The Howard Experience:
Unique and Irreplaceable

Friday, March 4, 2005

Richard A. English, Ph.D.
Provost and Chief Academic Officer


Thank you, Mr. President. Greetings Madam Chair and members of the Board of Trustees; honorees on this 138th Anniversary of the founding of Howard University; Cabinet and decanal colleagues; Faculty Senate, Student and Staff Leaders, members of the Faculty; the general student body and staff of the University; alumni; retirees; friends and supporters of our great University.


President Swygert, I would like to express my gratitude to you, the Board of Trustees and the Howard family for the honor of addressing the University community on the occasion of the Founding of Howard University. When I left Howard University in 1982 after serving as a visiting professor for one year, I had no idea that I would return in 1985 as Dean and Professor of the School of Social Work much less that in time I would be appointed Provost and Chief Academic Officer.

Although I am not a graduate of Howard University, I am proud to be a son of Howard, having served it for more than two decades. I have benefited from its unique mission that defines its historic character. I remember the phone call that I received from President Emeritus James E. Cheek in connection with the deanship search for the School of Social Work. He said, “Dr. English you are a young man who has achieved so much; we want you come to Howard University; it is time for you to come home.” And I did. It has been a great journey with committed scholars, generations of outstanding students, dedicated staff and many new dear friends.

On the occasion of the celebration of the Founding of Howard University, we take time to acknowledge our past achievements and to rededicate ourselves – trustees, executive officers, faculty, staff, students and alumni alike – in the words of our historian and biographer of the University, Walter Dyson - “to the noble purpose” for which our University was founded, 138 years ago.[1]

Soon after becoming the fifteenth President of Howard University, President H. Patrick Swygert initiated a bold strategic initiative with two important goals:

  • To revitalize our academic ente rprise; and
  • To review and assess our academic and support programs.

Over the past ten years, significant progress has been made towards the achievement of these goals.

From the very beginning, two qualities have been associated with Howard University. It is “unique” and it is “irreplaceable.” In his inaugural address, President Swygert reemphasized these two qualities in the context of his strategic vision for the University.[2] In that spirit, I would like to pose two questions: What does Howard University mean today in the context of this vision? How is Howard University still unique and irreplaceable?

On the occasion of the 138th year of the founding of the University, let’s reflect on the uniqueness and irreplaceablity of Howard! Let me identify the most distinctive qualities and I leave the rest to you.

1) Howard University Is an Audacious Idea

Howard University was and is an audacious idea. It was bold, daring and unprecedented. The members of the City of Washington’s First Congregational Church and General Oliver Otis Howard gathered in 1866 to discuss the radical idea of an institution of higher learning that would not be a college but a University. It would be dedicated to the education of freed Africans and their descendants; open to all men and women of all races and national origins.

From the beginning Howard was an open, unrestricted University, not only for recently freed African men and women, but all who were seeking an opportunity to be educated. Many wanted to know the aims and pu rposes of the new national university. Friends of Howard University drew upon the legacy of President George Washington, who before his death had urged the establishment of a national university and left $10,000 in bonds in his will for that pu rpose.

Congressman George F. Hoar of Massachusetts noted on the floor of the House:

“One of the first and most prominent objects that meets the eye of the visitor to the Capitol is the stately and beautiful edifice that is Howard University overlooking the city and river, reminding him of the new and great progress of the nation, realizing one of the dreams of Washington, who himself desired to found here a great University. Let it be remembered, too, that in this institution, as in no other in the land, it is believed that the Anglo-Saxon, the CELT, the Indian, the Mongolian, the Greek, the African already sit side by side, on the same bench. All races and both sexes have herein the pursuit of knowledge a fair and equal favor.”[3]

2) Howard University Is a National University

It is among a few institutions that belong to the nation. From the beginning it was so. In the U.S., institutions of higher learning typically are sponsored by state governments, sectarian agencies, local and regional authorities. Increasingly, large numbers of colleges and universities are proprietary institutions with very different raison d’etre.[4]

Howard University belongs to the nation precisely because it was created to serve a national purpose as a private institution. Howard University did not belong to a state government, a religious organization nor a private group of philanthropists. A significant number of persons of color, who are not Howard graduates, groups and even governments, identify with the mission, goals, and history of the University. Today many of these individuals and governments from sub-saharan Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Caribbean have approached the University for assistance and partnership in building their institutions of higher education. They respect our history, achievements, expertise and experience.

Those in my college generation, and I believe in other generations as well, who attended other Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) always identified Howard as our University. For the young African American student of my generation, Howard was our champion, a full fledged Black University in which we all took great pride - a place for graduate and professional education. My subsequent experience at the University of Michigan and the University of Texas at Austin has only re-affirmed my earlier judgment that Howard University is unique and irreplaceable.

3) Howard University Has a Unique Student Body

Since its inception, Howard University has attracted undergraduate, graduate and professional students of high ability, promise and ambition from throughout the nation and from around the world. The goal at Howard is to produce graduates who are able to integrate their academic and extra-curricular experiences. We look with great pride upon our students who earn recognition as Rhodes and Fulbright Scholars and become Pickering, Rangel and Sasakawa Fellows. We are especially proud of the fact that our university continues to produce men and women of all races and creeds, who following their graduation, become leaders as working professionals, as faculty members at universities around the world contributing to cutting edge research and scholarship and those who return to their communities for service and leadership. We are ever mindful of the fact that we graduate each year from our diverse student body the largest number of African Americans in many professional fields and that we produce more on-campus African American Ph.D. recipients than any university in the United States.

