This week Howard University’s president and Board of Trustees announced major changes to the academic structure of the school. The Academic Renewal Plan – the culmination of two years of meetings, university community input and the hard work by the Presidential Commission on Academic Renewal (PCAR) – was presented to the board by Howard’s President Sidney A. Ribeau on Jan. 29 and approved.

“Universities must periodically review and assess themselves to respond to developments in higher education and the changing needs of our nation and the world,” Ribeau said in a statement. “At Howard, we are doing just that. We must maintain the highest standards of academic and administrative excellence.”

The plan consolidates or eliminates many of Howard’s degree programs and works to reorganize the university’s resources in a way that supports its strategic goals.

While this process was initiated by the board of trustees and President Ribeau, Alvin Thornton, Ph.D., senior advisor to the president on academic affairs and chair of the PCAR committee, was clear that this effort and the resulting recommendations involved all parts of the university community. “These were not presidentially or board determined decisions. These are largely decision that came from the university community,” he said.

“These changes will, in essence,” said Thornton, “strengthen Howard University, make it much more focused around the strategic areas that the Board of Trustees and the president have identified.”

Some of these strategic goals include ensuring high quality undergraduate programs, a continued commitment to the professional schools and a return to a focus on teacher preparation, Thornton said. Others, according to a press release issued by the university, are: to strengthen the commitment to science, technology, engineering and math; encourage increased research, advance Africana and Diaspora Studies to make Howard University the leader in that area of study; augment urban education, business, communications, humanities and visual and performing arts programs; and streamline and focus degree program offerings.
“We have identified specific areas of emphasis,” Ribeau said in a statement, “and we plan to be leaders in those areas.”

Howard currently offers 171 degree programs. As part of this plan, 71 programs – 38 professional programs, 11 graduate programs and 22 undergraduate programs – will be either eliminated or changed. Thornton stressed that students in those programs to be discontinued will have the opportunity to complete their degrees and faculty members in those programs will not lose their positions. “The concept really has a lot on integrity,” he said.

In the past Howard, Thornton said, “responded to the national need that our community had and our nation had to educate in all areas of the Black community. … We cannot continue to do that because of resources and we, frankly, don’t have to do that in the same way.

“This renewal program that the board has approved and the president recommended will strategically redesign us and prepare us to move forward for the future.”

He added, “We’re going to be much more research oriented at Howard University because we believe that’s the best contribution we can make to the African-American and national community.”

For more information on the plan and the program being impacted, visit the Howard University website at:

Talibah Chikwendu

Special to the AFRO