Complaint Charges the University’s Board of Trustees with Violating
its By-Laws by Failing to Seat Student, Alumni, and Faculty Trustees

For further information: Roger Glass – 202-270-2484
To Contribute To The Legal Fund – Contact: Stephen Jackson – 917-604-4498

December 13, 2021

Today, a group of prominent Howard University alumni filed a complaint in D.C. Superior Court charging that the abolishment of the student, alumni, and faculty trustee seats by the Howard University Board of Trustees (BOT) was “unlawful and invalid” because the Board “violated its by-laws” when it decided not to fill five Affiliate Trustees vacancies on the Board as of July 1, 2020, and an additional Alumni Trustee seat after June 30, 2021.  

“The BOT routinely ignored its by-laws, minimized its shared governance mandate, to disenfranchise Affiliate Trustees. This includes their right to have been nominated, elected, and seated on the BOT between June 2020 and November 5, 2021,” the complaint says.    

The complaint points out that the Board’s By-Laws specifically require that “Howard University students, faculty, and alumni ‘shall’ be represented among the membership of the BOT and enjoy the right to nominate and elect candidates to fill these positions, whereupon the BOT would then reserve the right to seat Trustees elected by the Affiliate Groups.”  

Absent an amendment to the By-laws, the BOT did not have the authority to exclude Affiliate Trustees from the BOT between April 2020 and November 5, 2021. “There was no valid and legitimate BOT vote whatsoever on the Governance Committee’s April 2020 ‘recommendation’ and de facto removal of Affiliate Trustee positions from the BOT.  Moreover, there was no notice to the entire BOT membership pertinent to the June 11, 2021 and November 5, 2021 BOT meetings,” the 22-page complaint states.  

For the past several months, Howard University students, alumni, and faculty have urged the university’s Board of Trustees to reverse its decision to abolish the Affiliate Trustee seats set aside for students, alumni, and faculty. Despite repeated inquiries from concerned alumni, the Board has consistently refused to provide copies of the consultant report it relied upon in making its decision to abolish the Affiliate Trustee seats or the minutes regarding its exclusion of Affiliate Trustees. 

The Board’s refusal to take seriously the concerns of students, alumni, and faculty left the Plaintiffs no option but to file a legal complaint, Attorney Donald M. Temple says. “These Howard alumni and others did all that they could to get the Board of Trustees to be accountable and transparent,” Temple says. 

Attorney Timothy L. Jenkins, a lead Plaintiff in the legal action, is a 1960 graduate of Howard University and a graduate of Yale Law School. He is also a former Howard student body president as well as a former Alumni Trustee on the Board. “It is an honor to stand in opposition to the morally misguided and legally flawed, as well as factually mistaken actions of the current Board of Trustees to bar authentic student, faculty, and alumni ongoing participation in the University’s fundamental governance,” Jenkins said. 

The elimination of the Affiliate Trustee seats is a threat to democracy and an affront to the very principles upon which Howard University was founded,” says Plaintiff and 1988 Howard graduate Maria Jones. “The lawsuit is one method that we will use to fight this decision of the Board and the misguided direction that Howard University seems to be going in.” 

Howard University fails to serve the true stakeholders of the university when it ignores and disregards the voices and votes of students, alumni, and faculty, Jones says. “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. We have to make sure that we not only continue that model but that we strengthen it.”

The complaint asks that “all Affiliate Trustees entitled to have been seated between April 20, 2020 and June 2021, be seated consistent with applicable terms of office, and applicable By-Laws. It also urges the court to declare the Board of Trustees June 2021 vote excluding Affiliate Trustees “null and void and of no lawful effect.”

“Despite the procedural and legal frailties of the BOT’s exclusion of Affiliate Trustees, and persistent faculty, student, and alumni urgings for transparency and accountability on this issue, the BOT remains entrenched in the defense of its illegal decision to strike Affiliate Trustees. Its aforementioned actions leave concerned alumni stakeholders with no other recourse but to seek judicial intervention to compel the BOT’s compliance with its by-laws,” the complaint states.