When executive leadership turns over at an institution of higher education, context matters. In some instances, executives who’ve served long tenures retire with preparations made and accreditation, financial solvency, and steady enrollment all neatly packaged to deliver to the next CEO. When that next executive emerges, the product of a dutiful national search involving boards, alumni, and key stakeholders, institutions continue to enjoy the responsible and predictable growth that serves the educational and employment needs of students, faculty, staff, and the economic needs of the region.
“All these interims! Every year I come back (to the Florida Classic) and y’all (Bethune-Cookman) got another interim. The least y’all can do if y’all gonna keep naming all these interims is name the same person every time!” — FAMU Interim President Dr. Larry Robinson, lampooning FAMU’s troubling executive leadership turnover in good jest, and referring to his being named interim president for the third time in 2017 in remarks at the Florida Football Classic Kickoff Luncheon, Nov. 17, 2017
From the Marshall News Messenger
Longtime Wiley College (Tx.) president Haywood Strickland announced that he will retire at the end of the 2017-2018 school year. He has led the institution since 2000.
“As a result of your stewardship and investment of time, talent and resources, together we have led Wiley College boldly into the 21st Century,” Strickland wrote in a letter presented to the college’s trustees. “At the same time, we also have remained vigilant about the college’s role and its noble purpose of preparing and sending forth graduates who are well-equipped to succeed in graduate schools and/or to launch their first-destination careers.”
Wiley’s trustees have already formed a search committee, and are working to recruit and name a successor.
President Strickland’s retirement announcement marks the fourth HBCU president to announce a resignation in the 2017-18 school year, after Tashni Dubroy (Shaw) and Roslyn Clark Artis (Florida Memorial) announced they’d accept new positions at Howard University and Benedict College, respectively. Bethune-Cookman University President Edison Jackson announced his resignation last month.
Leadership is crucial to the success of large organizations, and professional stability is a key factor to bold, rather than simply titular leadership. In July, 2016, when I published a report on executive turnover at HBCUs in the preceding academic year, the feedback I received from concerned HBCU alums generally centered around apologetics—attempts to place the high turnover in the context of existential crises which threaten the survival and growth of HBCUs. While I tended to agree with many of those concerns (after all, declining federal and state funding, crumbling infrastructures, and winnowing availability of low/no-cost loan programs for students are externally created), the data, notwithstanding, is bleak. An Inside Higher Ed report on presidential turnover trends noted that presidential tenures shortened by nearly 20% in the past five years (from an average of 8.5 to 7 years), but also noted that executive turnover has only impacted roughly 25% of higher education institutions in recent years. At a time when HBCUs need stable and consistent leadership more than ever to navigate existing challenges—as well as new ones introduced by considerations for the 2018 FY budget out of Washington—HBCUs are continuing to experience executive turnover at a rate that exceeds any other institutional peer group in American higher education (impacting over 30% of HBCU institutions the past two years).
Moreover, a disturbing trend has continued to present itself within the HBCU spectrum, as leadership failures have resulted in school closures, state takeovers, accreditation losses, and votes of no confidence at nearly a dozen HBCUs in 2016-17. Increasingly, newly selected leaders at these institutions are not only inaugurated in the wake of such scandals, but are being “welcomed” to campus amid controversy over their selection by less than excited alumni bases and students. The 2016-17 year has been one in which HBCU leadership has been under a microscope, as the pronouncements of a president and secretary of education demand response and defense from alumni, and even a historic photo-op and listening session involving all HBCU executives visiting the White House for the first time spun into accusations of leaders being used for political and public relations purposes and yielding little return.
