TO anyone who has observed the swelling tensions at Howard University, the student protest there last week was predictable, justified, and long overdue.
For several years now Howard students have asked Administration officials for a larger role in deciding curriculum and regulations on their campus. In an incident two years ago President James Nabrit refused to crown a student-elected homecoming queen because she wore an African hair style. Last year a two-year ROTC requirement was abolished--but only grudgingly, after students held massive demonstrations including a boycott of classes.
Students at Howard have to take three history courses before they can take a course in Negro history. When they asked several months ago that this be changed, the Administration flatly refused. Howard administrators had similarly dismissed requests for a student judiciary system, threatening and occasionally carring out reprisals against students who spoke out against them. Last spring 18 students and three instructors were fired for participating in the student boycott of classes.
The Howard Administration has been consistently out of touch with the needs, concerns and feelings of the students. The protest last week--in which students took over the Administration building, leading officials to close the University--was the only course of action by which they could force Administration officials to come to terms with their grievances.
The Howard students should be lauded not simply for the efficient orderly manner in which they carried out the protest, but for the courage which they showed initiating it. The protest leaders were fully aware of possible reprisals if their protest failed to move the Administration.
IN contrast, the conduct of the Administration during the sit-in only further justified the students' legitimate protest. Nabrit was out of the country during the demonstration, and the University did not even talk to the student protestors before they ordered the school closed. It was almost two days before Administration officials sat down with students to discuss their demands. Several times University officials threatened to obtain a court injunction which would have brought Federal Marshals on the campus. The students sensed the bluff and only after student leaders made it clear that they would remain in the Administration building--injunction or no--until their demands were met did the Administration decide to talk rather than coerce.
The students were wise in relinquishing their demand that Nabrit resign. Many outside the University had pressured student leaders to insist on the resignation, but in the end the students settled on their most viable demands including the creation of a student judiciary committee, the dropping of disciplinary action against student, and important curriculum changes.
Howard's administration still has a long way to go before it earns the respect of the students. It has suffered a crisis of confidence that will not soon be forgotten, either at Howard or at many other black colleges. The particular concerns of the students at Howard--just as the concerns of black students on other black campuses--can no longer be overlooked. It is unfortunate that the Howard Administration learned this lesson the hard way.