Remarks on Signing the Challenge Grant Amendments of 1983

September 26, 1983

Secretary Bell, George, Barbara, you ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the White House.

I know we both had a full day, and I'm happy we were able to arrange this gathering where we could meet in a more relaxed atmosphere. As you perhaps are aware, we've just returned from New York, where I addressed the United Nations.

It's clear that our country faces serious challenges in the years ahead, but there are numerous reasons for optimism. If the United States is to remain the leader of the free world, if our freedom and our prosperity to be maintained, we must make certain that every American has the opportunity to live up to his or her potential. Historically black colleges and universities have played and are playing a vital role. And I'm proud that in the last 2 years we've stood shoulder to shoulder with you.

Today is your day, as declared by a joint resolution of the Congress, and I hope that you won't think it presumptuous, but I'd like to think of it as our day.

We remain committed to the proposition that keeping historically black colleges and universities a vibrant force in American education should not be just the goal of black Americans but of all of us.

I'd like to take this opportunity to offer a special thanks to a man with us today who has done so much over the years and continues to be an inspiration to us all. This distinguished gentleman, a former president of Tuskegee Institute, founded the United Negro College Fund in 1944. His hard work and leadership have meant that hundreds of thousands of our citizens are living richer and more meaningful lives. He's a man of deep conviction, yet he knows the value of businesslike approaches to achieving goals. He recognized long ago the significance of a strong endowment system to the viability of black colleges and universities. And I am, of course, referring to Dr. Frederick Douglass Patterson.

Dr. Patterson, congratulations.

Dr. Patterson is named after a great American and, I might add, a great Republican -- [laughter] -- Frederick Douglass.

Well, since we last met a year ago, much has been accomplished. We set a goal of identifying and eliminating unfair barriers to your participation in federally sponsored programs. We set out to encourage the private sector to get more involved. Well, we also identified the 27 Federal agencies which provide nearly all of the Federal funding for higher education and made sure that they were aware of and shared our commitment to strengthening historically black colleges and universities. And I'm happy to say that preliminary figures suggest that those 27 agencies will be providing 11\1/2\ percent more funds to your universities and colleges in '83 than they did in '82.

Now, much of this is in the form of research grants, from which historically black colleges have been shortchanged over the years. Well, we're making sure that doesn't happen any more.

These grants offer colleges and universities a chance to develop new educational capabilities while providing a needed service. There's no reason for them to be concentrated only in the larger institutions that have developed the skill of granstmanship into an art form. I'm especially pleased that many of the projects stimulated by our initiative involve science, mathematics, and engineering.

But Federal research grants and other government subsidies are not an end in themselves. We must continue to work toward the goal of self-sufficiency. In that regard, our administration has strongly supported legislation which passed the Senate last week and the House today. This legislation, which I will sign this afternoon, will amend title III of the Higher Education Act to authorize matching endowment grants to colleges and universities.

These grants will promote independence and self-sufficiency by aiding and encouraging the development of substantial endowment funds and by providing incentives to promote fundraising activities. This program will help guarantee the continued viability of black colleges and universities, fulfilling a longstanding dream of Dr. Patterson.

Attracting better private sector support has also been one of our goals this year. Much has been accomplished in this area as well. Our project -- or one project underway provides a computer network in electrical engineering, connecting a number of black colleges and universities, and will improve the training of 1,500 electrical engineering students at these schools. Over $389,000 of private sector contributions are involved in this.

In the White House, our Private Sector Initiative Office is currently working with the National Alliance of Business to link specific black colleges and universities with local businesses and corporations. It's been 2 years since the signing of Executive Order 12320, and I think we can all agree that progress has been made.

We can also agree we've got a long way to go. I hope that over this next year I'll have the opportunity to meet with some of you, perhaps in a smaller group, to hear your views personally. Until then, let me assure you I remain fully convinced of the importance of educational institutions.

You represent a proud part of America's heritage. You're a great national resource we can't afford to see dwindle for lack of care. You offered hope to many of our citizens in a time of despair. You gave faith to many when it was sorely needed.

And I can't help but tell a little story I heard the other day about faith. A fellow fell off a cliff, and as he was falling grabbed a limb sticking out the side of the cliff and looked down 300 feet to the canyon floor below and then looked up and said, ``Lord, if there's anyone up there, give me faith. Tell me what to do.'' And a voice from the heavens said, ``If you have faith, let go.'' [Laughter] He looked down at the canyon floor and then took another look up and said, ``Is there anyone else up there?'' [Laughter]

Well, working together, we can have faith that we will succeed and that our country will be a decent place and a land of opportunity for all that we want it to be. So, I thank you all for being here. God bless you.

And now I'm going to sign Senate bill 1872.

And the Senator whose name is on this bill as President pro tem of the Senate is Strom Thurmond's. I know Tip [O'Neill] isn't here because I would have seen him. [Laughter]

[At this point, the President signed the bill.]

Dr. Patterson, I think the best idea would be if you got the signing pen.

Note: The President spoke at 4:49 p.m. at the reception for representatives of historically black colleges and universities in the East Room at the White House. Among those attending the reception were Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell and the Vice President and Mrs. Bush.

As enacted, S. 1872 is Public Law 98 - 95, approved September 26.