentions rates that reflect that excellence. And just as important, you will see the outcomes when people interact or hire a Howard graduate, they will see and feel a competency that's there. And the difference, as we've always said, our motto says, truth in service. They will also interact with young men and women who are going out and changing the world around them.
NNAMDIOur guest is Wayne Frederick. He is the president of Howard University. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Did you graduate from Howard University? What are your feelings about the school today? 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. Earlier this month, Moody's Investor Service downgraded Howard's bond rating for the second time this year, citing concern about the university's hospital, which had an operating loss of close to $40 million last fiscal year.
NNAMDIYour experience with the hospital would seem to make you ideally suited to fix its finances. Do you have a plan for turning the hospital around? And, if so, what is it?
FREDERICKYeah, absolutely. It's a top priority. The hospital has been there for just in excess of 150 years. And as we look at health care, the health care environment, currently there's a significant change in the U.S., in terms of how we deliver health care, the finances around that, and how we should manage these businesses. One of the things that I would say very obvious to us at this point, is that having a small hospital, as a single-owned entity, is not good financial business for us right now.
FREDERICKSo we clearly must level the economies of scale, whether it turns to the supply chain management side of where we get -- how we secure medical devices, etcetera. And also from a quality point of view in terms of volume. How many of a particular type of operation we may do at any given time. And therefore, how well we can do it. Those items have really forced us to look at having a partner for the hospital that will bring those economies of scale to bear in our favor.
FREDERICKAnd so we have been in a process, looking at securing a partner for the hospital, to continue the management of the hospital, while we focus on the academic environment that the hospital provides. It's the ultimate clinical laboratory. And when you look at all outcomes on the educational side, those outcomes have been increasingly impressive. Currently, our board-pass rate in the medical school is above the national average, despite the fact that we take students in whose MCAT scores may be a little less than the national average at present.
FREDERICKSo we are doing a phenomenal job educating our students. The dental students, the pharmacy students, the board-pass rates are similar. So what we want to do is to come out of this process with an appropriate partner that sets the financial magnets of the hospital in the right way, but preserves the academic environment.
NNAMDIWhat you're talking about is a business partner, essentially.
FREDERICKThat's absolutely correct.
NNAMDICharges of fiscal mismanagement and impending doom by a university trustee caused an uproar last year when they went public. Aside from the hospital, how are the school's overall finances?
FREDERICKRight. The school's overall finances -- if you separate the hospital from it -- are very, very strong. Our endowment is at the highest it's ever been, approaching $600 million. Among historically black colleges and universities it's the largest endowment. And by about $250 million, in terms of leading in that category. Also, when you look at our revenue stream on the university side, it is very solid as well. And we've been taking steps to diversify that revenue stream.
FREDERICKSo we're starting to monetize our real estate assets, as you mentioned in your opening. And I think that that's a key strategy for us going forward in the future and one that we can leverage. We're looking at also leveraging our intellectual property, as well. So that's something that we've done well in the past.
NNAMDIWhat does that mean? I'm not sure I understand that means, levering your intellectual property?
FREDERICKAnd that means that our research discoveries, the things that our faculty and students are discovering every day, we need to bring some of those to market and we need to commercialize those opportunities, as we haven't in the past. We are a significant contributor of new knowledge and discovery of new knowledge at the university, and we have an opportunity to re-leverage that opportunity as we go forward.
NNAMDIOne of a president's biggest jobs is fundraising. Howard, like some other historically black colleges and universities, is below the national average for alumni donations. Do you have plans for boosting alumni giving and other fundraising?
FREDERICKYes, absolutely. We will have a very aggressive movement around our fundraising. Our 150th anniversary will be celebrated in 2017. Our school was founded on March 2, 1867. And we plan on having a very robust campaign, which I think will be a strong catalyst going forward for our fundraising activities. The other thing about our fundraising activities that we recognize, is that we have to also leverage technology around that effort as well.
FREDERICKIn this day of social media and instantaneous nature of communications with the internet, we also have to bring that. And so we will be putting resources into our fundraising activity that would reflect that so that we could have a very robust outfit. You did mention our alumni giving as low. One of the things that, as an alum myself, I am empathetic and sometimes a bit sensitive about is that the students who come to Howard, we still attract a very financially-challenged student.
FREDERICKAnd so 56 percent of our undergrad students, as an example, currently are Pell Grant eligible. And they are coming from the lower income brackets in our country. Our alum go out into their communities and they give back heavily in their communities. And the shift that I am looking to make is to also have them Howard to their give back.
FREDERICKSo although, we characterize our statistics as having a low alumni giving rate back to the university, I also want to make it clear to all listening that we also recognize that our alum give back in many different ways, not just to the university but the communities around them. And we believe that we can turn that into significant fundraising opportunities for the university.
NNAMDIYeah, last year, I think it was, that we had Greg Carr on, chair of the African American studies department. And he was talking about the fact that because Howard encourages service so much, a lot of its graduates find themselves working for nonprofits and do not find themselves in the upper echelons of the business environment, necessarily. And therefore what they can give might be limited.
