Everyone is not a public firebrand when it comes to stomping for institutional support and attention. It is particularly difficult for some leaders with training and career experience in the applied sciences, who frequently see the world and its cultures as little more than elements in an equation equaling success or failure.
It is hard to judge if Philander Smith College President Johnny Moore is among this group, because we don’t know him, we don’t know how he looks at his institution or its potential for growth.
Until now, Dr. Moore has been uniquely silent in his leadership of the Little Rock wonder. From afar, it has been strange to see a president follow one of the nation’s more outspoken, well-branded presidents in former Philander president Walter Kimbrough, with nearly one full year of virtual silence.
That silence ended last week, as Dr. Moore effectively fired one of his top cabinet members in less-than-popular fashion. Moore allegedly gave Vice-President of Student Affairs Stacy Downing two hours to vacate her office and a police escort from the campus, sparking instant outrage and protest from the more than 600 students on campus.
With less than a month before Moore’s formal investiture as Philander president, whispers about chronic absenteeism, lack of transparency or vision for the Philander community, and failure to model the Philander experience for students and alums have turned into outright shouting.
Moore’s ability to hear that shouting on campus today is under dispute, as many students took to social media this morning to seethe over his departure shortly after dismissing his top student-admin liaison.
A president’s first year in office should be about listening with purpose; staying silent only until the time is right to talk about a clear plan to match the needs of an institution in transition with a vision for progress. But silence can’t be the hallmark of any great leader, and particularly one in HBCU culture. It takes a man or woman who is willing to be part-preacher, part-psychologist, part-politician and part-corporate executive to grow a historically black college to even a fraction of its greatest potential.
Moore has been less than stellar from all angles. Among the United Negro College Fund ranks, Moore could not be easily confused with someone who wants to improve his personal brand or his college’s stock among the organization’s stakeholders and key figures. In Little Rock, there are few groups who claim him as a strong advocate and voice of influence in benefit to Philander Smith.
One of the greatest men’s basketball players in Philander Smith history, Moore has been less than enthusiastic about outwardly supporting the program – he was noticeably absent from last month’s GCAC title game between Philander and Dillard, which PSC won as the tournament’s second seed.
Many people want to get to know Johnny Moore, because they want more good coming out of Philander Smith College. Maybe he’s not the kind of guy to be gregarious about his leadership or the college, but controversial firings and disconnection with students and alums aren’t the way to make PSC forget about Walter Kimbrough, or to advance the school’s mission.
In fact, it is the quickest way to free up a spot for the one who is best suited to do the job.