First the truth will set things straight. I have been involved in many of these types of events, from hosting State Department sponsored tours for visiting foreign government officials as a principal; to a POTUS visit as a superintendent. I can tell you that there is no such thing as a “surprise invitation”. The public release of the “invitation”; is the culmination of many private “off-the-record” preliminary conversations. Translation: Talladega college officials had a chance to say “no thanks” privately; and it would not have been in the interests of Mr. Trump, or the college to share that “no thanks” information publicly.
Now with that out of the way. There is a standard college/university rule: Do nothing to upset, embarrass, shame, anger, or in any way cause your alumni to not want to support the college by their association with that college, financial giving, or with student recruitment. The present student body is your #1 constituency, faculty #2, and the alumni is #3!
No matter the bold and creative attempts by the national news media to normalize this past election, as well as the person who won the majority of the Electoral College votes; there are large numbers of Americans who have been abnormally insulted, marginalize, dismissed and diminished by both the campaign rhetoric, and by the ongoing behavior of the POTUSELECT. It is safe to say that a large segment of the Talladega college student body, faculty, alumni and supporters, along with many who share a cultural link with those individuals, have clearly been the primary targets of a presidential campaign and transition plan, that seeks to further attack and destroy the progress made by African-Americans in this nation. This would also include a “counter negative narrative”, which stands in opposition to the positive narrative that led to the continued need for the HBCU system.
And after so many years since the publishing of Ralph Ellison’s invisible Man; where he graphically describes the demeaning “groveling approach” to raising funds for Black colleges; we now know that this type of fundraising strategy is no longer needed are even applicable today. And so now it is a shame that in this current era, that Black students attending a HBCU are being asked to “dance” and “play” to honor loud and obnoxious bigotry, masquerading as some kind of traditional pageantry.
College officials may want to pretend that there is no “quid pro quo”; but the truth is, there are always “benefits” in these types of situations; especially in the case when a desperate inauguration planning committee is finding it hard to pull in conscious, sensitive and aware entertainers (or just people who don’t want their name-brand associated with “ugliness”) of any race and nationality.
Which leads me to my main point; clearly Talladega college officials find themselves in this terrible situation because they probably are strapped for cash. The long-term and more effective approach is for the college to do what every college that hopes to be financially viable in the modern era is doing, and that is to create a dynamic Development Office.
The cost of operating a college or university is daunting; and there are limits as to how much they can raise from student tuition. Therefore, no serious college can presently hope to be financially viable, let alone expand and thrive, without a strong Development Office; and the good news is that these efforts essentially pay for themselves. This is the department that could be charged with raising funds by way of college related products, special revenue-generating events, special governmental and non-governmental foundation grants, coordinate specific campaigns (i.e. a new library, robotics lab, etc.), soliciting support from “friends and benefactors of the university”; and last but not least to encourage the alumni to give; for what group has a larger stake in the college’s success! And so one of the major responsibilities of a Development Office is to keep those alumni happy, proud, involved and active donors; “marching for Trump”, does not in this case help in that effort.
But something that is as important as a HBCU should not only rest on the shoulders of the alumni; the truth is that the “overflow” generated from the annual Black American GNP (the economic value of services and products we collectively produce) could easily fund 10 Talladega colleges!
Politics aside, one of the most important assets of a college and university is its good name and good standing. Which is why these institutions invest so much in acquiring and maintaining a good “public look” and positive image (Have you seen those great non-sports University of Alabama commercials focusing on the strength of their academic departments?) I have gone on enough college tours over the years to clearly see the difference in investment levels, attention and professionalism that various institutions put forward in their recruitment presentations to students.
It is essential then that Talladega college officials think hard and long before they make a decision that could seriously compromise, and perhaps damage their public image. They may find in the long-term that the “pocket change” they collected today will be incapable later of covering the cost of restoring and reconstructing the good image they previously held, and then decided to sell so cheaply.
Yes, Talladega College needs a strong Development Office; and yes they also need our support!