The Neocolonial Collusion of HBCUs and the State

The Neocolonial Collusion of HBCUs and the State

Recent demonstrations by students at Howard University (HU) and the Atlanta University Complex (AUC) have drawn international attention to the dual contradictory nature of the United States public and private higher education system. Living conditions at these Historically Black Universities (HBCUs) have prompted protests against being housed in units infested with roaches, bedbugs, rats, mushrooms and various growing molds. Upon closer examination we also find academic buildings that are poorly kept, campuses that are not safe, and administrations who are not accountable to the students, alumni or the communities in which they reside. 

Howard and the AUC, which are some of the more prestigious HBCUs, promote themselves to the world as modern facilities designed to meet the needs of Black youth in a rapidly changing 21st century. Yet none of these esteemed institutions can offer the minimum requirement of clean, safe housing units or properly maintained physical facilities. These recently exposed problems with the physical facilities are just one aspect of mounting problems with the US system of higher education.

Producing Black Colonial Subjects: The Role and Function of US Higher Education

HU “The Mecca” beckons Black and brown undergraduate and graduate students to Come to Howard! Change the World!”. Morehouse, part of the Atlanta University Complex, claims to “…Enhance your impact as an influential community leader, professional, and global citizen.” In reality most of these institutions do not want to change the world. Students come to get a degree that turns them into professionals and citizens of an international system of imperialist oppression and exploitation. They are not taught to change the world, they learn to become part of the status quo and maintain the existing world order. Facing these realities, students have taken up the tried and true tradition of resistance.

HIstorically there have always been a small number of students who commit themselves to change. This group learns by opposing the teachings of the university and aligning themselves with the needs and aspirations of the people. These are students who understand the words of Frederick Douglas, “Where there is no struggle, there is no progress”, and the great Howard alumnus, Kwame Ture, who said, “African People have never gotten any progress without the spilling of our blood.” History shows that the people had to bleed for us to get access to higher education. In fact we had to bleed to get access to any education at all. Universities are inadvertently helping develop these students committed to progress by putting them in horrendous living conditions that force them to learn how to Stand Up, Unite and Resist!  When students stand up for themselves they stand up for us all. As Dr. King taught us, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Public higher education in general, and HBCUs in particular, do not exist to teach Black youth to be “Community Leaders” or “Change the World”, as is so boldly claimed in their recruitment webpages. In fact the tradition of youthful resistance has always emerged in spite of the university’s aims, not because of them. Oppressors do not teach the oppressed to free themselves. Oppressors educate the oppressed to perpetuate oppression. Clearly oppressed people, and the private and public institutions of higher learning have opposing reasons for educating the youth.

The demonstrations at Howard and the AUC have drawn worldwide attention to these institutions projecting themselves as independent facilities in service to Black communities. The student resistance reveals the true aims of these institutions; which is to enrich private corporations and train another generation of Black and brown sellouts only interested in enriching themselves, while turning their backs on the needs of the people who fought and died to put them in school.

The corporate bleeding of the public university system, especially HBCUs, has been accelerated by the privatization of development and management of the University’s only real material asset, their land and buildings (real estate). Through partnerships with military contractors, federal tax schemes and federal, state and local police cooperation, university assets are sucked dry, students are kept in check, and the next generation of corporate stooges, military leaders and social hacks are developed. 

The last few weeks of student protests have unmasked the insidious collusion between HBCUs and the private sector. These demonstrations have also laid bare the relationship between Higher education institutions and the armed agents of the state known as the Industrial Police Military/Intelligence Complex. 

Howard University and The Corvias Group 

Corvias Group is a real estate company that develops and manages on-base military housing for the U.S government. Since 1998, the company has been expanded to include housing development and facility management at public and private colleges and universities. Today Corvais has a higher education housing market share of $10 billion”. The Corvias portfolio of college and university projects spans dozens of campuses in the South, Midwest and Washington, DC. The company counts more than 100,000 beds and 48 million square feet of space under management at over 30 properties across the country, including Howard University.

In 2017, Howard joined in partnership with the Corvias Group, following the example of the Georgia University System, Wayne State in Michigan and others. Presently this HU-Corvias Partnership has privatized all campus development and facility maintenance. Corvias Group employs sub-contracted workers and is notorious for being understaffed, underpaid and poorly supervised. This is much like the privatized maintenance of some DC public housing units. Unlike in the past, the maintenance people on campus no longer work for the university. 