4) Howard University Is Unique and Irreplaceable because of the Significant Contributions of Its Faculty and Alumni

The achievements of the Howard faculty and alumni are central to what makes Howard unique. The list of sons and daughters of Howard University who have pursued excellence in scholarship and leadership in their respective disciplines is long and impressive. Those whom we honor here today and tomorrow night at the Charter Day dinner are exemplars of that rich tradition. Only a few outstanding exemplars can be mentioned today.

What would our nation and the world be like without Dr. Ralph J. Bunche who served on the Howard University faculty? He founded the Political Science Department and raised profound and fundamental questions about the epistemological foundations of the social science disciplines.

It is not possible to separate his genius from Howard University. He was the first person of color, anywhere in the world, to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Our duty today is to educate, mentor, and provide opportunities to other generations of students to give the world a chance for peace.

Dr. Charles R. Drew, an internationally distinguished faculty member of the Howard University College of Medicine, conducted pioneering research into the properties and preservation of blood plasma. Dr. Drew developed efficient means of processing and storing large quantities of blood plasma in blood banks, thereby increasing the life chances of those injured at home and abroad.[5]

Dr. Alain LeRoy Locke, the first African American to become a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, constructed the philosophical foundation upon which the scholarly study of the African Diaspora was based. We became renaissance men and women and found the beauty latent in us through the philosophy of Dr. Alain Locke.

Dr. E. Franklin Frazier applied empirical methodologies to the study of the Negro family. His methodological innovations and use of scientific data influenced the sociological study of not only the Negro family but of all American families. Dr. Frazier was the founder of the University’s School of Social Work. Howard University appointed Inabel Lindsey, who holds the honor of being the first dean of the School of Social Work as well as the first woman to serve as the dean of a school of Social Work in the nation.

We would not know our real voice as a people without the literary creativity of Dr. Toni Morrison and Dr. Sterling Brown, a daughter and son of Howard University and world renowned novelists and social critics.

The Founders conceived research as a critical component of the new University. The legacy of the Howard faculty and alumni in the research arena continues to this very moment through significant research activity in such diverse and interdisciplinary fields as nanotechnology, atmospheric science, displaced populations, genomics, alcoholism and sickle cell anemia. This research, and others equally important, has catapulted Howard to unprecedented heights as a national and IRREPLACEABLE research university in recent years.

5) Howard University as an Institution Is Unique and Irreplaceable with Its Contributions to America and the World

Howard’s history parallels the post-Civil War history of our nation. Our nation has looked to Howard to provide answers to great questions. Howard continues to educate leaders emboldened by their Howard experience to take on the task of developing solutions to those great questions.

Howard University has been a place – a location - for addressing great questions facing our nation and the world. From the beginning, Howard University has been involved in civil rights and international affairs.

Dr. William Edward Burghardt DuBois addressed the University and presented his Pan-African vision in the early part of the 20th century that laid the foundation for an effective civil rights movement.

President Lyndon Johnson came to Howard in June 1965 to address the nation’s commitment to a new Civil Rights agenda in his commencement address. He is one of the many Presidents and senior government officials that have come to Howard University to speak to the nation and the world.

It is important to remember that Howard students also raised their voices in the late 1960s to advance civil rights for Black people.

In 1994, Nelson Mandela came to Howard and shared his life experiences and struggles for liberation. He is part of a long list of international leaders and heads of state that have come to Howard to send a message to our nation and the world.


One year ago, the late Ossie Davis whom we continue to mourn and adore, stood here at this podium on Charter Day, and reminded us of the importance of education and Howard University. He said, “it’s always been about education, even more than about wealth, or servitude and status, and family and creed and color, knowledge has always been power.” [6]

If we are to ensure the future of this unique and irreplaceable University we must continue to address the complex and challenging problems of our times; to prepare our students for scholarship and leadership for America and the global community; and to preserve the legacy of excellence of our faculty.

Energized by this place and by the accomplishments of those who came before us, I am confident that we of the present generation will meet the challenge of preserving and advancing this unique and irreplaceable University.

Thank you.


[1]. Dyson, Walter. (1926). The Founding of Howard University (Charter Day, March 2, 1922). Howard Alumnus, 4(5), pp. 112-113. Howard University Press: Washington D.C.

[2]. Swygert, H. P. (1996). Inaugural Address of H. Patrick Swygert, Fifteenth President of Howard University. April 12. Washington, D.C.: Howard University.

[3]. Dyson, Walter. (1941). Howard University: The Capstone of Negro Education, A History: 1967-1940. Washington, D.C.: The Graduate School, Howard University.

[4]. In recent times public and private universities have been increasingly engaged in a wide range of commercial initiatives such as distance education, research and Internet education. Bok, D. (2003). Universities in the marketplace: The commercialization of higher education. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

[5]. Logan, R.W. and Winston, M. R. (eds). (1982). Dictionary of American Negro Biography. pp. 190-192. New York: Norton.

[6]. Davis, Ossie (2004). Charter Day 2004 Address. Available at:


Davis, Ossie (2004). Charter Day 2004 Address. Available at:

Dyson, Walter. (1926). The Founding of Howard University (Charter Day, March 2, 1922). Howard Alumnus, 4(5), pp. 112-113. Howard University Press: Washington D.C.

Dyson, Walter. (1941). Howard University: The Capstone of Negro Education, A History: 1967-1940. Washington, D.C.: The Graduate School, Howard University.

Logan, R. W. (1968). Howard University: The First Hundred Years, 1867-1967. New York: New York University Press.

Logan, R.W. and Winston, M. R. (Eds). (1982). Dictionary of American Negro Biography. pp. 190-192. New York: Norton.

Swygert, H. P. (1996). Inaugural Address of H. Patrick Swygert, Fifteenth President of Howard University. April 12. Washington, D.C.: Howard University.

Thompson, C. H. (1966). Howard University 1961-1966 Self-Study Report. Washington, D.C.: Howard University.