Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert highlighted extensive plans for campus improvements and denied rumors that he would be leaving his position in the immediate future.
Rumors of an impending departure by Swygert, who has been president since 1994, have been circulating since the spring. For his part, Swygert said he is not surprised by the gossip.
“When you’ve been president any length of time, folks are always going to look at you like ‘he’s been here more than most and how long is he going to be here,’” Swygert said.
Although Swygert cautioned that “we’re all going to have to leave [the University] eventually,” he said students need not worry about his departure. He said Howard is a great place and that it is a joy to be president of his alma mater.
In the meantime, Swygert said he hopes to move forward on several major construction projects this semester. There are plans to begin work on a new male residence hall behind the Fine Arts Building. The dorm is expected to house 300 male students and would be a replacement for Drew Hall. Swygert said administrators understand the urgency of replacing Drew Hall, which has been open since the 1960s.
In addition to the new male dorm, Swygert said plans should be finalized this semester for the construction of a new building for the John H. Johnson School of Communications.
Another large project that is in the works is a proposed science center, apartment building and parking garage that will be built where the parking lot on Georgia Avenue is currently located, directly in front of the Howard Center. The construction site will extend through the parking lot to the corner of Georgia Avenue and V Street. Swygert said that once these plans are approved by the Board of Trustees, the buildings currently on the site will be demolished and a tower will be built containing 300 apartments, 500 parking spaces and ground level retail businesses, including a grocery store.
After the tower is built, then construction will begin on a science center that will house the College of Engineering, Architecture and Computer Sciences. The science center will be comprised of the School of Engineering and Computer Sciences, as well as the School of Architecture and Design.
Swygert said it is not clear yet what will happen to the Howard H. Mackey and Lewis K. Downing buildings, where the schools are now located.
“I’m just excited about finally breaking ground for the facility,” Swygert said. He said if all goes well, work would begin on the project before the end of the school year.
Building projects are not the only goals on Swygert’s agenda for this semester. Administrators plan to start a program called the Black Male Student Initiative to address the issue of the disproportionate representation African-American men on college and university campuses. The program will take a two-pronged approach to the issue focusing both on research and implementing practical measures to increase the number of African-American men attending college.
“I intend to organize a group of students, faculty and administrators to really think through what research is telling us and then on the application side, what can Howard do,” Swygert said.
Undergraduate Trustee Jabari Smith, who will be working with Swygert and the Vice Provost of Student Affairs Franklin Chambers on this initiative, is very excited about the program.
“I think this Black Male Initiative is so important because it’s really going to engage students in an issue that is so prevalent,” Smith said. He added that although it is specifically focused on African-American men, the program is really about stepping up to the plate to deal with the disparities in education in the African-American community.
As the university enters its 140th year, the administration will also be celebrating the completion of Campaign for Howard, a fund-raising drive started on March 9, 2002 to raise $250 million. Swygert said he hopes he will be able to announce that the university has reached its goal, which he said would make Campaign for Howard the most successful capital campaign at any HBCU ever.
The Board of Trustees has also asked Swygert to complete a third Strategic Framework for Action. Strategic Framework for Action plans are agendas that set goals for the university in the areas of academics, teaching and research, fund-raising and community service. Accomplishments under the Strategic Framework for Action I and II include the construction of the iLab, Health Sciences Library and the creation of the Middle School of Mathematics and Science. Swygert said he will create a committee made up of various members of the Howard community to begin developing the Strategic Framework for Action III.
Jennifer Owens, president of the Howard University Student Association, said one issue she believes needs to be addressed in this new plan is the state of Howard’s athletic department. Owens also said that with the success of the prior Strategic Framework for Actions, she has full faith that Swygert will be able to carry out this new plan.
Smith said he would like this third agenda to focus on bettering academic programs at Howard and attracting and retaining quality professors.
With the completion of Campaign for Howard and other improvements planned for the future, Smith said he is very pleased with the direction the university is taking and encourages other students to be pleased also. Though students attending Howard now may not witness many of the changes, he said these improvements are important to Howard’s legacy.
Smith said, “We did not make a four year investment, but a lifetime investment.”