Washington, DC – On Monday (May 9), President Donald Trump walked back a statement made on Friday suggesting that he did not support setting aside funds for historically black colleges and universities.
The suggestion that black colleges should be defunded was made on Friday in a signing statement after Trump had signed a $1.1 trillion spending bill. In the signing statement, Trump suggested that it was unconstitutional to set aside money for higher institutions of learning that focus on one race because of a violation of due process laws.
It seemed to be a nod to the conservative view that affirmative action and similar programs are actually discriminatory to whites, though it was not clear from the statement whether Trump was simply nodding to that view or if the White House would refuse to allocate the funds that Congress had already set aside for the HBCUs.
White House aide Omarosa Manigault denied that the signing statement signaled a shift away from HBCU support, according to the New York Times, saying “I worked to make sure there was clarity because I observed that there was feedback and some were misconstruing the signing statement.”
The Friday signing statement hit hard because in February, he had invited dozens of presidents from historically black universities to visit him in the Oval Office while he signed an executive order that moved an initiative to support such schools from the Education Department into the White House. That was followed by Ms. Manigault’s open boast that while cuts in the president’s budget would be deep, black higher education was safe.
“I think it was a photo op,” said Marybeth Gasman, a University of Pennsylvania professor who has studied historically black universities since 1994. She called Mr. Trump’s statement on Friday “offensive” and said she is worried that he is signaling to the schools that he has the power to make life difficult for them.
Regardless, it prompted an uproar. Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, called the statement “shameful.” The United Negro College Fund said it had sought “clarification” from the White House, while stressing that the schools were open to all races.
Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, and Representative Cedric L. Richmond, Democrat of Louisiana and the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, released a joint statement on Saturday calling on Mr. Trump to reconsider.
“For a president who pledged to reach out to African-Americans and other minorities, this statement is stunningly careless and divisive,” they said.
In the statement the White House issued late Sunday, Mr. Trump said his signing statement “does not affect my unwavering support” for historically black colleges and universities, saying his commitment “remains unchanged.”
Mr. Trump’s second statement also noted that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is scheduled to be a commencement speaker this week at a historically black school, Bethune-Cookman University in Florida. Separately, Ms. DeVos issued a statement on Sunday night applauding Mr. Trump for reaffirming the administration’s support for such colleges.
On Monday, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, dismissed the flap, saying Mr. Trump was “obviously aware” of what was in the signing statement, but called it a “normal, pro forma” action.
However, Michael L. Lomax, the president and chief executive of the College Fund, said that the statement was a step in the right direction but that actions would speak louder than words.
“The clearest indication that they accept what has been the policy and the practice since 1965 would be the immediate release of the funds and the implementation of the program,” he said.
source: www.thegrio.com; www.nytimes.com