The history of racism and discrimination in this country makes it hard for African-Americans to criticize one of our own ascending to heights of increased responsibility, authority and influence. Even when one of us is promoted in the wrong way, or for the wrong reason, it seems that we readily steep ourselves in cultural obligation to support and defend those who are our color, but not necessarily our kind. [Read more…] about Maryland HBCU Lawsuit Leaves No Room for Mistakes in Selection of Next Chancellor
Archives for August 2014
If faculty, alumni and students at Southern University thought the answer to the SU System’s problems was the removal of President Ronald Mason, then those stakeholders now face a multitude of questions about their role in righting the nation’s flagship historically Black system of higher education. Mason recently alerted the SUS Board of Supervisors that he will not seek or accept an extension of his contract, scheduled to end in June 2015, without a commitment to resources and regulatory oversight necessary for the system’s future sustainability, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate.
Apparently, Mason can walk away from the devastating budget cuts, Baton Rouge’s infamous sociopolitical culture, and divided ranks among faculty and alumni. But if he does leave and doesn’t look back, what will be the survival plan for those opponents who stay? [Read more…] about Mason Raises Stakes in Fight for Southern’s Survival
The following is Part Two of a three-part series chronicling leadership struggles at Morgan State University, Maryland’s largest historically Black university. Read part one here.
In February 2014, Morgan State University President David Wilson joined a panel of Baltimore-Washington metropolitan-area college presidents at the annual regional conference of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). The discussion was centered around “the current state of American secondary and postsecondary education and its impact on philanthropic support, constituent engagement, and public perception.”
In response to a question on what presidents now know that they didn’t know before coming into the position, Wilson responded with his take on board relations.
“One thing you have to be aware of is the politics of the board. And I’m not just talking about politics in the sense of political affiliation, democrat or republican, but the relationships; the egos and the agendas of board members. Knowing and understanding who is related to whom, what interests does each board member represent in filling that position, are critical to success as a president.”
Board relations have been at the center of several high-profile controversies at historically Black colleges and universities over the last two years. At Alabama State University, two trustees were recently forced to resign and removed from the board following explosive charges of conflict of interest violations and attacks on current president Gwendolyn Boyd. These dismissals followed two years of leadership transition following the firing of former president Joseph Silver, and the university being placed on accreditation warning by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) for violations of conflict of interest, financial instability and control of sponsored research standards.
At South Carolina State University, trustees remain under intense public scrutiny for a string of financial missteps, conflict of interest issues, and leadership failures that have led to SACSCOC probation, and a guilty verdict against former chairman Jonathan Pinson on federal racketeering charges directly related to his dealings as an SCSU trustee.The university now finds itself requiring loans from the state to satisfy payroll and operations expenses.
At Morgan State, questions surround the university’s Board of Regents as revelations of internal mismanagement continue to grow. In December 2012, the Board voted twice against a renewal of President David Wilson’s contract, but rescinded the decision following protests from students, alumni and faculty.
This week, the university reached a $185,000 settlement with a former student who was beaten and maimed by Alexander Kinyua, also a former Morgan student who pled guilty to the 2012 murder and cannibalization of his housemate. Since 2012, other issues of crime, research failures, stalled community outreach, and financial issues have placed Morgan State in local and national headlines.
Over the same period, members of the board were engaged in discord and conflict of personal and professional ethics; a sign indicating that presidential failures were a result of a lack of oversight, or worse, compromises to protect a president who could best protect their own individual interests.
Rumors of political and personal agendas, infighting and a lack of oversight on campus issues were initially addressed in January 2013, when ousted Board Chairman Dallas Evans wrote an internal memo to regents, expressing dismay over a chain of events that led to the board’s reversal on the non-renewal of President David Wilson’s initial contract.