After a second consecutive year in which HBCUs as a sector experienced turnover at over 30% of its institutions nationwide, it appears that high turnover may be more of a trend at HBCUs than an aberration. The continued stressors of dwindling state and federal funding, declining enrollments, and compliance and accreditation challenges aside, unique crises emerged this year at several HBCUs that seem to suggest the problems are unique, and if not evergreen, perennially expected as of late. Consider, for example, the issues concerning operating funds dwindling down perilously at Jackson State University, which led to the controversial termination of President Carolyn Meyers. When news broke in Fall 2016 that the institution’s reserves had been exhausted during her tenure as president, to the point that only 30 days of reserves remained, it signaled the abrupt end of her tenure, which though occasionally fraught with personnel complaints and concerns, had seen unprecedented fundraising and enrollment growth at Mississippi’s flagship HBCU. Once she was removed and interim president Rod Paige was installed, suddenly, the reserve funding concerns evaporated from the news cycle, and within seven months a new president had been identified. The problem of declining reserves existed before her arrival and persisted her entire tenure, so why the news made national headlines days before her forced resignation seems inopportune at best, and suspicious at worst, in retrospect.
Consider, also, the non-renewal of President John Silvanus Wilson at Morehouse, one of the nation’s most prominent HBCUs. Mid-spring, when it was revealed he would not have his contract extended, an all-too-public breakup ensued as he continued to lobby support and received it from many prominent alumni, including a blistering open letter penned by Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, and Jeh Johnson. Ultimately, with the board’s approval of his non-renewal and the introduction of an interim president, a vote of no confidence in the board and a board chair/board officers’ resignation ensued, casting a dark cloud over the recruitment process of a new leader for the institution. Protracted, contentious, and controversial decisions at Alabama State University (involving President Gwendolyn Boyd) and Florida A&M University (involving President Elmira Mangum) ended the tenures of two of the few female HBCU presidents and hampered each institution’s forward momentum, as well.
The challenges HBCU executives face remained a focus of news coverage in 2016-17 even for presidents and chancellors who were newly hired or whose jobs were not threatened. Several institutions suffered negative alumni and public relations casualties when decisions about newly hired executives were announced, including Jackson State and Kentucky State, and sitting presidents at Howard University and Clark-Atlanta University have suffered through votes of no confidence that have received national attention. While turnover in the executive position has impacted over 30% of HBCUs this academic year, many more suffer through leadership challenges and crises which seem to indicate that the percentage is not likely to go down in the near future, especially as scandals seem to rock HBCU campuses on a regular basis—existential crises and external pressures notwithstanding.
Even institutions who announced enrollment increases, bucking a national trend, faced public relations exposure and press coverage which intensify the focus on the leadership challenges their campus’ executives face. Louisiana’s HBCUs exemplified the dichotomy of campuses celebrating successes but facing critical leadership challenges. Southern and Grambling both noted significant increases in first-year student enrollment, but suffered as the press profiled Grambling closing its university library due to its dilapidation, and Louisiana’s governor, as he toured Southern’s facilities in Baton Rouge, remarked that its $120 million in deferred maintenance was “unsafe … critical … unacceptable.” The state’s failure to properly fund public institutions of higher education played no small part in contributing to Southern’s recent accreditation warning from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, according to Louisiana Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Rallo. Even as Xavier and Dillard’s enrollment stabilized and the institutions’ athletic and academic reputations continued to improve, the challenges for both their leaders intensified. Dillard’s decision to host a U.S. Senate debate on campus is exactly the kind of media coverage and attention that HBCUs crave. Except for the fact that former grand wizard of the KKK and U.S. Senate candidate David Duke was an invited participant, leading to protests and arrests on the New Orleans campus, and a significant challenge to the age-old adage that ‘”any news is good news.” Finally, as President Trump drew criticism for his comments on the HBCU Capital Financing Program, it drew attention to the fact that several HBCUs have extremely large loans through the program that must be repaid over 30-year terms—and Xavier ($165 million) and Dillard ($160 million) owe more than any other HBCU (Grambling is also one of only 5 HBCUs who have been loaned more than $100 million).
