You are a surgeon, an academic, a researcher and now president of Howard University, and you’re only 43 years old?
Right. I’m an old man stuck in a young person’s body.
Even in a city of high achievers, that’s an impressive résumé. What’s something you’re not good at?
Probably being patient. [Laughs.] There’s a lot to be done, and given the changing landscape of higher ed, we certainly want to be addressing the concerns as quickly as possible.
You started at Howard when you were 16. Should kids start college at a younger age?
I don’t necessarily think they should be starting at an early age, but I think we need to have a more efficient system of trying to ensure that they acquire the full skill set. What I am more concerned about is, are we really utilizing the four years appropriately?
What’s the best advice you can give to a student starting college today?
They need to be focused — not so much on a specific major as we have traditionally done, but they need to be focused more broadly on what they would like to do with their lives.
Should colleges move to a three-year program?
I think it’s something to be considered. What constitutes that time is what is more important. I think if we get that right, the time won’t be of as much importance.
Will you be able to save Howard University Hospital?
I don’t think it is an issue of us saving it. It’s an issue of putting it in the right circumstance to deliver, one, the care to the underserved as we’ve always done, and two, to provide a medical education. Really what we’re trying to do is make sure it continues to provide the right functions in the best fiscal circumstance.
Does the United States still need historically black colleges and universities?
Absolutely. HBCUs account for about 4 percent of all of the college grads in this country. But they account for 21 percent of all African American students who receive bachelor’s degrees. What we must do is ensure that we are providing an excellent education, because our diversification of the workforce is so critical.
What should a Howard University student strive to be?
A Howard University student needs to strive to be someone who is flexible and is not confined by their field of study. And also sees that they are here to get an education and not a degree. And that that education comes alive only when it’s used to make the lives of the people around them or the society in which they choose to live better.