HBCUs Should Be Careful Not to Mess Up MacKenzie Scott's Money Before it Arrives

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Historically Black colleges and universities are on pace to collect more than $1 billion in a single year of gifts and grants from individual, corporate, and foundation donors. The lion’s share of that money bears a name that that is now etched in HBCU history alongside those of Rockefeller and Carnegie; MacKenzie Scott.

Her selection of campuses to support with transformative gifts seems arbitrary outside of institutions holding spots on mainstream lists of best colleges and universities, and those who take up real estate in higher education news. But her process is anything but random.

From the Medium post announcing her second round of giving in six months.

To select these 384, the team sought suggestions and perspective from hundreds of field experts, funders, and non-profit leaders and volunteers with decades of experience. We leveraged this collective knowledge base in a collaboration that included hundreds of emails and phone interviews, and thousands of pages of data analysis on community needs, program outcomes, and each non-profit’s capacity to absorb and make effective use of funding. We looked at 6,490 organizations, and undertook deeper research into 822. We put 438 of these on hold for now due to insufficient evidence of impact, unproven management teams, or to allow for further inquiry about specific issues such as treatment of community members or employees. We won’t always learn about a concern inside an organization, but when we do, we’ll take extra time to evaluate. We’ll never eliminate every risk through our analysis, but we’ll eliminate many. Then we can select organizations to assist — and get out of their way.

Scott is receiving advice from people who watch higher education, and specifically those of us who watch HBCUs from a bird’s eye perspective. That means that campuses that are not lightning rods for coverage of their achievements are likely going to be harder to find, and campuses that are magnets for negative publicity will be easier to deny.

In the last few days, alumni at some HBCUs which haven’t yet received support from Scott have started grumbling about the accountability that their boards and presidents should face for their institutions not being in the number of awardees. And if they think that amplifying that grumbling is the best course to receive the support, there couldn’t be a worse miscalculation.

Several of the campuses where alumni and trustees are moving to fire their presidents are justified in doing so. There is a group of HBCU presidents whose members have outlived the usefulness of their charisma, their personal network, or their role as political pawns in a larger game of campus musical chairs with resources and access.

Some of these presidents should have been fired long ago, but the silent movers and shakers behind these efforts should know that the coup that they wrongly delayed for years and is now necessary to avoid crisis will all but guarantee that the clock will reset on those campus’ hitting big and soon in the Scott “Save Our HBCU” Sweepstakes.

Firing a president, infighting among trustees, accreditation inquiries and sanctions, and public dissatisfaction among students and alumni will force an HBCU off the radar of Scott’s team of advisors and analysts. She will still work to fulfill what appears to be a goal of transforming every individual HBCU campus in the country, but it is clear that her money is worth the wait for campuses to get right.

The path to prosperity seems simple; HBCU’s must do their immediate best to build relationships with media, particularly news media that is endeared and exclusive to covering HBCUs at a national level. Key stakeholders among HBCU leadership, alumni, students, and communities need to lock themselves in a room and hug out whatever issues exist that could impact public perception of their institutions.

Most of all, everybody needs to relax. A check that hasn’t arrived today doesn’t mean it’s not en route, it just means that the sender needs to know that every campus up for consideration is truly ready for special delivery.