What does the data from the last two years signal for the near future of HBCU executive leadership? It’s difficult to offer the traditional advice—that big wins in increased retention, graduation rates, fundraising, enrollment, and infrastructure development can build trust and loyalty among board members and alumni—because too many presidents with track records of success at HBCUs have been terminated despite these successes. Additionally, advising aspiring campus executives to only seek out institutions to lead that have stable enrollments and growing endowments to ensure professional stability means, in the same breath, that we are advising capable and talented leaders to avoid pursuing leadership opportunities at the most vulnerable institutions. One can only hope that during the comparably quieter summer months ahead that boards, alumni, and campus leadership meet not only to plan Homecoming festivities and parlay at conferences and conventions, but reflect and strategize about their institutions and the industry of HBCU education writ large, which enters a new academic year anticipating crisis and little comfort.
2016-17 HBCU Executive Transactions (37 on 31 campuses):
Allen University: President Lady June Cole (terminated)
Alabama State University: President Gwendolyn Boyd (terminated)/Interim President Leon Wilson
Arkansas Baptist College: New President Joseph Jones
Barber Scotia College: New President David Olah
Benedict College: President David Swinton (resigned)
Bennett College: President Rosalind Fuse-Hall (resigned)
Bowie State University: President Mickey Burnim (resigned)
Bowie State University: New President Aminta Hawkins Breaux
Cheyney University: Interim President Frank Pogue (resigned)
Concordia College (Alabama): New Interim President Constance Smith Hendricks
Concordia College (Alabama): Interim President Constance Smith Hendricks (resigned)/Interim President Dexter Jackson
Denmark Technical College: President Leonard McIntyre (terminated)/Interim President Chris Hall
Fisk University: New President Kevin Rome
Florida A&M University: President Elmira Mangum (non-renewed/resigned)
Grambling State University: New President Rick Gallot
Jackson State University: President Carolyn Meyers (forced resignation)/Interim President Rod Paige
Jackson State University: New President Andrew Bynum
Johnson C. Smith: Resigned—President Ronald Carter
Kentucky State University: New President M. Christopher Brown
Lincoln University (Missouri): Resigned—President Kevin Rome
Lincoln University (Pennsylvania): New President Brenda Allen
Mississippi Valley State University: Resigned—President Andrew Bynum
Morehouse: President John Wilson (non-renewed)/Interim President William Taggart
Morehouse: Interim President William Taggart (deceased)/Interim President Harold Martin, Jr.
Morris College: President Luns Richardson (resigned)/Interim President Leroy Staggers
North Carolina Central University: Chancellor Debra Saunders White (deceased)
North Carolina Central University: New Chancellor Johnson Akinleye
Paine College: New President Jerry Hardee
Prairie View A&M: President George Wright (resigned)/Interim President Ruth Simmons
Southern University Agricultural Research Center: New Chancellor Bobby Phills
Southern University New Orleans: New Chancellor Lisa Devezin-Mims
Stillman College: President Peter Millet (resigned)/Interim President Cynthia Warrick
Stillman College: New President Cynthia Warrick
Tuskegee University: President Brian Johnson (non-renewed)
Voorhees College: New President W. Franklin Evans
West Virginia State University: New President Anthony Jenkins
Wilberforce University: New President Herman Felton
Schools experiencing closures, loss of accreditation/probation, declaration of bankruptcy, state takeover
Paine College, Bennett College, Saint Augustine University, Morris Brown College, Knoxville College, Barber-Scotia College, Denmark Technical College
No Confidence Votes vs. HBCU Presidents/Boards in 2016-17
Clark-Atlanta, Howard, Kentucky State, Morehouse
Update to 2015-2016 Transactions (bringing total to 35 at 35 institutions):
Bishop State College: New President Reginald Sykes
Many reasons exist to explain higher education executive departures. Some presidents, after long tenures in higher education as faculty members, chairs, deans and provosts finish off stellar careers that end with well-earned retirements. Others earn opportunities to lead larger, higher-ranked, more excellently-funded institutions, or find a much-garnered opportunity to return closer to home, or the thrill of earning a shot to lead their alma mater. Some depart for the private or non-profit sectors, others more to university systems.
On occasion, executive departures are necessitated by terminations or forced resignations. Even with the best of intentions at the onset and after significant effort in the interim, sometimes presidential appointments aren’t a good fit. Sometimes malfeasance occurs. Sometimes political chicanery interferes.
