A determined group of Howard University’s alumni filed a lawsuit on Monday, Dec. 13, in D.C. Superior Court, accusing the university of improperly excluding students, alumni, and faculty from its board of trustees.
It has been nearly a month since the end of a 34-day student protest at the university. Students were tired of the poor housing conditions they were dealing with on campus, and in a show of nonviolent protest, they slept in tents outside of the Blackburn University Center. Howard University came to an agreement and has since pledged to maintain safe and high-end housing.
Now a new issue has arisen. In June, board Chair Laurence C. Morse said the body underwent an “extensive review” of its structure and determined “that our current process of governance and engagement across the university, from the board through various stakeholder groups, is not working.” This resulted in a unanimous decision to remove all affiliate trustee roles for faculty, students, and alumni.
During the protest, one of the students’ core demands called to reinstate alumni, faculty, and student affiliate positions to the university’s governing body. The lawsuit alleges that the board cast votes and made major decisions without its full required membership for more than a year.
According to the lawsuit since 1926, alumni have been represented on the school’s governing board and earned membership after the 1968 student-led protests that demanded greater transparency and accountability.
“It is extremely important that we stand up for the shared governance model that is the direct result of student protests like the one in 1968,” said Maria Jones, a plaintiff and 1988 Howard graduate in a Washington Post statement. “We have to make sure that we not only continue that model but that we strengthen it.”
The plaintiffs—a group of 10 alumni who graduated between 1960 and 1994—ask a judge to determine if the board violated its own rules and, if so, order its leadership to fill the vacant affiliate positions and nullify votes cast without the body’s full membership.
“The suit alleges Howard’s governing board violated its own bylaws when it stopped filling vacant affiliate trustee spots in April 2020, moved to remove the seats this June, then voted to amend its bylaws to eliminate the positions in November,” reported The Washington Post.
In a news release, officials in November invited two students, a professor, and an alumnus to serve as voting members on specific committees.
According to The Washington Post, “Unfortunately, alumni are left with no recourse but to file this action in our local courts in order to get the board to follow its own rules,” said Donald Temple, the group’s attorney. Temple also represented Howard student protesters this fall.