Corvias extracts the equity in the university’s real estate holding through a 40-year contract that funnels student housing fees to Corvias and pays them to maintain the other campus facilities. The cost per housing at Howard is $9,432. Howard students living on campus are paying $786 per month in a highly gentrified city where the average cost of rent is $2,160 monthly. The students are being forced into subpar living conditions with no viable options. 

Through this private contract with Corvias the university maintains the appearance of handling its own affairs and modernizing housing. This is much like the neo-colonial arrangements that corporations make with countries who appear to be independent, having presidents and legislatures who set state policy, while having the economy controlled by corporate Boards of Directors on Wall Street. Corvias claims that all profits made are reinvested into projects, implying that earnings are used to build new properties and maintain, upgrade and improve existing units. What this really means, however, is Corvias gets to extract equity over the life of the contract (40 years) for improvements that are not made, or made with inferior products and maintenance fees. Ironically, while Howard students languish in rodent and pest infested dorms, Corvias’ owner and CEO lives lavisciously in a palatial estate in Florida, with summers on a 42 ft yacht off the coast of New England and vacations in his private estate among the rolling hills of Ireland. 

These university facilities, managed by Corvias, are training grounds for military officers in the ROTC who are often recruited into military intelligence units and serve as officers in US bases in Africa and elsewhere. This is particularly heinous when these officers are stationed with AFRICOM, sending Black people to Africa to fight other black people for the US government.

AUC and Cop City

AUC schools have supported this effort and the presidents of Spelman and Morehouse, Dr. Mary Schmidt and Dr. David A. Thomas, along with c-suite level business, civic, philanthropic and academic leaders, are members of the Atlanta Committee for Progress, a public-private partnership that endorsed “Cop City” and has been used to drum up “consensus.” These close relationships underscore the ties between policing and capitalist interests, and the AUC’s endorsement of this initiative exemplifies their alignment with corporate elites over their students and the working-class people of Atlanta. Cop City is the planned $90 million police training facility that will be built on the city-owned Old Atlanta Prison Farm. This “training” facility — larger than 85 NFL football fields combined — would include shooting ranges, spaces for militarized drills, and a mock city complete with buildings and roads to allow APD to practice urban warfare tactics. The “Cop City” training facility is yet another massive, militarized, and corporate-funded project the police foundation is trying to prop up behind closed doors.

This is taking place in the context of a housing crisis both on and off campus. Hundreds of students live in uninhabitable dorms or lack housing assignments on AUC campuses. Meanwhile, working class and poor Atlantans are being forced out of the city to further serve the interests of real estate developers. The increase in militarized policing through initiatives like Cop City facilitates the forced displacement of poor and working class people to meet the needs of real estate capital. 

AUC students are currently occupying space and demonstrating on their campuses to address the housing crisis and express solidarity with the students at Howard and the Atlanta residents who are being pushed out of the city. They are calling for access to more student housing, broadband access, and dormitory cleanliness among other demands.

Morgan State, Coppin State and the 1033 program

The 1033 program is a program that “transfers excess military equipment to civilian law enforcement agencies.” The 1033 program is the critical source of the most visible, big-ticket military items being sent to local law enforcement across the country. In August 2014, The Baltimore Sun reported that the Pentagon issued local police departments in Maryland more than $12 million in excess military equipment since 2006 through the 1033 program. 

With the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit as the prominent collectors of program funds, Baltimore City has received well over $500,000 worth of military-style weapons, gear, and vehicles. The half of a million dollars spent also includes issuing military-style weapons (including glocks and M16s) to historically Black universities, Coppin State and Morgan State— campuses that house Black students and are surrounded by Black communities. 

In 2013, Morgan State campus police with access to military-grade weapons provided through the 1033 program were involved in the murder of Tyrone West. Ongoing talks of merging Coppin State under the University of Baltimore system, coupled with the increase in gentrification efforts on the west side, would mean the utility of a 1033 program budget has the potential to align with the general use of policing to displace communities. 

With the advancement of military grade weapons on these HBCU campuses and the coordination between campus police and local police, one has to wonder if the next step for these schools is to each establish their own police academies just as Lincoln University in Missouri has.

HBCUS and The Military Industrial Complex 

The field of engineering has kept ABET-accredited HBCUs tied directly to the US military industrial complex. Whether through funding and scholarships provided by weapons manufacturers like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, or having deans who sit directly on the boards of multinational industries like Chevron, these insidious ties are encouraged through the same pseudo advancement rhetoric that has allowed HBCUs to project themselves as existing “in-service” to the people.

