Can HBCU Presidents Run Schools and Greek Organizations at the Same Time?

Tennessee State University President Glenda Baskin Glover was last night installed as the 30th International President of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. during the organization’s international conference in Houston.

Dr. Glover is the second HBCU president in two years to be named as head of an international Black Greek-Lettered Organization, following Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. General President Everett B. Ward in 2017; just two years after being named as the permanent president of Saint Augustine’s University.

The terms of identity within these dual presidencies are obvious. HBCUs, given their central role in the establishment and growth of both of these organizations, should have a natural place in leadership for both Alpha and AKA. Their missions, money, and membership can be extraordinary forces for good in service-based improvements for black communities where HBCUs are stationed and working towards similar goals.

But for supporters and skeptics of the logistical challenges of running campuses and organizations at the same time, there are three areas of focus which will draw attention from members and non-members in deciding the legacies of both leaders.

TRAVEL

Fraternity and sorority presidents have to travel. They meet with and help to charter chapters all over the world, they attend regional meetings, meet with corporate and civic leaders, and lead international conventions. Without face time, much of the work of Greek-lettered organizational president is left undone in the eyes of its leaders and its members.

This would seem to be countercultural to the leadership of an HBCU, which over the years has shaped the college presidency as a campus superintendent role. Students measure presidential success through accessibility and charisma — both things which require being on campus.

Faculty measure a successful presidency through transparency and shared governance — things which require a president to be on campus more often than not.

But the business of higher education views a successful presidency as one spent on the road. Fundraising requires meeting companies and donors where they are. Campus administration requires presidents to attend meetings for the NCAA, accrediting bodies, advocacy groups like the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, United Negro College Fund, National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, and many others.

And these things are all outside of legislative lobbying and professional development.

The dual presidencies will require significant travel to be successful, but only Alpha and AKA place value upon it, while HBCU stakeholders can use regular absence from campus as a strike against a president –but only if the president fails at managing perceptions.

PERCEPTIONS

HBCUs historically have a very formulaic way of defining an effective presidency. Enrollment growth, new buildings, research, campus activity, personality, mastery and appreciation of campus traditions and check presentations are the ways that students, faculty and staff members have measured a president as good, great or legendary.

But just as travel for college presidents has evolved over the years to become a requirement of the presidency, leaders also now must serve as chief spokespersons, crisis managers, legislative liaisons, cultural critics, motivational speakers for students and faculty and executive trainers for board members. Numbers are no longer enough — the perception of the HBCU presidency is now judged by metrics and emotion. How well do campus constituents know you? How often do they retweet you on Twitter? And when is the last time you took a stand on a social issue of import to HBCU communities?

All of these areas of perceived performance in leadership are far different from those who have held the dual presidency in previous years. Walter Washington and Henry Ponder both served as Alpha general presidents while serving as presidents of Alcorn State University and Fisk University, respectively.

Both brothers are remembered fondly for their achievements in both roles.

But their turns at fraternal and campus leadership preceded 21st-century political gamesmanship, the increased speed of media through the 24/7 news cycle, and changes in the business of higher education. Presidents are fired with greater regularity, struggle with board and campus relations more publicly, and face far greater financial and performance reporting standards than at any time in history. These realities make the HBCU presidency a 24/7 position, to be balanced against the 24/7 demand for responsiveness to corporate and cultural concerns of Alpha and AKA.

And that is before the real work for both jobs begins.

DELIVERABLES

One of the exciting elements of life in a fraternity or sorority is the way professional success or failure enhances or diminishes standing in a Greek organization. Drs. Glover and Ward have faced challenges in their HBCU presidencies. Dr. Glover has dealt with Tennessee overhauling its standards on performance-based funding, enhancing its free community college program, and shifting its system leadership structure. All of these statewide measures have the potential to wreak havoc on Tennessee State now and in the future.

Saint Augustine’s has repeatedly cut staff and faculty, sold property and has been on accreditation probation since 2016 for financial problems.

A case could be made that organizational leadership expands the networks of advocacy and financial support for both schools and that increased visibility of their leaders bodes well for fundraising, recruitment and community engagement. Their leadership is supported by qualified people hired at crucial management positions, and that Drs. Glover and Ward need only to be kept close to status updates and vital information to make informed decisions about the direction of their campuses.

But another case could be made that these same challenges require an inordinate amount of attention and precision in daily operations of a campus, and that political miscalculation, missed meetings or perception of distraction could create controversy among stakeholders who will ask “would this have happened if they were not the president of Alpha or AKA?”

Any perceived gains by their campuses will generate goodwill behind their organizational presidencies. And any failure will create animosity among some members who may find their professional shortcomings to be a sad reflection of the organization at large.

Drs. Glover and Ward are capable executives in a fascinating era of leadership within the black context. Their hands are at the controls of four multi-million dollar organizations with the power to shape lives and communities. Both know well the cultures associated with their letters and their campuses, and the stakes.

