Leadership & Governance

HBCU Leaders Bring a Message to Washington

On Leadership: Roslyn Artis

February 28, 2017

Produced by Carmen Mendoza and Julia Schmalz

Presidents of historically black colleges are visiting the nation's capital this week to meet with President Trump and other political leaders. Their institutions have value for the nation but need more support from the White House and the Education Department, says Roslyn Artis, president of Florida Memorial University.


ERIC KELDERMAN: Hi, I'm Eric Kelderman, senior reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education. We're joined this morning with Roslyn Artis, President of Florida Memorial University, a historically black college in Miami, Florida. Welcome, Ms. Artis —

ROSLYN ARTIS: Good morning.

ERIC KELDERMAN: — to The Chronicle of Higher Education. How about if you give us your elevator speech about Florida Memorial University? What makes that institution special?

ROSLYN ARTIS: Sure. So Florida Memorial was founded in 1879. We have relocated a couple of times. Our most current location is in Miami Gardens, Florida. We are a small, private, Baptist-affiliated institution with wonderful programs in very specific fields like aviation, for example.

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ERIC KELDERMAN: Great. You know, a year ago at this time, we were talking a lot with presidents in our office from a variety of institutions about the Black Lives Matter movement. That conversation has probably shifted I think a little bit since the election to issues of immigration, but still focusing on persons of color. Tell me a little bit about what the conversations are like on your campus. What are folks talking about after the election?

ROSLYN ARTIS: So Florida Memorial has a long history of social justice and activism. We spend a great deal of time engaging our students in conversations around individual rights and rights for disenfranchised individuals. We tend to focus more on the quality of life. So while Black Lives Matter is a movement that certainly our students are engaged in, but the quality of that life, the ability to access education, the ability to become gainfully employed, and to improve communities, is really where we focus most of our attention.

ERIC KELDERMAN: You and about 80 of your peers are in town today and tomorrow to meet with folks at the White House and also at the Education Department. Tell me a little bit about what message you hope the White House hears from that visit.

ROSLYN ARTIS: So I think it's a wonderful opportunity for us to educate the White House senior leadership about the value of HBCUs. Certainly our nation's HBCUs comprise less than 3 percent of the ecosystem and yet produce 17 percent of the baccalaureate degrees conferred upon individuals of color in this country. As we are becoming a more majority-minority country, the work that HBCUs do will continue to become more, and more, and more important. And so we really want to impress that upon the White House that these institutions are absolutely vital to the future of our nation's economy.

ERIC KELDERMAN: What kinds of specific things are you looking to the White House to help HBCUs in the future?

ROSLYN ARTIS: Well certainly many of our students, if not most of our students, are Pell-eligible, low-wealth, first-generation minority students, and so continued investments in Title III, Pell Grants, Federal Work-Study, are all very important pieces for us. But more than that, we're really looking to the White House to think beyond that. To incentivize public-private partnerships, to expand infrastructure investments in our institutions so they can continue to be competitive. Technology infrastructure is critically important. And so those are some of the things we'll be discussing with the senior leadership.

ERIC KELDERMAN: How will some of those things help you at Florida Memorial? What kinds of things are you hoping to expand at your university with a little more federal assistance?

ROSLYN ARTIS: So Florida Memorial is uniquely positioned. First of all, we're located in Miami, and secondly, we have a number of, again, cutting-edge programs like cybersecurity, homeland security, and aviation. We are in a wonderful position to engage in a number of public-private partnerships that allow us to bring in private partners to make investments in our infrastructure and help us to produce that highly skilled, well-trained work force. And so we're really hopeful that this White House understands the value of a good investment and that they will incentivize that investment such that Florida Memorial can strengthen its infrastructure in programs and produce even more high-quality graduates.

ERIC KELDERMAN: Tomorrow afternoon, I guess as I understand it, you're scheduled to have lunch and listen to a speech from the new education secretary, Betsy DeVos. What kinds of things are you going to be listening for in her remarks?

ROSLYN ARTIS: So I think Secretary DeVos has been very clear that her priority is around school choice and chartering. Many HBCUs, if not most, have K-12 education programs. Florida Memorial is certainly no exception to that. We understand the importance of school choice, but want to make sure that that's a meaningful choice for every student, regardless of their socioeconomic status, regardless of the neighborhood they happen to live in. And so we want to understand where she is as it relates to school choice for everyone, not just a select few students.

ERIC KELDERMAN: She has also talked about things like improving vocational training, two-year colleges. Also in terms of saying things like a four-year degree isn't for everyone. Does that have any implications for the HBCU community?

ROSLYN ARTIS: It certainly does. What we see in our country typically is that the least among us, i.e., those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged or students of color, are often tracked into vocational programs, alternative forms of education, the trades, if you will. And while those are respectable professions and certainly many of them are very well-paying professions, we believe deeply in the importance of students being able to make an actual choice. If those students want to seek a four-year degree, a baccalaureate degree, a doctoral, that that be available to them notwithstanding their background, their first-generation status, or their low-wealth status.

ERIC KELDERMAN: Terrific. Well thanks for your time here at The Chronicle. We appreciate it and look forward to you coming back in the future.

ROSLYN ARTIS: Thank you. It's been my pleasure.

Eric Kelderman writes about money and accountability in higher education, including such areas as state policy, accreditation, and legal affairs. You can find him on Twitter @etkeld, or email him at eric.kelderman@chronicle.com.