Xavier University leader: nation needs to tap black talent

AP News
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Posted: Feb 26, 2016 11:59 AM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The new president of Xavier University, the nation's only Roman Catholic historically black college, says the nation needs to do a better job of tapping the talents of minority students to meet the need for more scientists and engineers.

C. Reynold Verret has taken over from Norman Francis, who served as president for 47 years. The college was established in 1925 by St. Katharine Drexel and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.

Verret's inauguration takes place Friday. He was born in Haiti and his family fled to the United States in 1963 to seek refuge from the atrocities of Haitian dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, the university said.

He obtained his doctorate in biochemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and previously served as the provost and chief academic officer at Savannah State University in Georgia.

Xavier is a private four-year liberal arts college with about 3,000 students based in New Orleans.

The Associated Press spoke with Verret about the university and his views a day before Friday's inauguration on a variety to topics.

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FOSTERING MINORITY TALENT

He said the nation needs to do more to foster the talent of blacks and Latinos because "we underutilize the talent we have in this country." He said America's need for more scientists and engineers is immense, but that can only be accomplished by doing a better job at educating Latino and black students.

"The viability of the country depends upon educating everyone," he said. "You don't go to the Olympics choosing your talent from a certain, small part of your country while the other guys are picking the best talent from throughout his nation."

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THE ROLE OF HISTORICALLY BLACK COLLEGES AND LEADERSHIP

He said historically black colleges bring up scholars that would otherwise be overlooked and add more diversity to higher education. He said Xavier's successful alumni are proof of the college's efforts to foster African-American leaders.

"We have some federal judges, we have a lot of physicians, we have teachers, we have sociologists, social workers," he said. "Take your pick, Xavier students are there ... The proof of the pudding is our alumni."

He said Xavier's alumni are helping black communities across the nation by sending graduates "into the community where they are serving and leading in many ways."

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RACE RELATIONS

America remains a place where more dialogue on race needs to take place, he said.

"The United States is a country where the issues of race aren't finished," he said. "I think (W.E.B) Du Bois was right: it (race) is the great question, barrier, in American society." All too often, he said, people feel they have "the answer before we even enter into the discussion" about race.

"We do not have in fact conversations about race across racial lines — and we don't do it well," he said.

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ON THE STATE OF XAVIER AND WHAT'S NEXT

Although enrollment is lower than it was before Hurricane Katrina, Verret said the college's enrollment is healthy, as are its finances. About half of Xavier's students come from the New Orleans area, but that the college draws students from across the country. Verret sees a need to expand the college's programs to attract more adult and post-graduate students.

"The world is changing and we need to respond to that changing world."