Black Colleges Lose a Champion

William (Buddy) Blakey, who died last week, helped make minority-serving colleges (and low-income students) a federal policy priority.
October 21, 2010

As longtime Congressional aides, and then higher education lobbyists, in the cozy world of federal policy making, Terry W. Hartle and William A. (Buddy) Blakey were not only peers, but friends.

But in 1993, when the Clinton administration was promoting a plan to create a direct student loan program and use some of the savings to create a national service program for college students, Blakey -- as Washington counsel for the United Negro College Fund -- believed that the loan proposal would burden historically black colleges and that the national service program would mainly benefit the middle class and prove a distraction from federal student aid's primary focus on low-income students.

At a meeting that year -- recounted in Steven Waldman's The Bill (1995, Penguin) -- Blakey blasted Hartle, who had recently become the top lobbyist at the American Council on Education, for accepting direct lending and national service as faits accomplis.

"To take all the money savings from direct lending and spend it on this is ludicrous!" Waldman quoted Blakey as saying, voice rising as was his wont. "Maybe for you, it's okay. But if we end up trading the interests of upper-income whites for low-income blacks and Latinos...." When Hartle argued that "this is a train that's coming down the track and we've got to swallow it," Blakey replied: "I think this train is going to crash for sure, and that's why I don't want to get on it."

Hartle recalled that incident (and others like it) fondly Wednesday as he contemplated Blakey's death on Oct. 14, after a nearly year-long illness. "He was a friend and a wonderful colleague with whom I worked on many issues over the years," Hartle said. "But he was also not the least bit shy about beating the hell out of me if I wasn't doing what he thought I should be doing -- doing the right thing as he saw it."

Lezli Baskerville tells similar tales. As head of the chief advocacy group for historically black colleges, the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, Baskerville was on Blakey's side of most issues. But her farewell missive to Blakey recounts "the infrequent but memorable calls I would receive from Buddy late at night in which he would subject me to merciless tongue lashings because we differed on a policy matter.

"But I learned a great deal about the soul of Buddy in the early morning apology calls that would follow a berating over a policy disagreement. Buddy was a passionate, fierce adversary; a brilliant ally, and a good friend."

Words like "fierce," "passionate" and "smart" surface in most conversations about Blakey and his nearly 40 years of work on issues of higher education access and equity. As an aide to Paul Simon, the former Democratic representative and then senator from Illinois, Blakey was widely seen as a driving force behind the creation in 1986 of the Strengthening Historically Black Colleges and Universities Program, the primary source of federal operating funds for those institutions.

Blakey also worked on desegregation cases as a lawyer for the Education Department (one of several federal agencies in which he served), and as a legal adviser, consultant and lobbyist for groups such as the Council for Equal Opportunity (which works on behalf of the TRIO programs for needy students), the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and UNCF. "His imprimatur is indelibly etched in every piece of federal legislation establishing and impacting HBCUs, higher education access and success in the past four decades," Baskerville said.

He was also one of Washington higher education's great characters, darting in and out of Congressional hearing rooms to take a call via the Bluetooth earpiece that seemed permanently affixed to his head, and looking to the sky as he let out his high-pitched howl of a laugh.


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