HBCU Presidents at a New Crossroad
Patricia A. Hardaway, Special to the Informer from NNPA | 2/5/2014, 3 p.m.
Only three months into the academic year and headlines have been littered with announcements about HBCU leadership turnover. There have been a plethora of reasons, including university presidents being fired, being encouraged to leave their posts by their boards of trustees or opting for retirement. Gone are the days of decades of top-down leadership, now replaced by a need for charismatic personalities who are well-skilled at fundraising while navigating internal needs and external stakeholders, as well as politics and long-standing traditions.
Harvey shares his 36 years-worth of knowledge with other presidents during the annual Executive Leadership Summit held each November at Hampton. Harvey said 15 of his former university officers are now university presidents.
“I’ve had a lot of people who helped me,” Harvey said. “I try to share the lessons I’ve learned.”
While some may have seen the handwriting on the wall, others stepped down under arduous circumstances or planned for their next career move since the start of the 2013-14 academic year.
Tuskegee University: two weekends ago, the fall meeting of the Tuskegee University Board of Trustees was rocked by Dr. Gilbert L. Rochon resigning from his role as president. By the following Monday, Dr. Matthew Jenkins was posted on the university’s web-site as acting president. Rochon served three years.
Howard University: On Oct. 1, university President Dr. Sidney A. Ribeau abruptly stepped down after months of wrangling over the management and financial health of Howard University. Ribeau served five years and extended his tenure through December. His departure comes on the heels of a drop for the university in a major national ranking and a downgrade in its credit rating, as well as a 5 percent fall in enrollment.
Stillman College, on Sept. 6, one day after the fall convocation, the university announced that Stillman College President Ernest McNealey was removed from his position by the Board of Trustees. McNealey served as president since 1997. Despite his accomplishments, critics blamed him for enrollment declines, high employee turnover and poor relations with the business community.
Shaw University: In September, President Dorothy Cowser Yancy announced that she would retire after serving since 2011, when she was tapped to fill the post after former president Irma McClaurin resigned. She also served as interim president for 15 months prior to McClaurin and was credited with restructuring the school’s finances during that time.
Norfolk State University: In August, after a lengthy closed door session, Dr. Tony Atwater was fired by the Norfolk State Board of Visitors in a seven-to-four vote that took Atwater by surprise. Atwater described the news as “sudden and disappointing.” He served for two years with ten months remaining on his contract. According to reports, the university’s accrediting agency had signaled trouble at the HBCU.
Wilberforce University Dr. Patricia A. Hardaway is slated to retire in December after serving as president since 2009.
The burning question that remains is about the fate of HBCUs and how to stop the trend that’s making it difficult for presidents to lead.