Farewell to HU – By: Segun Gbadegesin

No Comments » July 3rd, 2016 posted by // Categories: USA Watch



Farewell to HU

Posted By: Segun Gbadegesinon: 
Farewell to HU

After 24 years of productive engagement in teaching, research, and administration, and learning a lot from colleagues and students, I ended my formal relationship with Howard University (HU), Washington, DC. yesterday, the 30th day of June, in the year of our Lord, 2016. It has been a memorable journey in many respects; and I am grateful for the positive experience and successful outcome of the journey.

I first stepped on the campus of Howard University in February 1992 when I was interviewed for the position of Professor and Chairman of the Department of Philosophy. As soon as I entered the campus, even before the rigorous interview began, I knew that Howard was the place for me. It turned out to be everything that I longed for to make my contributions to scholarship and community.

I chose Howard University over other institutions that gave me offers of appointment because of its long and rich history of scholarship and service. Founded in 1867, Howard University earned its reputation as the Mecca of scholarship for African descendants worldwide. On top of her scholarship, however, Howard is also attractive for its social engagement, and for the training of servant-leaders with a focus on freedom, justice and equality.

Many African leaders passed through Howard University, from where they renewed their abiding interest in freedom and justice and pledged their commitment to the freedom of African peoples worldwide. Howard has produced exemplary leaders for America and the global community.

Occupying the Chair of Alain Locke, the first African-American Rhodes Scholar and towering figure of Harlem Renaissance, was an honour and an uncommon professional opportunity that I grabbed and made the best of. Locke placed philosophy at Howard on the map of philosophical scholarship. Though Africana philosophy had not been a recognised or sought-after specialisation at his time, he anticipated its rise in the second half of the last century, with his focus on the philosophy of race and intercultural relations.

With my departmental colleagues on board, and the encouragement of a supportive administration, I was determined to advance the cause of Africana philosophy as a tribute to the pioneering efforts of Locke, and the success of that determination remains one of the initiatives that I will always be proud of.

Howard Philosophy department not only features an undergraduate programme in Africana philosophy, there is also an infusion of Africana content throughout the entire curriculum. My colleagues and I conclude that if philosophy must be true to itself as the search for truth, it must stand for the whole truth, and not a partial truth which celebrates the wisdom of only a fraction of humanity.

It is near impossible to pull that off in other institutions. But Howard is special in the sense that, as an institution of higher learning, the leadership of Howard, from the beginning, understood its uniqueness and assigned to it a mission that cannot be replicated elsewhere. With “an enduring commitment to the education of underrepresented communities in America and the global community”, Howard has opened its doors to the world’s marginalised and neglected from its inception.

The mission of Howard is unique. It prides itself as “a culturally diverse, comprehensive, research intensive and historically Black private university, (that) provides an educational experience of exceptional quality at the undergraduate, graduate and professional levels to students of high academic standing and potential, with particular emphasis on educational opportunities for Black students. Moreover, the university is dedicated to attracting and sustaining a cadre of faculty who are, through their teaching, research and service, committed to the development of distinguished, historically aware, and compassionate graduates and to the discovery of solutions to human problems in the United States and throughout the world. With an abiding interest in both domestic and international affairs, the university is committed to continuing to produce leaders for America and the global community.”

The key is the “development of distinguished, historically aware and compassionate graduates and the discovery of solutions to human problems in the United States and throughout the world.” Howard has been faithful to this mission. Howard is the foremost university in the development of students who take seriously the issues of social justice and community service.

It is not a coincidence that most of the major breakthroughs in the cause of social justice were initiated at Howard University. The landmark ruling on Brown versus Board of Education, which ended school segregation, had Howard School of Law faculty at its vanguard. The campaign for the freedom of Nelson Mandela and divestment from South Africa were spearheaded by Howard students and faculty. Mandela repaid this handsomely by choosing Howard as the institution to receive his first honorary degree after he regained his freedom and assumed the presidency of a free South Africa.

More recently, Howard University students have demonstrated their fidelity to the core values of the institution with their unadulterated and unambiguous position on justice for the downtrodden in the face of police brutality.

What will strike an African student or faculty just relocating to the United States and visiting Howard University for the first time is the commitment of the institution to Africa in all areas of its operation. In curricula offerings, in service programmes, in social activities, Africa is celebrated and venerated. There is no denying the fact that Howard students have a yearning for African original values undiluted by colonial presence and its post-colonial jaundiced vision.

Where some African institutions neglect the study of African history and African languages, Howard is constantly adding to its offerings in these areas. From Hausa to Yoruba and Swahili, students have a variety of choices to advance their African cultural understanding. It is no surprise, as I reported two weeks ago, that Ooni Ogunwusi, Ojaja II received a red-carpet reception at the historic Blackburn Centre of the university recently.

It was Howard University that first initiated the idea of an Alternative Spring Break (ASB), a student initiative to give back to the community. Some of these students have been volunteering their spring break for worthy causes for a long time. But shortly after the tragic Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Howard student leaders formally organised and decided to spend their Spring Break in New Orleans caring for the victims of the hurricane. Howard students have since been to Haiti, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, Baltimore and the District of Columbia.

ASB participants are self-organised. They raise their own funds. They go to inner cities to help drug addicts, assist struggling young people in elementary and high schools, and counsel HIV-AIDS patients. As one television anchor puts it, these are students that will change the world. For in the process of helping others with their time, they are also transformed, becoming more compassionate and less self-centred.

Howard students are not in the business of asking for their individual rights. They are asking for how they can help less privileged ones in the community. That is the spirit of Howard. It is also what education is about. It is why like-minded individuals, be it faculty, administrators, staff, or students find a comfortable home at Howard and stay even when they have more attractive offers elsewhere. Howard is in the top rank of institutions that send students to the Peace Corps.

My years at Howard have been greatly rewarding. I met here some of the most hardworking, self-less and genuinely committed individuals. In the last few years that I served in college administration, I have seen up close the milk of compassion flowing in high and low places. My faculty colleagues have been wonderful. Of those who helped me selflessly with the administration of the college, I must mention Drs. Greg Carr and Dana Williams. Dr. James Donaldson offered me the opportunity to serve and former President Ribeau concurred. I am eternally grateful.

Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, an outstanding surgeon and triple alumnus of Howard University, is a rare gem. His commitment is unassailable. His energy and dynamism is electrifying. His vision for Howard is inspiring. Exiting with him in charge, I am reassured that Howard University will “keep on keepin’ on” in truth and service.  HU! U Know!!!

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