History of the Howard University Office of the Secretary

The origin and history of the Secretary of the University and the Board of Trustees are inextricably linked to the founding, growth, and evolution of Howard University, which was founded on March 2, 1867. There have been eighteen individuals of remarkable stature and vision who have served Howard University with distinction as Secretary, and Christie L. Taylor is the nineteenth executive leader to serve the University in this role.

On January 23, 1867, Senator Henry Wilson introduced a bill in the United States Congress to establish Howard University. Eleazer M. Cushman, one of the original incorporators named in the bill was elected as a founding member of the University and Board of Trustees, and as the first Secretary of the Board on March 19, 1867.  After the incorporation was ratified, the Trustees expressed a strong desire to open the University with all deliberate speed.  Cushman, as Secretary, was charged with the responsibility of requesting General Oliver O. Howard, for whom the University is named, as Commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau, “to secure suitable and adequate buildings for the use of the University on the site of the property purchased from Smith” (a tract of about 150 acres formerly owned by John A. Smith).  Cushman served as Secretary until December 20, 1867. And thus, the significance of the position of Secretary was established from the outset and has continued to grow and develop with the institution through the tenures of each Secretary, who has left their mark on the institution’s history and traditions, helping to build an internationally-known research University that is one of the world’s most important and irreplaceable assets.

The incumbent is both Secretary of the University and Secretary of the Board of Trustees. The position of Secretary is one of three positions stipulated in the original Bylaws drafted by the Howard University Board of Trustees in 1867; the President and the Treasurer are the other named positions.  From the University’s inception, the Secretary has been an officer of the Board of Trustees and has performed functions and held responsibilities germane to the office of a corporate secretary. 

While the authority for the Secretary emanates from the Bylaws, they do not fully define the overall responsibilities of the position or the executive role and functions therein.

A key responsibility of the Secretary is ensuring the Board of Trustees has the proper advice and resources for discharging its governance responsibilities according to the Bylaws and ensuring there is a permanent record of the actions of the Board. The Secretary provides a formal orientation to incoming Trustees to facilitate their understanding of the Bylaws and its requirements as well as their proprietary role as the final authority of the University. It is evident throughout the history of Howard University that the position of Secretary has functioned in as broadly and as specifically as is necessary to fulfill  the mandate of providing executive support to the Board of Trustees, the President, and University stakeholders in governing, preserving, and promoting the mission, core values, vision, and legacy of Howard University.