Saturday, September 28, 2013

Notes on the HBCU Week Conference 2013

Last updated: Sunday 9/29/13 @ 12:39 am
This year's HBCU Week conference sponsored by the White House Initiative on HBCUs was held on Thursday 9/26/13 and Friday 9/27/13 at the Washington Hilton Hotel. Unlike last year, there was no dinner session at the end of the first day, so no chance to hear an inspiring after-dinner speaker, like last year's speaker, Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, III.

This year's plenary sessions were well attended and, as usual, there were many simultaneous break-out sessions; so no one person could attend them all. Therefore my comments merely reflect the sessions that I chose to attend.

Back to the Future ...
My notes on last year's conference reported the "bad news" that I felt "like a time traveler from 2012 who had just plopped down onto the deck of the HMS Titanic one hundred years ago in 1912 ...  OMG, OMG, OMG!!!" ... because most of the presenters and most of the attendees seemed determined to ignore the  high tech innovations that were threatening to sink the entire flotilla of traditional institutions higher education ... unless we changed course asap.

But this years' good news was that most of the conference attendees, if not all of the members of the conference panels, seemed to be fully aware that these same potentially disruptive innovations also presented unprecedented opportunities for HBCUs. 
  • At one session, that I will not identify, the panel of distinguished speakers quickly came to a consensus that the students at their HBCUs were well versed in the use of new technologies, like social media, but did not seem to appreciate the potential applications of these new media for serious academic purposes, e.g., their coursework. Then all but one proudly proclaimed that they themselves never used Facebook or Twitter or Reddit or whatever, but some of the members of their staff used the new media to reach out to their students from time to time ... the important point was that their students needed to learn the traditional basic skills -- e.g., writing and critical thinking -- and not waste so much time and energy on high tech distractions, etc, etc, etc.

    ... all the while I found myself physically cringing my six foot frame into a smaller and smaller profile because the panel's remarks were so egregiously off the mark as to be profoundly embarrassing. I also found myself peeping around the room, hoping to see nobody young enough to be a student. I will celebrate my 72nd birthday next month, but my distinguished younger colleagues on this panel, all of whom ranged from 10 to 30 years younger than me, were portraying the worst kinds of geriatric stereotypes -- old doggies who were adamantly refusing to concede that any of the new technologies could possibly serve time honored values ... suddenly I was back on the sinking Titanic, just like last year ... :-(

    ... but just as the session was coming to a close, a determined young woman, a student, refused to accept the moderator's efforts to accept no more questions from the floor. She stood up anyway and spontaneously emitted a rat-tat-tat-tat rebuttal of the panel's consensus, citing example after example of how she and her fellow students were using the new media every day, not just for socializing, but to help them learn their course materials, finish their homework assignments, and complete their degree requirements ... I could only hope that at least one or two of the old dogs on the panel might be inspired by this student's extemporaneous demolition of their consensus to take a second look at the new media. Perhaps they would see how badly they had underestimated its potential academic value.
  • On the other hand, it was all clear sailing at the Friday morning session titled, "Developing HBCU-based Entrepreneurial Ecosystems as Nodes and Hubs of Innovation, Commercialization and Entrepreneurship"

    The panel got it. The attendees got it. And there was palpable excitement in the room because everybody knew that everybody got it!!! Even when it was acknowledged that many HBCUs were handicapped by leadership that  still didn't get it, there was a surging undertow of optimism in the room that HBCUs would nevertheless become alternative centers of high tech innovation, alternatives to Silicon Valley that were far more accessible to black innovators, be they students just launching their careers or older workers breaking out of unproductive career ruts ... :-)

    During his keynote address on Thursday 9/26/13, Secretary Arne Duncan (U.S. Department of Education) announced that UNCF is convening an HBCU summit  at Stanford University from October 29th to November 1st to which 12 HBCU presidents have been invited ==>

    As the reader will see from this Website, the invited HBCUs include: Morehouse College, Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University, Tuskegee University, Jackson State University, Howard University, Morgan State, and Hampton University, North Carolina A&T University, Dillard University, Florida A&M University, and Prairie View University.

    Back in 2012, I posted a series of notes on this blog that lamented the lack of black participation in the development of the kind of high tech innovations that had generated so much wealth so quickly for so many young white entrepreneurs educated at Silicon Valley universities in the last decade. The historically accurate claim by HBCUs that they had educated most of the black graduates who went on to become prominent practitioners in the traditional professions -- medicine, law, dentistry, nursing, etc -- during the 20th century should not blind them to the necessity to aspire to comparable roles with regards to producing the high tech entrepreneurs whose prominence in our economy will dwarf the traditional professions in the 21st century. Let us hope that ten years from now, we will look back on this forthcoming summit in Silicon Valley as an historic milestone in this transformation.
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