Are HBCU Boards Reversing Course on Presidential Firings?

Kentucky State University President M. Christopher Brown II received a four-year contract extension this afternoon, with officials citing growth and increased awareness of the institution just over a year after his appointment in March 2017.

“President Brown’s forward-thinking has advanced many of the metrics set by the board,” Dr. Elaine Farris, chairperson of the Board of Regents, who commented on the extension on behalf of the board, said. “He has increased enrollment, advanced the brand and reputation of Kentucky State University, promoted access and affordability and actively advocated for support on the state and federal level. We are confident in the continuity and solid leadership President Brown is providing Kentucky State.”

Dr. Brown’s extension follows a year of new contracts for HBCU presidents across the country. West Virginia State University President Anthony Jenkins received a five-year extension last month, and in February Morgan State University President David Wilson inked a new five-year deal.

Last summer, Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick signed on for five more years of leading his alma mater.

HBCUs and higher education at large still are struggling with finding presidents who can stay around for long periods of servicePresidents at three of Maryland’s four HBCUs alone have been replaced in the last three years, and across the sector, 31 seats were occupied with new leaders in the 2017-18 academic year alone.

But are these extensions at mid-to-large sized public and private HBCUs a sign that some boards are trying to turn the tide on the costs and controversies associated with executive turnover? The common thread spurring each of these extensions is increased enrollment, campus expansion, programmatic development and legislative lobbying victories.

In recent years, growth and achievement haven’t spared some presidents from dismissal. Elmira Mangum at Florida A&M University and Brian Johnson at Tuskegee University were among the more notable executive separations — mostly for political and personal reasons, but separations nonetheless.

But with at least four presidents locked in for the next half-decade, and several others on a similar trajectory of sustainability, perhaps boards are valuing performance over politics. Maybe the costs of a search, negative publicity in media and the growing trend of HBCUs not being allowed to organically choose their own presidents has turned the tide for the sector.

Every HBCU president may not be deserving of an extension, but every HBCU is more than worthy of sustainability. And if boards are doing a better job of finding great presidents, or making mediocre ones serviceable in building confidence in the HBCU enterprise, then more power to boards with good and bad intentions alike.

9 comments
  1. No question firing presidents and replacing them can be costly. Also it slowing down the development of the HBCU. Now if the president does something criminal then he/she should be fired. But the Boards really run the schools and the President is responsible for carrying out their plan. So before you hire the President is when you decide if she/he will work out.

  2. To your point DuWarn, the larger discussion becomes the issue with “bad” Boards. Aside from the in-fighting among members (i.e. lawsuits, removing), cronyism, intimidation to hire incompetent, lacking academic credentials, inexperienced friends, family, etc., the blatant lack of higher educational knowledge, historical understanding (many have never stepped foot on an HBCU campus, nor attended), the lack of financial giving and overall adherence to governance.

  3. BAD Boards, Hire Bad Presidents, Who are Bad People, Who do Bad things [lie, steal, divide, self-promote]= Bad HBCU. Bottom line, there should be a new process for Board membership. They are responsible. If a President is fired for bad acts, the whole board should be dismissed too.

  4. HBCU needs to do thorough fact checking. The “media” folks at some schools are spinning stories and inflating the truth. Then you have board members who back up these well spun stories.

  5. Not only media at schools, but the friends of the media at the schools spread the fake news and give made up awards. Spike said it best–WAKE UP. Look at real enrollment, not all those high school students who’s included or the ghosts for inflation. Some schools have more high school students who don’t attend the school when they leave hs, than real students who pay tuition. WAKE UP-learn “budget”, Look at a graduation rate, not how many walk across the stage or – shout across, thought there was supposed to be a separation, especially since half of those who shouted never completed, default rate, employability rate, and on and on. Reagonomics taught it best–its coming back again. STAY WOKE!

  6. Why even write this pitiful article? Carter keeps on writing articles that excuse bad presidents like Chris Brown and Wayne Frederick. Carter is always in favor of Howard’s poor leadership and board. I’m from DC, and I know what Howard AINT doing for its surrounding community and ain’t providing for it’s students. Frederick Is NOT doing a good job and Everyone knows that he is paid too much money. Why dont Carter report about this?
    Students and faculty are complaining about the board and this disappointment called president. Haaaaaaa! Carter Don’t want to deal with specific complaints of the students and faculty, he just chooses to defend the powerful.

    Lazy and biased reporting. Your article continues to bring our hbcus down, because you excuse bad behavior.

    A damn shame.

  7. The KSU arrangement with Brown is a deal created in deceit which dishonors the generations of KSU alumni and dedicated faculty. Simply google public statements made by Elaine Farris against Brown when he was named president. Farris said she voted against Brown because she does not believe he is “the right fit for Kentucky State at this time.” She also said she did not agree with the board, which she said “needs work,” selecting a president Monday.

    “I just think that it’s not time for us to select a president. I wasn’t impressed with any of the three. I just think Kentucky State is better than this. … And I just think the university deserves better,” Farris said following the meeting.

    Kentucky State is riddled with an administration that condones affairs among employees and students. There needs to be a state investigation

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