President Donald Trump summoned dozens of leaders of historically black colleges and universities to the Oval Office on Monday for a meet and greet event prior to a “listening session” with Vice President Mike Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But while controversy has swirled around the placement of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s feet in a photo-op, the real outrage is how the Trump administration has managed to bungle its outreach to black leaders during the final days of Black History Month.
Predictable outrage took over Twitter on Monday night when an image was released of Conway perched, her feet tucked beneath her, on a couch in the Oval Office as President Trump stood behind his desk with 64 presidents of historically black colleges and universities gathered around him was released. Presumably Conway was on the sofa to try to get a good angle for snapping a photo. (Where her shoes were was unclear.)
While debates about decorum can be fun and even instructive about modern partisan hypocrisy, in this instance it serves as a distraction from what was sold by the White House as historic outreach to the base of the Democratic Party. But this event turned out to be another poorly managed photo opportunity devoid of meaningful substance except for a whitewashing of the legacy of historically black colleges and universities in this country.
“I’m still processing that entire experience,” Dillard President Walter M. Kimbrough wrote about being in the Oval Office in a post on Medium. Kimbrough explained that he and the other leaders had prepared remarks on the state of historically black colleges and universities today to present to the administration, but their agenda “blew up” when a photo-op with the president “was proposed at the last minute.”
“[N]eedless to say that threw the day off and there was very little listening to HBCU presidents today — we were only given about 2 minutes each, and that was cut to one minute, so only about 7 of maybe 15 or so speakers were given an opportunity today,” Kimbrough wrote.
The president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund, Michael Lomax, said in a statement that the school leaders had been looking forward to “meaningful actions” and “additional resources and investments.”
As an “aspirational funding goal,” the leaders of historically black colleges and universities recently asked the White House for 5 percent of total federal grant, internship and co-op funding for higher education and 10 percent of federal contract funding for higher education. Instead, Trump is expected to sign an order on Tuesday that will seek to increase only the private sector’s role in supporting historically black colleges and universities, while having the college presidents serve as strategic partners to the president’s “urban agenda,” a senior White House official told Politico.