At its Feb. 19 meeting, the full commission debated the uniqueness of Howard.

Photo by Justin D. Knight


PCAR—January 2010 Update
By Grace Virtue, Ph.D., executive communications manager/senior writer, Office of University Communications

The Presidential Commission on Academic Renewal (PCAR) continues to debate on the state of Howard University’s academic program in a bid to maintain excellence and long-term sustainability. At its Feb. 19 meeting, the full commission debated the uniqueness of Howard and how to ensure that its special qualities are preserved in the face of a changing higher education climate and greater competition for African-American students.

Photo by Justin D. Knight

Commissioner Greg Carr, Ph.D., presented on behalf of the undergraduate work group; Sandra Crewe, Ph.D., on behalf of the Professional Programs-Non-Health Sciences; Allan Johnson, Ph.D., on behalf of the Professional Programs-Health Sciences; Joan Payne, Ph.D., on behalf of the Graduate Programs; and Eric Walters, Ph.D., on behalf of the Faculty Senate. President Sidney Ribeau, Ph.D., attended and actively participated in the rich discussion about the University’s uniqueness. Carr, in his presentation, urged an examination of characteristics of the “Howard Experience” that may be difficult to measure by conventional standards.

“What we have been attempting to name, qualify and quantify and ultimately affirm, improve and leverage that is ‘unique and irreplaceable” about Howard University are the culturally-grounded, non-race-based modalities which inform teaching and learning dedicated to questions of the human condition. There is a Howard ‘type’ of faculty, student and staff which we must identify and replicate in order to give the word ‘quality’ real meaning,” he said.

Concretely, the uniqueness of Howard was identified by presenters as its historic advocacy positions on pressing national and international issues and the frequency of its outreach to the less fortunate, measured through activities designed to address such issues as health disparities and discrimination in housing and immigration policies. Further, the University is unique because it serves as a repository of the experiences of African Americans and people of the African Diaspora as a whole, and it provides a protective and nurturing environment for teaching, research and creativity for people of African descent.

Walters, meanwhile, stressed the need for greater faculty involvement and transparency in the University processes overall, including PCAR. And vice president emeritus of Howard, Michael Winston, Ph.D., urged a broader perspective of what makes Howard special and its overall contribution to higher education and to nation building.

“What needs to be emphasized are the ideas to which it is committed as priorities, the focus of its programs and the social significance of its provision of education and health services to underserved populations, while not marginalizing those programs that are not tightly or obviously aligned with them or a mission statement,” he said.

The process, which began last fall, is built around a presidentially appointed commission on academic renewal that is composed predominantly of faculty, but has representation from every University stakeholder group. Membership also includes nationally recognized external academic leaders and other experts. Alvin Thornton, Ph.D., serves as chair of the Commission, and Eve Higginbotham, M.D., senior vice president for Health Sciences, serves as vice-chair.

During three meetings in December 2009, commissioners reviewed the PCAR Plan and received presentations on the University’s mission, the President’s vision, the University’s financial and budgetary status and physical facilities. The commission resumed its work immediately after the holiday break with a two-day retreat, Jan. 8-9, focusing on an evaluative framework and criteria that it will use to assess the University’s academic programs. The PCAR groups are proceeding with their work and preparing to visit with academic departments and programs. Soon, a town hall meeting for students will be convened to facilitate their involvement in the PCAR process.

For more information on PCAR, visit

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