Institutions that are likely to continue to grow and excel after executive leadership transitions have well-established reputations as institutions of higher learning, stable faculty engagement, and administrative leadership across the board, and longstanding fruitful relationships with alumni, private donors, legislative partners, and corporate sponsors. Even when the most earth-shattering scandals lead to presidential departures, institutions such as these don’t miss more than one or two beats with regard to repairing their images.
Institutions with long-tenured presidents are not necessarily the nation’s most successful, nor does a long presidential tenure guarantee legislative support, fundraising growth, innovation, or student recruitment success. However, they do tend to provide a foundation for institutional stability and the potential to establish long-term, meaningful relationships that mutually benefit town and gown, institution and community.
Conversely, high executive turnover rates at an institution, or within an institutional type, may send a message about institutional stability or reputation that can be harmful. If retention is a recurring issue, is it because of a surfeit of resources, support, and guidance or because of a surplus of internal and external contentiousness among staff, alumni, boards/board members, and legislative liaisons? And when the high turnover seems to plague an institutional type, might that reputational harm extend to all institutions of the type, marring some institutions’ future efforts to recruit the most talented and qualified leaders?
Whatever the case, we’d likely be alarmed if nearly 33% of the institutions in a category turned over in a single academic year. If 1/3 institutions in the Ivy League, Big Ten, or Pac-12 turned over their executive leadership in 12 months’ time, it’s likely be seen as an aberration, and would not repeat often. So when 34 of the 107 historically black colleges and universities in America, between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016 either terminated or accepted the resignation of a CEO, or introduced a new interim or permanent CEO, is this trend or aberration?
Whatever it means, on 1/3 HBCU campuses in 2015–16, a new executive had to introduce himself or herself to a new student body and vice versa. A new executive had to hustle to fill vacant executive positions, takeover tasks left incomplete, and begin developing a vision for success even as they learned the lay of a new land. New relationships had to be forged, often from scratch, with alumni, corporate sponsors and donors, and legislators, mayors and governors. At some point those initial efforts will payoff (one hopes, if new executives are given enough time and they pursue them appropriately), but each time the leadership is reset, the payoff date is potentially delayed. Certainly this can threaten recruitment of all sorts: of students, faculty and staff, and supporters.
Hope springs eternal, and in the best case scenario, alumni and supporters will place their love for their alma maters and the students who need our support the most ahead of ties to previous leaders (or disgruntlement about the recently elected one) and that our newest leaders give them a vision they’d be inspired to support. I, for one, wish the new HBCU presidents all of the success they can imagine and more, despite the data which suggests that such success will be all the more challenging to achieve. Given that HBCUs face greater existential threats and philosophical inquiry about their continued existence than any other type of post-secondary institution, your institutions aren’t the only ones dependent upon your success.
All 107 are.
2015–2016 HBCU Executive Transactions
1) Arkansas Baptist College — Fitz Hill (resigned)
2) Albany State University — New President Arthur Dunning
3) Allen University –New President Lady June Cole
4) Barber-Scotia — New Interim President Yvonne Tracey
5) Clark Atlanta — New President Ronald Johnson
6) Coppin State — New President Maria Thompson
7) Drake State-Helen McAlpine (resigned)
8) Elizabeth City State — Stacey Jones (resigned)/Thomas Conway (interim chancellor)
9) Fisk University — James Williams (resigned)/Frank Sims (interim president)
10) Fort Valley State — New President Paul Jones
11) Gadsden State CC — New President Martha Lavender
12) Grambling — New President Willie Larkin
13) Grambling –President Willie Larkin (resigned)/New “Person in Charge” Larry Sanders
14) Kentucky State — Raymond Burse (resigned)
15) LeMoyne Owen — New President Andrea Miller
16) Lincoln University (Pa.) — New Interim President Richard Green
17) Norfolk State — New President Eddie Moore
18) Shaw — New President Tashni DuBroy
19) South Carolina State — Interim President W. Franklin Evans (resigned)/New President James Clark
20) Southern University Baton Rouge — New Chancellor Ray Belton
21) Southern University System — New President Ray Belton
22) SUNO — Victor Ukpolo (resigned)/Lisa Mims-Devezin (interim chancellor)
23) SU Law Center — John Pierre (interim)/New Chancellor John Pierre
24) SUSLA — Ray Belton (resigned)/New Chancellor Rodney Ellis
25) SU Ag Center — New Interim Chancellor Adell Brown
26) Texas Southern — New President Austin Lane
27) Virginia State — New President Makola Abdullah
28) Virginia University Lynchburg — Ralph Reavis (resigned)/Kathy Franklin (interim)
29) Virginia Union — New Acting President Joseph Johnson
30) Voorhees College — Cleveland Sellers (resigned)
31) West Virginia State — Brian Hemphill (resigned)
32) Winston Salem — New President Elwood Robinson
33) University of District of Columbia — New President Ron Mason
34) Xavier University — New President Raymond Verret
After relocating the Football and Basketball championships to Houston in 2013, it appears that Mayor Sylvester Turner wants to make the relationship between Houston and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) even more official.
