HBCU Delaware State President Defends School's Aviation Program After Criticism From Elon Musk

Dr. Tony Allen shared the growth of aviation programs and the impact of HBCUs.

The president of Delaware State University is defending his institution’s aviation program against disparaging remarks made by Elon Musk.

Local station WBOC reports that Musk, the owner of X (formerly Twitter) and CEO of Tesla, said that aviation programs at HBCUs are not developing enough qualified pilots which is dangerous for the airline industry and the safety of potential passengers on the social media platform.

Musk responded to a post that implied that HBCU students in aviation programs had lower IQ scores placing them at "the threshold for what is considered 'borderline intellectual impairment” when compared to the average IQ of United States Air Force pilots.

A strong proponent of anti-DEI initiatives, Musk pounced on the opportunity to share his perspective on the issue in a now-deleted tweet.

"It will take an airplane crashing and killing hundreds of people for them to change this crazy policy of DEI," he tweeted.

"Do you want to fly in an airplane where they prioritized DEI hiring over your safety?" he wrote in a separate post.

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Although he initially hesitated to respond to Musk’s tweet, Delaware State University President Tony Allen defended his school and other HBCUs whose aviation programs have been growing at a rapid rate.

"It took me a little while to think about writing that letter actually because I didn't want to dignify Mr. Musk's comments, and then I thought about the history of our aviation program,”  Allen said in a statement. “Today, we graduate more qualified pilots of color than any other school in the country and serve many aviation students from all backgrounds, regardless of where they come from. It’s an outstanding program. I’ve said many times, we produce more pilots with color, any other place in the country, and we are the high-quality, low-cost provider for all aviation schools east of the Mississippi.”

Established in 1987, the aviation program owns a fleet of 26 airplanes at Delaware Airpark in the city of Cheswold where the program houses its training operations. Currently, the DSU Aviation Program has “110 Professional Pilot students and 47 Aviation Management majors.”In 2021, Delaware State University,  Elizabeth City State University, and Hampton University all partnered with United Airlines for an initiative “to produce more pilots of color into the workforce” where students can interview for the United Airlines Aviate Academy.

The vision of the program is to produce 5,000 pilots over the next 10 years.

“Their Aviate Program is world-class,” Allen’s statement read. “We’re proud to be a significant partner in that regard and understand them and our other airline partners are uniquely committed not only to preparing the aviation industry for what is the significant shortage in pilots, but doing so with a special emphasis on people of color and women, which is a strong objective in their view, and one that I completely applaud.”

Allen went on to provide data about the impact of HBCUs at large to spotlight the work that’s being done at these institutions of higher education.

“All of this has been achieved despite systemic underfunding over time and despite racist narrative belying the very truth of our excellence,” Allen continued. “I would warn us instead against those who masquerade as intelligent but who, as Dr. King himself warned, lack the hallmarks of the truly educated. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of proper education.”

Other critics say Musk’s apparent endorsement of a tweet suggesting that Black college students have low IQs is built on a faulty premise. 

“The whole conversation is obviously racist on its face,” said Akil Bello, Senior Director of Advocacy and Advancement at FairTest told Gizmodo. “It specifically insults the intelligence of entire universities, picking and choosing statistics and ignoring facts to make the basic argument that if you’re Black, you’re unqualified.”

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