Well-known advocate to lead White House board on historically black colleges

A prominent advocate for historically black colleges will lead a board that advises President Trump on issues confronting the schools, the White House announced Tuesday.

Johnny C. Taylor Jr. will be chairman of the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, a group of more than 100 institutions that were created at a time when most universities did not allow minorities to enroll.

Trump called Taylor a “great guy” and said, “I know he will advance the cause of HBCUs, a major priority of our administration.”

Taylor said, “It has been my life’s work to unleash talent — in all its forms, from wherever it originates.” He said the advisory board can be the nexus between institutions of higher education and employers, and “support innovations in work-based learning opportunities for HBCU students.”

The White House pleased some leaders of historically black colleges a year ago as the administration reached out quickly to such schools, promising support. But some of those presidents and chancellors became increasingly skeptical the outreach would translate into real help, rather than just photo ops.

Many were also critical of the September decision to name someone who lacked direct experience with the schools as executive director of the president’s HBCU initiative. Former Cincinnati Bengals player Johnathan Holifield was named to that post, and the White House said he and Taylor will work closely.

Harry L. Williams, who recently replaced Taylor as president and chief executive officer of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, said he thinks some people had unrealistic expectations of how things work in Washington, and said he has seen progress on issues important to the schools. He cited changes to a federal loan program for low-income students, and help for schools hit hard by recent natural disasters.

“You could not find a better person in the country that advocates so strongly and passionately for all HBCUs than Johnny Taylor,” Williams said. “The thing that was very powerful was that he made it clear that HBCUs are competitive, relevant and responsive to the needs of the country.”

Trump said his administration has made strides in helping such schools, saying, “The recent budget deal allows for the forgiveness of any outstanding loans owed under the HBCU Hurricane Supplement Loan program, which was a very difficult task and it worked out. I’m also pleased that our extension of the Pell Grant eligibility will greatly help the many students attending our wonderful HBCUs.”

The announcement about Taylor, the chief executive of the Society for Human Resource Management, happened at a time when many presidents and chancellors of historically black colleges and universities were meeting in Washington. They had been invited by Sen. Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) and Rep. Mark Walker (R-North Carolina) to talk about ways to strengthen the schools and their partnerships with business and with Democratic and Republican political leaders.

Taylor has a reputation of being outspoken, entrepreneurial and willing to negotiate with people from both sides of the aisle, said Marybeth Gasman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

She said she does not think it is possible to restore trust in the Trump administration. “They have done considerable damage to black communities and by and large are not respected or trusted across the board,” she said.

She said African Americans are not a priority for the president, “nor on his radar, but I do think it’s vital that HBCUs have representation at the highest levels and that they are constantly at the forefront of the minds of those making higher education decisions.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said earlier Tuesday, “As you all know, the president previously signed an executive order promoting excellence and innovation at HBCUs. He believes this initiative will advance America’s full human potential. And with today’s announcement, he continues to demonstrate his commitment to HBCUs.”