“Just as the initial vote for the current contract to expire on the terms and conditions previously agreed to by the Board and Dr. Wilson was not a power struggle between the Board Chair and the President, the later decision to offer a one-year contract was neither the result of a more favorable assessment of the president’s performance nor a concession to the relatively small faction of faculty, students and alumni that supported the president. Conversations among the regents, just after the rally and resulting negative publicity, suggests the Board’s resolve to effect a leadership change was even stronger than before.”
“Rather, the Board changed its position following a failed attempt of some regents to have a fellow regent appointed as interim president. I, as Board Chair, could not in good conscience support advancing the regent’s name for consideration. There is also the ethical concern of a regent voting to create a vacancy in the position which the regent seeks to occupy.”
Neither Evans nor members of Morgan’s administration would confirm the identity of the regent in question, but these officials echo remarks made by Wilson and detailed by Evans about personal relationships and their impact on policy making and daily operations at the university.
According to several members of the university’s administration, a culture of opportunity by association thrives among members of the board; a system whereby personal alliances have shaped the university’s direction through policy making, or failure to enforce policy.
Sources say that since 2010, select relatives of regents have received salary increases of more than $10,000, with some raises coming during an institutional hiring freeze. These relatives, according to sources, have also benefited from privileges such as parking passes and special policy exemptions for event planning and promotion, and have received promotions in title and responsibility. These allegations are combined with rumors that one board member has engaged in a long-standing personal relationship with a university employee, and two board members are engaged in a similar relationship; interests that are viewed by many as self-serving, and potential violations of ethics in state and accreditation statutes concerning governance of public institutions.
Morgan State’s Board bylaws do not list a formal conflict of interest policy, but lists the State of Maryland’s Code of Ethics as its guidance on potential breaches. If revealed, violators of the statutes would be proven in violation of the state’s conflict of interest statutes. From the Ethics Law statutes:
1. An employee or official may not participate in a matter in which he or she has an interest. This prohibition also applies where an official’s or employee’s relatives (spouse, children, brother, sister or parents), or certain entities has/have an interest. Non-participation includes any discussion, advising or deciding of the matter and requires disclosure of the conflict.
7. An official or employee may not intentionally use the prestige of his or her office for personal gain or that of another. This prohibition means an official or employee may not use any influence he/she may have to obtain a special benefit for himself/herself or another or use state resources for personal benefit or to benefit another.
According to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education’s Requirements for Affiliation and Standards of Accreditation, a conflict of interest policy should demand that members of a governing body disclose potential relationships which could impact impartiality.
“a conflict of interest policy for the governing body (and fiduciary body members, if such a body exists), which addresses matters such as remuneration, contractual relationships, employment, family, financial or other interests that could pose conflicts of interest, and that assures that those interests are disclosed and that they do not interfere with the impartiality of governing body members or outweigh the greater duty to secure and ensure the academic and fiscal integrity of the institution…”
Mismanagement of Board Records
Morgan State board members also confront challenges in their own record-keeping, as several regents over the last year have publicly cited incomplete, incorrect, and poorly submitted records of board actions and minutes for review and approval.
From May 6, 2014 Public Session – (Transcript of Chairman Mfume) “We are going to delay, at the request of a couple of board members, the adoption of the minutes of February 4, 2014. There were some issues of accuracy and completeness and the Board wants to make sure that all members of the Board are comfortable about the minutes….” The Chairman (Mfume) stated that Attorneys Faulk and Goodwin mentioned to the Chair that there was some staff unreadiness in terms of the preparation to post notices of several committee meetings of the last four meetings. He stated he mentioned at the November meeting that our goal and certainly the Chair’s goal is to give more not less notice to all such meetings and to go beyond compliance. We want to exceed requirements of the law. Chairman Mfume stated that he spoke extensively with the President and counsels regarding this issue and a process is now in place.
From August 6, 2013 Public Session – The meeting opened with Regent Griffin mentioning that he received his Board materials on August 5, 2013, one day before the Board meeting. He questioned whether or not it was legal to hold the meeting because the members of the Board did not receive the materials three days before the scheduled date of the meeting. Ms. Langrill noted that the Board’s materials were required to be sent three days before the meeting, and this was done, even though the Regents did not receive their materials until the day before the meeting. So, it was legal to hold the scheduled meeting.