NNAMDIBut just reminded me of something. As the parent of three Howard alums myself, I'm going to get on their cases. Describe the students who choose Howard today. Many of them have lots of other choices. So why do -- why do they decide Howard is the right place to go?
FREDERICKWe attract a very diverse student body. The first thing I would say is that the students that come to Howard have a strong academic inclination. And that is obviously being borne out by an evaluation of the academic credentials coming in. I've told people recently that if I apply to Howard any time soon, I wouldn't get in, probably, because of how well these students are being prepared currently.
FREDERICKThe second thing is the students who are coming to Howard really want to make a change. They are not looking to hang a degree on their walls. We had over 300 students participate in an alternative spring break. These are students who could choose to go to Daytona Beach or to some warm Caribbean climate and spend your spring break. And instead they were on the streets of Baltimore, they were Haiti, giving up their time and effort. And we are still attracting that type of student who wants to change the world.
FREDERICKThe third characteristic that I'm seeing in our students, are students who want a global experience. Students who want to interact with people from diverse cultures, and they also want to go see those cultures. I recently received an email from a rising senior who is telling me about the fact that he came to Howard University without a passport and has now visited 10 countries because of our academic programs.
FREDERICKAnd Howard student -- that's one of the things that students are looking for at Howard. And the last thing I would say is that those students are looking for excellence. The students who are applying to the university now are very, very -- I would say that they're taking their time to make a decision. They're looking at all the variables with their parent. They're far more sophisticated than I was when I applied to just one school because I knew I needed to be at Howard University.
FREDERICKThey may apply on average to 10 to 15 schools. And so you're right, they're making a very discerning choice. But I think that Howard is still rising to the top of that decision-making tree.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Our guest is Wayne Frederick. He is the president of Howard University. You can also send email to Kojo@wamu.org. Did you attend a historically black college or university? Why did you choose it? 800-433-8850. You mentioned a number of countries that Howard University students are not interested in visiting. My personal experience with that was that my sons who went to Howard grew up within five blocks of Howard University. I was employed there for a long time.
NNAMDIAnd so they really had no choice, as far as I was concerned, about where they were going to go to school. They weren't sure that when they got to the campus that they would encounter the kind of diversity that they craved in life. And after the first week they said, "We have met students from more countries on this campus -- and we've been living right down the street for all of these years and not having any idea that this was here." They probably met a lot of students like you, yourself, from Trinidad, and that changed their view. Do you think that is what influences students who come to Howard?
NNAMDITo develop that interest?
FREDERICKIt's a major factor. There's no doubt. You cannot walk around our campus, sit in our classrooms, without recognizing the breadth of the globe around you. And to have that within a 10,300-student body and 1,000 faculty members, it just captures that type of magic that you just can't recreate. And I think it makes it a very special environment for those -- so for those students who come from Newark, N.J. or Long Beach, Calif., they get to Howard's campus and it becomes a portal and their window to the rest of the globe.
NNAMDIWhat universities do you see as your competitors for students, both among historically black colleges and universities and among all schools?
FREDERICKYeah, well, you know, I'll tell you quite honestly. When I look at competition and where I want us to be at the university, we are competing to be number one. We're competing to be excellent. It doesn't matter what category or label you put us on. Historically black colleges and universities in this country, there are 105 of them. And they're all very diverse. One of them has 35 students currently. And we are probably the second largest at 10,300.
FREDERICKSo when people ask me about competing and about being number one, as far as I'm concerned, we're trying to be number one in higher education. My intent is that when students come on Howard's campus, they will get the same type of education they would get if they attend one of the California state universities or they attend one of the Ivy League schools. And that -- the thing that would make us difference, as I said -- different, as I said before, is that the environment would be different and the expectation of service to go out and change the world is what will distinguish them from their competitors.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Catherine, in Glendale, Md. Catherine, you're on the air, go ahead, please.
CATHERINEHi. How are you? I'm so honored to be on the phone with you this morning. I happen to be home working this afternoon and just turned on the radio and was thrilled to hear the conversation. As a Howard alumni, class of 1988, I can say that I was -- I actually did not want to go to a historically black college. I thought that it may hamper opportunities. And found it to be just the opposite.
CATHERINEI was accepted to Florida A & M, to their School of Business and Industry, but because my father wanted me to stay close -- I'm from this area -- ended up choosing, you know, to go to Howard -- or that was chosen for me. And after three days on campus I was in love and hooked. And had a very, very positive experience. And I would say, frankly, I was an average student. But when I came out -- I was an average student in terms I was very well interested in doing a lot of the different opportunities that would be afforded to me.
CATHERINEAnd so I had kind of a B, 3.2 -- something like that -- average. But I will say outside of -- beyond the academics, in terms of the exposure I had to the various instructors and my peer groups and amazing things that they were doing, while an undergrad, and certainly throughout our careers as we continue to stay in touch through our lives, and the network of alumni is just incredible.