On September 15-16, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) virtually hosted an HBCU International Development Conference intended as a part of it’s “commitment to building a diverse, inclusive, and equitable workforce.” The conference featured a panel discussion titled “Centering Racial Equity in International Development” with administrator Samantha Power, Congresswoman Barbara Lee and others. The conference also included a chance to highlight USAID employees working across different bureaus in Washington, D.C. and in missions around the world. As an NGO and official aid agency, the USAID is an US imperialist vehicle. The humanitarian aid provided through USAID serves as an ideological prop for aggressive western imperialism made evident in its role in nations like Haiti and most recently Cuba.

North Carolina A&T, the largest HBCU in the country by enrollment, and Norfolk State in Virginia have a longstanding recruiting relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Although the CIA is not allowed to operate within the borders of the US, it is allowed to move freely through the campuses of HBCUs.

To further demonstrate Howard’s entrenched relationship with the Industrial Police Intelligence Network we point to Howard’s ongoing relationships in terms of academic programs, fellowships, internships, staff positions, grants etc. with Homeland Security, The White House, the Department of Defense, The US Army, CIA, NSA and the The Department of State, The FBI and the Metropolitan Police Department.

What is to be done?

The Biden Administration’s “Lift Every Voice” campaign promises have failed HBCUs, undoubtedly. The Biden Administration’s promise of tens of billions of dollars to be spent on HBCUs has become $2 billion overnight. While it is true that the underfunding of HBCUs have caused serious issues with sustainability and infrastructure, the whole truth is not being discussed more broadly. The truth is, HBCUs are receiving federal funding— by way of privatization, military research contracts, program development and policing budgets. 

The US Government recently passed a $738,000,000,000 ($738B) military budget for the next fiscal year. Less than half this amount ($300B) would pay the tuition for every undergraduate student in the United States; a mere $6B would cover the tuition for all 300,000 HBCU students currently enrolled. Clearly the US places more value on the military domination of the world than it does on the education, health and safety of its own citizens. In the United States, post high school education is viewed as a privilege afforded to those who can afford it or the few who can qualify for scarce scholarships and financial aid.

The military budget finances 800 US military installations around the world and funds war and military intervention In Africa, Asia, South America and the Middle East. The US maintains 11 Military Commands around the world (these include AFRICOM, SOUTHCOM, INDO- PACIFIC COMMAND, etc.) while being threatened by no country in the world. Its only purpose is to control the world’s material resources and support the continued exploitation of humanity to the benefit of US corporate bosses. 

If the US was really concerned with improving the condition of its population and protecting their collective interest, it would not use US tax dollars to foster war and instability around the world. If the US was not firmly committed to policing humanity and maintaining imperial control of the world resource it would invest these funds in the health, education and general well being of its own citizens. Instead of privatizing public higher education to enrich corporate developers, the US would fully fund education from preschool to post graduate studies, and provide healthcare to all who live within its borders. We who understand the racist, imperialist nature of the settler colony called the United States of America, know that this government never has, does not now, and never will voluntarily serve the interest of its people or the people of the world. 

The US government supports and serves the interest of that 1% of humanity that owns and controls the world resources and wealth. The US commitment to monopoly capital will never be voluntarily relinquished. The only way to change this imperialist enterprise is to organize the people of the world in general, and the US in particular, to bring an end to imperialist policies abroad and capitalist exploitation of its population at home.

For African/Black People, the only solution remains to make capitalism and imperialism a chapter of humanity’s past. The immediate first step is to get all US military programs, projects and policing methodologies off the campuses we attend. We must take the education of our youth into our own hands, especially on HBCU campuses. We must get the US out of Africa, get AFRICOM out of Africa, dismantle the 1033 program, close all US foreign bases, and bring a final end to imperialism and capitalism. 

Our task is to build a better world for all African people everywhere, and liberate all of humanity from the ravages of US militarism, imperialism and capitalism. African/Black people must establish control of our HBCUs. Our students and youth, in coordination with our communities, must take up the task of transforming HBCUs into liberated zones that produce class after class of individuals ready to make the revolution needed to solve our problems. This assignment given to our youth, requires youth and students to critically organize themselves. They must become a united politically-educated force capable of providing a united collective effort to serve our oppressed and exploited people in the US and around the world.