From June 6, 2013 Public Session – It was moved by Regent Gilliam and seconded by Regent Draper to approve the minutes of May 7, 2013 with revisions and inclusion of an additional statement provided by Regent Draper made before the recorders of the minutes returned to the room. The statement is that Regent Edmonds moved and Regent Taylor seconded the motion to approve President Wilson’s contract. The vote was 11 yes, 1 no and 1 abstention by Regent Evans. The motion carried.
From May 7, 2013 Public Session – Regent Gilliam reminded the Board that there needed to be a correction in the February 2013 Public Session minutes regarding the removal of Regent Evans from the position of Chairman of the Board. She noted that when the vote was taken, Regent Darkes’ vote was not recorded on page 2 of the Public Session minutes. The correction was made and Regent Darkes’ vote was then included in the final count (Regents Draper, Mfume, Ellis, Edmonds, Malcom, Cummings, Frieson, Gilliam and Taylor voted to remove Chairman Evans from the chair position. Regents Levitan, Resnick, Griffin, Darkes and Evans, voted against the decision to remove Chairman Evans.) Regent Gilliam MOVED and Regent Edmonds SECONDED the motion to accept the revised February 5, 2013 minutes with this correction.
Minutes of Board meetings are kept and produced by the Office of the President. In a March 2014 letter to the Board, Evans described the liability presented by the incomplete minutes.
“Administrative support for the Board of regents during this administration has reached intolerable levels. Board minutes have little integrity as they are oftentimes inaccurate, incomplete or just plain wrong. It is oftentimes impossible to discern the nature of the Board discussions and any actions that have been taken on issues of importance to the university. Much of the business has been transacted in public session and the extent to which the minutes differ from the version known to those in attendance is a problem.”
The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) recently released a report on board leadership for HBCUs, Top Strategic Issues Facing HBCUs: Now and Into the Future. In this report, AGB specifically outlined productive strategies for boards to follow to maintain consistent governance of institutions.
Another key aspect of board development is creating an effective board culture. While the right people matter, the right environment in the board room may matter more. Do boards spend their time on the right topics and at the right level? Do board members come prepared to meetings? Are board meetings organized around strategic goals? Does the board monitor its own behavior? Does the board focus on consequential matters and allow for differences of opinion?
While the Board has wrestled with conflict of interest issues and its own record-keeping, challenges involving institutional expansion have gone unresolved. In March 2012, state officials approved the establishment of a new satellite location for Towson University in Harford County, MD; an area projected to grow in residential occupancy and commercial opportunities over the next five years following a military realignment initiative.
In the months prior to the decision from the Maryland Higher Education Commission, Morgan objected to the project, but issued no further protest on its approval or its impact on the university. This was a stark contrast to previous objections from Morgan administration concerning expansion of Towson University; which traced back to a 2005 approval of a joint MBA program for Towson and the University of Baltimore. This program, which duplicated the existing program at Morgan, served as the foundation for the case against the state, which a federal judge ruled in 2013 had operated a ‘separate but equal’ system of higher education.
Less than a year later, Wilson submitted to the Board a proposal for joint programs with Towson, prompting internal concerns that Wilson was attempting to circumvent potential solutions to the state’s ‘separate but equal’ system by creating partnerships with the same university which had duplicated a critical Morgan program seven years earlier, forced the university out of expansion opportunities in Northeastern Maryland, and was a direct beneficiary of policy-based discrimination against Morgan.
The proposals surfaced at a time when Wilson worked to establish associate degree programs at the university, and attempted to scale back the university’s doctoral degrees. While these proposals were rebuffed by regents, they were never presented in public meetings of the regents or in discussions with executive campus leadership.