CATHERINEAnd there's -- I could go any place in the world and put out a call to say, "I'm a Howard alumni, is anyone here?" And people will answer the call. And so there's just amazing things that are happening. And that tradition continues. And I also worked for the United Negro College Fund and can speak highly of the HBCU experience over all.
NNAMDIIn general. But I have a question for your, Catherine.
NNAMDIYou said after three days on campus you were in love. You mean with the school or with an individual that you met on the campus?
CATHERINEAbsolutely with the school.
NNAMDIOkay. Just clarifying.
CATHERINEI think that the vibrancy of being in the heart of Washington, D.C., the diversity of the students that come from not only across this country, but others, just the richness of everything from the Moorland-Spingarn Collection to…
NNAMDIOkay. I wanted to raise that question…
CATHERINE…everything that's available…
NNAMDII wanted to raise that question, because there was a 16-year-old freshman there in the same year -- 1988 -- that you were leaving. So I wanted to make sure that he had nothing to do with it. But how often have you heard of the kind of experience that Catherine is talking about here?
FREDERICKYou know, I tell people all the time that my story at Howard University is not an exceptional story, in that it is not a story that is unusual on Howard's campus. People come there. It is a place, I think that brings you that opportunity to really fall in love with who you are, where you've come from, and for you to understand where you must go.
FREDERICKAnd to have other people pour that into you, makes it a very, very spiritual experience. And I think a lot of people from Howard -- who have attended Howard University will give you that story. For Catherine it took three days. For some of us it took three minutes.
NNAMDITalk about Howard's role in its neighborhood. With property values rising, your real estate becomes more valuable. I read that you suggested maybe one of the student residences, Meridian Hill Hall, on 16th Street, might be turned into condos.
FREDERICKYeah, absolutely. We have to look at our opportunities. It's -- as you know, Meridian Hill Hall, which sits on 16th Street, is…
NNAMDINot exactly on campus, right?
FREDERICKRight. It's not exactly on campus. We have to provide a shuttle service. So we see an opportunity, when you look at property values in that area, that we can leverage. Apart from that though, I think speaking about community engagement, I feel very strongly about that. One of the programs we hope to roll out will be midnight basketball for people in the community. Swimming is another thing that we want to look at. Teaching people in the community to swim. We currently have access to the libraries for some community members.
FREDERICKAnd we want to really further our experience with the community as we build the community around us. It is extremely important for us to make sure that we're serving those communities. So we also have been in touch with the chancellor of the D.C. Public School System, and we're looking at dual-enrollment programs for a couple of the high schools. But we're also looking to expand that and interact with teachers and principals in the D.C. Public School System so that we can get students into universities and colleges more readily, out of the system.
NNAMDIExplain the construction on campus. There are two new dorms going up. And the first new academic building in more than a decade. And we got a tweet from Krystal, who said, "What are the plans for upgrading the School of Communications building?"
FREDERICKRight. So our deferred maintenance on our infrastructure is significant. There's no doubt about that. And we have been working very fastidiously at trying to improve how we can maintain those buildings and certainly bring them into an era, which would be very contemporary. The two new dorms represent that, as you mentioned. And we'll open those this fall. And I think people will be very excited about those residence halls because they will have learning communities within them.
FREDERICKAnd the students' ability to really immerse in the academics while, you know, being housed in a very safe and modern environment, I think is one that will be welcome. Our interdisciplinary research building also represents our opportunity to really expand our intellectual property. And we are very excited about that. It will open this fall as well.
FREDERICKWith respect to the tweet regarding the School of Communications, we see a strong marriage in the School of Communications on our productions side, as well. We have a TV station, a radio station, as you know. And my vision for the School of Communications is to bring that into a technology era where our students can also participate on a production side of shows like yours, as an example, and have that activity more immersed with the academics.
FREDERICKWe received a gift, for which we are very thankful, from, as you know, from Cathy Hughes and her son, Mr. Liggins. And that gift represents, I think the first down payment on where we would like to take the School of Communications. And they're proving to be excellent partners. And so I'm very excite about the opportunities we will have in the School of Communications.
NNAMDIThe Howard University spokesperson who accompanied you today, Kerry-Ann Hamilton, happens to be a graduate of that school. I happened to work for that television station for some 25 years. And during that time I had an intern by the name of Kerry-Ann Hamilton. I suspect it might be the same person.
FREDERICKThat's absolutely right. I would like to see more of that.
NNAMDIWayne Frederick is the acting president of Howard University. We got a call that I don't have much time for, but he wants to know why doesn't each college at Howard have its own independent budget. And you only have about 30 seconds left to answer that.
FREDERICKYeah, they actually do. And this year we will distribute those budgets to the deans. We will have a very open and transparent process. We had one in building the budget this year. And in terms of managing the budget this year, that's what you'll see.
NNAMDIWayne Frederick is the president of Howard University -- the new president of Howard University. Wayne Frederick, thank you so much for joining us and good luck to you.
FREDERICKThanks for having me.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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