So the question is not if they can do two big jobs at once, but rather how many supporters and skeptics at Saint Augustine’s and Tennessee State, and within Alpha Phi Alpha and Alpha Kappa Alpha, will work to prove their beliefs right? And at what benefit or cost to the schools and the organizations involved?

18 comments
  1. This is not a problem. She is clearly qualified to lead TSU and AKA’s and its no different than having a col
    alary duty at a normal job. The benefit for the school and the sorority far outweighs the risks that may be involved with holding both positions. Good luck Dr. Glenda Baskin Glover God Speed.

  2. All the best to both presidents. Our community stands to win as they succeed. Let’s stick together and assume the positive.

  3. LMAO. Clearly TSU is in the cellar with all of the issues going on. I just hope she doesn’t destroy AKA like she as destroyed TSU.

  4. Saint Augustine’s problems were created by previous presidents. Dr. Ward has built key partnerships between community and corporate leaders in an attempt to get his institution back on track. He is making great progress and has been a capable leader for St. Aug and APhiA.

  5. Their roles are an opportunity to have a 2-for-1 conversation when it comes to fundraising. Their organizations AND schools need funding (partnerships); remember, both are nonprofits. When they meet potential investors, now they can ask for both entities, not as a conflict of interest but as a way to give investors two options to which to donate (or overall, support). Because they lead either the organization or school, they attract certain investors. But the conversation with the investor could lead to a double investment because you are the ultimate decision maker for the organization and school. Both boards (of the Greek organization and university) should be happy to see their leaders’ political standing rise with the additional important hat.

  6. Please explain how she has “destroyed” TSU? Not being snarky; actually curious to hear your opinion.

  7. CAN a person effectively lead both roles? YES! But Dr. Glover need to first prove that she can effectively lead TSU! In 5 years as Prez of TSU, the school has experienced considerable enrollment decrease, continued low retention of students, University wide budget concerns, no clear vision with any specific/measurable goals, Nursing program on suspension for second year, and other concerns. If her performance was on target, then i would not have a concern. But when you are currently struggling to meet the CURRENT demand, then using basic logic will suggest that adding the New role will put Univ at risk. So we can create all of these wonderful scenarios, but the data reflects sub-standard performance in the current role. Adding another full-time responsibility? Not good.

  8. I wish them both well in their endeavour to lead both organizations. As a graduated of an HBCU and a member of the Devine Nine I fully support them. It’s time we start building up instead of tearing down our people.

  9. What both the national body of Alpha and AKA can do is one big round of special scholarship support between Thanksgiving and Christmas to each of the respective institutions. This is one real way that Alpha men and the women of AKA can demonstrate their support for HBCUs.

  10. There was a record setting freshman class enrollment. 75 million dollar project is set for a dormitory. I don’t know where you’re getting your info from, but Dr Glover has brought mass improvement to TSU and enrollment is up. Most of this information is false. TSU continues to be a top ranked HBCU. This reply sounds personal.

  11. This isn’t completly true the allocation of funds at the school can directly indicated by the retention of the students that go there, as a student, the renovation of our dorms has been a problem of interest for a while. Just because somthing is wrapped in fancy rapping paper doesn’t mean everything in the box is intact. Yes there has been certain improvements in the school however certain things should have been prioritiezed before others, for the sake of the student that go there. #WhatIsAUndergraduateMaintenenceFee

  12. Both jobs require intense focus and while both presidents may be duly qualified to do well in both roles, in my opinion, they have a high probability of failure in either one or both positions. There are only 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week. Both presidents will start out as gungho advocates for both their campus communities AND their BGLOs. That’s to be expected. THEN the reality of all the responsibilities of both leadership positions will present themselves. I predict that both predidents will delegate too many critical responsibilities to their “teams.” At that point they will be managers, not presidents with a hands on connection to the daily intimate requirements and developments of their BGLOs and/ or university communities. Sometimes leadership positions “look” easy, until you have to actually take on that role. Then the reality of the work and what is required to be successful in that role can be shocking and daunting.
    PS: I was a student at Fisk when Dr Ponder was president. He was HORRIBLE. He was an out of touch negro who couldn’t relate to his progressives Black students. Some of us disliked him intensely.

  13. Beyond the TSU-specific concerns noted above, there is an inherent conflict of interest if the fraternity/sorority has a presence on the university in question. How can a university president that also leads a fraternity/sorority appear impartial in adjudicating any issues related to that fraternity or sorority?

    And in the case of TSU, the university has several significant problems that need a full-time president. Splitting time between the university and AKA does a disservice to both organizations.

  14. Its wonderful to see a former student, Dr. Glover, return to the campus where she herself received her post-secondary education. She is familiar with the climate as she has kept current over the years. Also, Dr. Glover was head of two significant University departments at both Howard U and Jackson State U. This experience, coupled with the fact that she is only one of two AA women to hold the JD, PhD and CPA, lends itself to the fact that she is prepared to manage leadership matters through and understanding of legal, financial and business management capabilities. Lets wish her the best as she embarks upon yet another first for women.

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