These missteps, combined with the board’s internal conflicts of interest, suggests more than a matter of poor presidential leadership, but failed oversight from the university’s governing body. But these problems are a subtext to another growing problem for the campus – the rising administrative costs of the Wilson presidency against falling revenues and dwindling enrollment.
If there is no other take away from Ferguson, Missouri; a town where African-Americans comprise two-thirds of the population but none of its municipal electorate and less than five percent of its police force, its that Black folks need an engine to jumpstart our own destiny.
13 miles away from Ferguson is Harris-Stowe State University, one of two historically Black institutions in Missouri. All eyes should be on HSSU as class returns to session, and raging tempers, hopefully, transform into action for civil justice. Harris-Stowe is known for its criminal justice program, and should be a leading voice of criticism in how the city has botched police action, and on how the citizens have completely muted their own voices in the political process.
[Read more…] about Harris-Stowe State Should be Part of the Solution to Failures in Ferguson
Iconic HBCU president Frederick Humphries recently told a crowd of Florida A&M University supporters that, if asked, he would be willing to drum up support for Rattler athletics in fundraising and awareness building. And no one would blame him for having a vested interest; he is the standard by which all future FAMU presidents will be measured, given that his tenure produced great gains for FAMU in sports, enrollment and public profile.
His role in supporting FAMU is where his public commentary and insight should stop; because anything beyond that line encroaches upon new FAMU President Elmira Mangum’s ability to forge a new identity as the leader of the Rattler Nation in 2014. Humphries was a visionary for his time, and thankfully, he is smart enough to recognize that he remains in his prime as an advocate, higher education expert and man for the ages in the HBCU community, and not as a sitting president facing new political, economic, and industrial challenges in the 21st century.
If only more members of the HBCU old guard would come to that realization. [Read more…] about Breaking Down the HBCU Old Guard
The following is Part One of a three-part series chronicling leadership struggles at Morgan State University, Maryland’s largest historically Black university.
Tough questions are mounting against Morgan State University and its Board of Regents on issues of management throughout multiple divisions of campus operation. Last month, the university was listed as one of 67 colleges and universities nationwide under investigation by the Department of Education for possible Title IX violations in its handling of an alleged on-campus sexual assault.
This week, the Baltimore Sun reports on new details of mismanagement of Morgan’s $28.5 million research contract with NASA. The subcontractor agreement with the federal agency to conduct atmospheric research is in jeopardy of termination after more than two years of broken communication, improper financial processing, and a failure to direct Morgan students to research opportunities in NASA. From the Sun:
In a letter dated July 9, the USRA noted that Morgan had made “some efforts” to improve, including hiring a program manager and a contract administrator. But two invoices submitted after Morgan was first warned in March required “a great deal” of review and help from (Universities Space Research Association) officials before they were correct, which USRA called “unacceptable.” Another document submitted by Morgan to the USRA had pricing errors, while performance problems identified in March had “also not shown material improvement,” according to the USRA letter. Further, Morgan had not provided the USRA with information to support previous payments despite repeated requests.
Two weeks before USRA again warned Morgan of its administrative deficiencies, Morgan President David Wilson wrote in a Sun editorial that its problems were “growing pains” caused, in part, by the state’s lack of equitable funding in the institution.
But the NASA concerns appear to be the latest in a trend of concerns for Maryland’s flagship historically Black college, with many issues tracing back more than two years and following a blocked ouster of Wilson by a cohort of supporters on the university’s Board of Regents.
Chronology of Controversy
In December 2012, the Morgan State University Board of Regents voted against a renewal of president David Wilson’s contract. The non-renewal followed several incidents surrounding the institution, including a high-profile case of murder and cannibalizing by a former student with a history of violence on campus, two on-campus shootings during the fall semester, and a failed attempt to fire then-head football coach Donald Hill-Eley.