Making what he called a “pretty good deal from a financial point of view,” Houston has formally bid to have the SWAC headquarters, currently located in Birmingham, move to downtown Houston. Birmingham Business Journal’s Tim Steere reports that the offer is currently under consideration.
The SWAC currently hosts its football championship in NRG Stadium, home of the Houston Texans, and its basketball championship tournament in the Toyota Center, home of the Houston Rockets. SWAC members Texas Southern University and Prairie View A&M University are in the Houston metropolitan area.
As many HBCUs struggle to balance athletic budgets and several have cut athletic programs in order to stabilize university-wide finances, Shaw University has announced the addition of two teams that will no doubt spur recruitment of students from diverse backgrounds while smartly and efficiently investing in two relatively inexpensive programs to proliferate.
Shaw announced the addition of men’s and women’s club soccer last week and added that the teams will compete on the club level in 2016-17 before transitioning to NCAA Division II status in Fall 2017. Shaw has hired Luis Cortell, formerly of West Virginia Tech, to lead the Bears and Lady Bears soccer clubs.
Read more about Shaw Soccer and Coach Cortell’s hire here.
With commencement season behind us and in light of a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) stating that the unemployment rate for black college graduates is twice as high as that of white college graduates, the HBCU Career Center offers an editorial on the reasons why it is more important than ever that HBCU execs support their campuses’ career centers.
See the full editorial at HBCUCareerCenter.com.
Albany State president Art Dunning and Darton State interim president Richard Carvajal held a town hall at Westover High School in Albany, GA to update the community on the consolidation’s progress, including the merger of the two institutions’ athletic departments and filling the vacant athletic director position.
Dunning stressed that the chance to create a new Albany State might be a one-time opportunity to create a stronger institution that will benefit the entire region.
“We are a community, and we are in this together,” Dunning said. “This is an ‘us’ conversation we all must have about what we can do to make our community attractive enough that people, once they get their education, want to stay here. Most people don’t realize it, but we are an industry.”
The ASU president then pointed to a study released earlier month by the University of Georgia which said Albany State and Darton had an economic impact greater than $285 million on Albany and Southwest Georgia in 2015.
“We bring a lot of economic impact to Southwest Georgia,” Dunning said. “There are a lot of moving parts in this consolidation, from operational to strategic decisions, which we must make. We are now looking at what we can do for the citizens of Southwest Georgia like we’ve never done before, collaborating in ways we’ve never done before. This provides us an easier pathway that I think will serve the people of this state and the people of this region well.
The merger is set to culminate in the 2017-2018 school year.
Essence Magazine and Money Magazine collaborated to compile a list of the Top 50 Colleges for African-Americans. The list compared student-body representation, affordability (after scholarships and grants), graduation rates, and early career earnings. Though Princeton, Harvard, and Duke topped the list, Florida A&M, Spelman, and North Carolina A&T all made the top ten, and sixteen HBCUs made the top 50.