Howard Students Vow to Occupy Administration Building Until President Resigns

Members of HU Resist Alexis McKenny (left) and Juan Demetrixx speak during a March 30 press conference by a group of students protesting the university's financial-aid embezzlement scandal. (WUSA-TV via Howard University News Service)
Members of HU Resist Alexis McKenny (left) and Juan Demetrixx speak during a March 30 press conference by a group of students protesting the university's financial-aid embezzlement scandal. (WUSA-TV via Howard University News Service)

Members of HU Resist, a student protest group at Howard University, are maintaining their demand that school President Wayne A.I. Frederick resign, as they say that he has not been in contact with them.

“He’s been silent. He’s not expressed any desire to meet with us at all and I think that sends a big message out about how exactly he’s responding to students,” Alexis McKenney, a senior at Howard University and member of Hu Resist said at a press conference held on Friday evening.

Members of the protest group along with other members of the student body are currently occupying the school’s administration building. The group said that they won’t leave until a list of demands have been met.

Two board of trustee members, who were not named, spoke with organizers of the sit-in. McKenney said that the two trustee members had not read their demands.

“That’s what I think creates a contradiction of the email that was sent out to the Howard University community, that our demands were inaccurate. How were our demands inaccurate if board members haven’t even read them,” McKenney said.

The sit-in was sparked by allegations were made in post on Medium.com by the author “Veritas 1867,” which included screenshots of financial aid records and accusations that $1 million had been stolen from the university. The post, which has since been removed, also accused Frederick of retaliating against the student who shared information about the financial aid funding improprieties.

Juan Demetrixx, a senior and member of HUResist said their protest is more than the allegations of embezzlement, but is also about pushing Howard University to be a full black university which takes account of all minorities.

“Do we have principles and morals and ideals that reflect the true culture and nature of blackness on a theoretical and ideal sense?” he asked.

In an earlier email sent out to the Howard University community, Stacey J. Mobley, Chairman, Howard University Board of Trustees, said the board is in solidarity with the president.

Demetrixx was however unhappy with this.

“Come out and say I stand with Howard University first, before you say I stand with President Wayne Frederick. If you truly care about the entire institution and culture at Howard, you will say, ‘I’m not going to choose a side yet until I hear all sides and I’ll just pick the side that’s right,'” Demetrixx said.

After Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick released a statement acknowledging financial aid impropriety at the university, he spoke to The Hilltop about the how the embezzlement had been investigated as well as the frustration and disappointment expressed by student and community members, a number of whom called for his resignation.

Frederick’s statement to the Howard University community provided a timeline of the potentially criminal activity and how it has been addressed:

• 2007-2016: University grants given to university employees who already received tuition remission

• December 2016: President Frederick “was alerted” to the misappropriation of funds; an outside auditor, RSM, begins its investigation into the situation

• May 2017: RSM investigation concluded

• July 2017: President Frederick self-reported fund misappropriation to the U.S. Department of Education

• September 2017: Six Howard University employees fired for “gross misconduct and neglect of duties” after the conclusion of another investigation. Frederick does not rule out potential of criminal charges being filed against former employees

• March 2018: Third Coast Higher Education, an outside firm hired to investigate whether federal funds were misappropriated, has not, to date, found that federal funds were taken

• March 27, 2018: Medium post by “Veritas 1867” published

• March 28, 2018: Hilltop requests interview with President Frederick for comment and confirmation of information published on Medium.com

• March 28, 2018: President Frederick releases public statement about fund misappropriation

“It’s unfortunate the way that it got exposed,” Frederick told The Hilltop, adding that his intent was always to share the results of the investigation with the public. “But I also didn’t want to compromise the investigation. Going public may have resulted in people compromising the investigation by altering documents and we couldn’t afford to have that happen.”

Frederick said that while changes have been made in light of the audit and other reports, there remains more to do.

“We are still drawing conclusions from that report for moving forward,” he said. Next steps could include more changes in the financial aid system as well as working with lawyers and law enforcement officials on decisions about possible criminal charges.

Frederick said he did not see the post on Medium.com.

“We had prepared a public statement that we’ve had on boiler plate since around July/August,” he said. “And since we were investigating the federal aspect of this, we had to move forward with getting that investigation done. Some of the same employees that were fired, we had to make sure they weren’t involved on the federal side of the issue as well.”

While Frederick confirmed that he knew the numbers that had been reported—$1 million—but he could not confirm the accuracy of that figure because at first the investigation looked specifically at university institutional grants, or monies that do not come from donors or the federal government. The secondary investigation, he said, delved deeper into whether federal funding had been taken illegally.

An additional story was posted to the “Veritas 1867” Medium account stated that a former student met with President Frederick and the Student Ombudsman, Calvin Hadley, to share information about the misappropriation of financial aid funds. The student alleged that Frederick and others at Howard blackballed him after the meeting.

Frederick denied those allegations and shared that the student with whom he met first discussed personal academic issues, then, as he was getting up to leave, showed Frederick and Hadley the evidence of financial aid impropriety.

“Just to be clear, the investigation was ongoing at the time that I met with the student,” Frederick told The Hilltop. “The data he showed me was already involving people that I knew and we were already investigating.”

Frederick said that the two issues brought to his attention were not related.

“I let him know that he could go back to the school and have a conversation and an engagement with them [teachers], and I also did not let the school know anything about what he shared with me so that there wouldn’t be any retribution or retaliation.”

In a second statement sent to the Howard University community on March 28, Frederick addressed the issue of retaliation directly.

“I encourage anyone who witnesses these behaviors to call our compliance and ethics helpline (202) 238-2479. Retaliation against any student or other member of our campus community for reporting wrongdoing will not be tolerated. resulted in the termination of six staff members. Please know that we take malfeasance, fraud, and other forms of unethical behavior on campus seriously and address them swiftly.”

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