In the weeks following, outcry from students, alumni and faculty swayed the board to rescind its decision, and to affirm a new one-year agreement with new stipulations for Wilson. Then-Board Chairman Dallas R. Evans wrote a confidential memo to board members in January 2013, expressing concerns with the new contract and vulnerabilities it presented for the university. In that letter, Evans specifically cited Wilson’s lack of transparency on critical university matters, including academic development, budget allocation, environmental safety of several campus buildings, and his commitment to the institution.
He criticized Wilson for his name for frequently being published in presidential searches, his lack of on-campus leadership and respect for staff, and referred to Wilson as a central figure in the dysfunction of the board at levels unseen in more than 20 years as a member.
In my opinion, he does not provide the inspiring and insightful leadership the University requires nor has he created a clear and consistent vision for the campus. I do not believe that he has demonstrated a genuine commitment to the university, but instead often seeks to promote himself. I have witnessed his attempts to circumvent various state regulations, federal statutes, and/or university policies and procedures: and he seems to resent staff and other resource persons who advise him on the need for compliance in these matters.
The sentiments were countered by Regent Rev. Toni Draper in a letter published by the Afro-American Newspaper.
While I am not authorized to speak on behalf of the Board, here are the reasons for my vote to renew Dr. Wilson’s contract:
1. No documented facts were presented to support the non renewal of the contract;
2. At its closed session on November 6, the board unanimously accepted the report of the committee that evaluated the President’s performance, consistent with the metrics previously approved by the Board;
3. December 4th was the first time the chair openly shared his list of concerns about Dr. Wilson’s leadership style with the full board;
4. It takes more than two and a half years to change a culture in any organization and Morgan is no exception;
5. The Board did not previously communicate its dissatisfaction with President Wilson’s work or work ethic;
6. In my opinion, Dr. Wilson was and is committed to the mission, the students, the faculty, the staff and the success of Morgan;
7. Morgan, under Dr. Wilson’s leadership, is going in the right direction; and
8. If a presidential search takes place at this time, the University loses valuable momentum in key areas such as the capital campaign, new programs and partnerships, student recruitment and retention, alumni giving, federal grants, parental, faculty, student and community confidence.
Evans was ousted as Board chair in February 2013, and eventually replaced by current chairman and Morgan alum, Kweisi Mfume. Last month, Wilson began an“indefinite appointment” as president, serving at the will and pleasure of the board. In a statement, Mfume praised Wilson and assured his continuing presence at the university. “
Over the last several years, higher education in this country has undergone a stressful and uncertain period. The challenges have been particularly problematic for our HBCUs; however, Dr. Wilson has emerged as a leading national voice and is guiding Morgan admirably through these times. The Board values his leadership very highly and looks forward to his long and successful tenure.”
Evans, who remains a member of the board, was the lone dissenting vote against the appointment.
Failure on PLUS Loan Crisis
Wilson, who serves as a member of the White House Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, was privy to information about loan reform impact in September 2012, when he was present at a Washington D.C. meeting of the White House HBCU Advisory Board, which opened with discussion on HBCU students being denied PLUS loans at a high rate.
Enrollment at Morgan dropped from a record high 8,018 students in fall 2011 to 6582 students in fall 2013. Wilson attributed the enrollment spike to changes in the PLUS Loan program, which he acknowledged publicly for the first time in an August interview with Morgan State alumna and national White House correspondent April Ryan on the ‘Tom Joyner Morning Show;’ nearly one year after his PLUS Loan briefing at the White House Advisory Board meeting.
That same month, Wilson wrote to Morgan alumni asking for support of an emergency fundraising initiative to help students adversely impacted by PLUS loan changes. What was launched as a 30-day, $300,000 campaign goal, and earned additional promotion on NPR and other news organizations, has since raised just over $100,000 in a year.
Transparency on the PLUS Loan crisis was cited prominently in a May 2013 memo written by Evans to regents following Wilson’s indefinite appointment, which cited Wilson’s false claims for the university’s record enrollment, and inaction on the declines that followed.
