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A Question of Timing

A report of the President's Board of Advisers on Historically Black Colleges and Universities has prompted a disagreement between the panel's chairman and the Department of Education about whether the report is final and can be released to the public.

The document calls for a sizable hike in federal aid to such colleges and for the department to "withhold" an already-granted extension of an Atlanta-based accrediting agency's certification.

Board Chairman Benjamin J. Payton, the president of Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Ala., said the panel agreed in a December conference call that the report was final and could be released. Some department officials and others outside the government, he said, don't like parts of the report.

"It was a report to the president," Mr. Payton said last week. "It is not something to be first sanitized before it reaches the president."

Department officials said they had no interest in altering the document, but are legally bound to make sure it is first presented at an official public meeting before it declared final.

"We have absolutely no intent in any way of modifying the contents of the report," Leonard Spearman, the executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs, said in a statement released through the department.

The advisory board's report recommends that each "designated agency" providing higher education funding devote 10 percent of that money to HBCUs. Mr. Payton said the goal would represent a bigger increase than President Bush's stated goal of boosting HBCU funding by 30 percent over four years.

Proposed fiscal 2003 funding in the department's primary program for HBCUs is $264 million, 3.5 percent above 2002. Agency officials say that doesn't include more than $300 million of other agency funding reaching HBCUs. HBCUs make up 3 percent of the country's 3,700 or so postsecondary institutions.

Another board recommendation asks Secretary of Education Rod Paige to withhold recertification of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, in Atlanta. SACS was recertified earlier in 2002. But Mr. Payton said the panel still wanted its criticism of SACS noted, citing concerns about its oversight of HBCUs.

SACS President James Rogers voiced disappointment that the certification issue resurfaced in the report. "Why even put it in [the report]?" he said. "It makes the White House committee look bad, in my opinion."

—Sean Cavanagh

Vol. 22, Issue 18, Page 20

Published in Print: January 15, 2003, as Federal File

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