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HU President Ribeau to Step Down

Dorothy Rowley | 10/1/2013, 6:05 p.m. | Updated on 10/2/2013, 12:29 p.m.
Howard University President Sidney Ribeau (Courtesy of howard.edu)

Howard University President Sidney A. Ribeau stepped down Tuesday after five years in the position, following reports of a contentious weekend with the the board of trustees over the management and finances of the historic school.

Ribeau said in a statement that he would officially vacate the position at the end of the year.

"After careful deliberation, I have decided to announce my retirement immediately from our beloved institution," he said. "I would like to express my profound gratitude to the entire community for supporting me and generating an atmosphere of positive collaboration over the last five years."

Ribeau, 65, was the president at Bowling Green State University in Ohio for 13 years before coming to Howard in 2008. He had just this summer signed a contract extension to serve through June 2015.

Wayne A.I. Frederick, a cancer specialist at Howard's College of Medicine and the school's provost since June 2012, has been named the interim president. A special committee of the board will conduct a nationwide search for a permanent successor.

None of the board members was immediately available for comment, but chairman Addison Barry Rand said in a statement that Ribeau's leadership "resulted in unparalleled collaboration with the faculty senate resulting in a comprehensive review of the University's academic offerings."

Rand said that during Ribeau's tenure, the university "remained academically, financially and operationally strong" and one of the most respected institutions in higher education.

However, Ribeau's decision comes as the famed university's national ranking, credit rating and enrollment have all dropped. This summer, employees at Howard University Hospital were furloughed for nearly two weeks in order to cut costs.

But despite the five percent decline in enrollment in 2012-13, Ribeau said last week week that enrollment is up this fall by three percent, or 300 students more than the approximately 10,000 that enrolled last year.

The university is also appears to be moving forward with its fall 2014 plans to expand online studies.

But Renee Higginbotham-Brooks, vice chair of Howard's 33-member board of trustees, warned in an April 24 letter to the board that the university was in dire straits financially.

Higginbotham-Brooks, whose Fort Worth Texas-based law firm specializes in public finance, said that if crucial steps aren't soon taken to turn things around, the university might not exist in three years.

"I can no longer sit quietly, notwithstanding my personal preference to avoid confrontation, and therefore, I am compelled to step forward to announce that our beloved university is in genuine trouble and 'time is of the essence,'" wrote Higginbotham-Brooks, who has previously donated $350,000 to her alma mater.

She also said the hospital, located near the Northwest campus, has severely drained the university's budget.