“The university continues to lose enrollment despite the president’s claim that the university, under his leadership, achieved the highest enrollment in its history. Truth be told, he had nothing to do with the enrollment increase in fall 2010 and, in the years since, the enrollment has declined. All the while, the president continued to spin the decline to his advantage. Even when other HBCU presidents were warning of the cuts in federal funding to HBCUs and the likely impact on enrollment, Dr. Wilson denied the existence of cuts in HBCU federal funding. It was not until the Washington Post story verifying the drastic reduction in federal funding (due to a change in eligibility criteria for parents seeking loans to defray student costs) that Dr. Wilson suddenly switched his position. Then he conveniently used the cuts to explain enrollment declines at Morgan which he did not foresee and for which he had not planned. Such shortsightedness and lack of planning is particularly relevant to any downgrade in bond ratings because of its effects on revenue.”
Earlier this year, enrollment shortages were cited as a central element in the downgrading of Morgan’s bond rating by Moody’s Investor Services.
A Stepping Stone
In the last two years, Wilson has also been linked to several high-profile executive searches, including vacancies with the University of Albany, the White House Initiative on HBCUs, the University of Wisconsin and Tuskegee University, his alma mater. In each of the searches, Wilson has denied formally applying for the positions – a continuing trend from his days as a vice-president of Auburn University.
In a 2005 interview with the Opelika-Auburn News prior to leaving Auburn to serve as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin’s community colleges and cooperative extension programs, Wilson said he had been approached with an average of one presidential job offer per year during every year of his tenure at the university.
“I have probably turned down 10 offers to head universities in my time at Auburn, but those just didn’t seem right. But in this position, its the perfect fit between the academic and outreach sides. It is an opportunity that is tremendously exciting for me.”
Among Wilson’s signature initiatives since arriving at Morgan has been the 2013 creation of a committee to reform Morgan’s football program, a rebranding of Morgan’s community outreach efforts, and a training program to improve customer service on campus. Last week, the university released a statement on the football committee’s progress, indicating the that team now has access to meeting rooms, training tables and nutrition guidelines for student athletes, and mentoring programs with former Morgan State football players. The statement followed the release of the annual preseason rankings from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s coaches and sports information directors, which picked Morgan to finish in last place this season.
To date, no updates have been given on the university’s customer service initiatives, or its Community MILE program, which formally launched in April 2013.
One ranking campus executive calls the campus leadership climate as ‘tenuous’ under Wilson and the board.
“It appears that we have continuous leadership problems at the institution, and the Board, which effectively managed the campus for years before Wilson’s arrival, seems unable to contain the impact on the institution.
The short answers, in order, are simple.
They asked him to do it, and then they paid him for it.
Contrary to what many alumni and students in the HBCU community believe, thinking big is not a challenge for HBCUs. It’s cultivating the resources to put big thinking into strategic action. Steve Harvey is working with Strayer University because it has the resources to make the ask and put a respectable offer on the table to have a national spokesperson with direct reach and influence over aspiring Black students.
[Read more…] about Why is Steve Harvey Partnering with Strayer University and not an HBCU?
Watching Southern University’s Aeneas William, Tennessee State University’s Claude Humphrey, and Texas Southern University’s Michael Strahan go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame should have been a bittersweet moment for every enthusiast or advocate of historically Black colleges and universities. On one hand, it was a celebration of our greatest athletes and institutional ambassadors reaching the pinnacle of success in the nation’s most popular sport.
On the other hand, it was a stark reminder of the kind of talent we’ll likely never see again on an HBCU football field; a larger, more cruel reminder that what our institutions used to be has little bearing on what they are to be in the future.
The National Association of Black Journalists assembled in Boston this week for its 39th annual convention and career fair. A hotbed of networking, socializing and advocacy building among the nation’s Black reporters, editors and content creators, it is a regular destination for journalism faculty and students at historically Black colleges and universities. Morehouse College President John Silvanus Wilson addressed convention attendees by joining in on the event’s official hashtag, and took Black journalists to task on telling our stories. [Read more…] about Morehouse President to Black Journalists: Do Better