Fisk Presidential Pick Solid, Not Sexy in H. James Williams
The only thing more pressing than Fisk University’s needs for stability is its need to reemerge as the elite institution of choice for black American scholars. So while Dr. H. James Williams appears on paper to be a solid choice as the 15th president of the institution, there are questions about if his name and pedigree can bring the kind of attention and pop cultural prestige the university once enjoyed in Nashville and throughout the nation.
Like many HBCU presidential rookies, his resume’ sparkles in the black college tradition. Undergraduate degree from North Carolina Central University, master’s from Wisconsin, PhD from Georgia, and law and accounting degrees from Georgetown. His career is the stuff upon which today’s HBCU relevance and necessity is built.
But in the HBCU presidency of the 21st century, Fisk won’t live by scholarly acumen alone. And while it may survive by the intellect of a man who knows how to count and allocate money, to thrive, Fisk needs one who knows how to make money on the institutional scale. By the tone of his visits to campus, there is little indication of commercial research development, entrepreneurship or a windfall of corporate support heading Fisk’s way with Williams at the helm.
Fisk is in need of a president who can back down a largely unyielding board devoid of vision for the institution’s future; not by intimidation or name recognition, but by vision and strategy that would leave the board little choice but to avoid interference at all costs. The university has taken an express route to flatlined enrollment, dissatisfied alumni and disenchanted faculty; the school’s most precious and viable remaining resource, with many pointing to the board and its “we rule the school” attitude as the source.
Insiders close to the board suggest that its presidential search bubbled worthy candidates to the top of its list, but egos and misaligned goals for the institution killed their candidacy, and the fresh perspectives that would have naturally ignited future Fisk graduates and the Nashville community.
None of this is Dr. Williams’ fault. He wanted what once was considered a prestigious job, and his qualifications matched what the Fisk board was seeking.
It’s too bad that the board will get exactly what it is looking for in Williams, and that what he is ready to deliver is far and away not enough to return Fisk to past glory and stature.