Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Another Untimely Departure: Fisk University President's Abrupt Resignation Springs Yet Another Leadership Crisis for the HBCU

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Another Untimely Departure: Fisk University President's Abrupt Resignation Springs Yet Another Leadership Crisis for the HBCU

Article excerpt


It's deja vu all over again at Fisk University with the untimely departure of another president who is leaving behind a financially depressed school with no stability at the helm and no assurances in sight.

Last month's resignation of former President Carolynn Reid-Wallace, who served a two-year stint, marks the university's fourth president or interim president in the last seven years (see Black Issues, Nov. 6). The only thing that seemed to stun local alumni more than her resignation was the board of trustees' timing in announcing it: the same day the school's newly renovated administration building was being publicly showcased during the weekend leading up to Jubilee Day, the most historically significant day on the school's calendar.

The unexpected news turned a weekend that was supposed to be filled with pride and promise into one ambushed by uncertainty.

"No one in their right mind ... would plan (to announce) anything like this around this time," says Fisk University alumna DeVonie Cunning, 23. "It goes to show that it was an impulse thing. It was something that happened at the spur of the moment because of something that happened at a meeting or whatever."

Cunning doesn't know what led to Reid-Wallace's resignation. For that matter, not many Fisk loyalists do. Many believe, as Cunning does, that her exit was the result of a feud between her and the trustees. Some believe she left for personal reasons.

"We don't know if it was caused by financial problems or if she just decided on her own that it was time to move on," says student Ashley Barnett, 18. "No one really knows and they're not telling us everything we need to know."

The "they" Barnett is referring to are the university's trustees, who are increasingly becoming the object of concern to many Fiskites. Fair or not, many alumni and students are starting to suggest that the university's woes are not due to the failure of individual presidents but rather the board that hires them.

In fact, three former board members have publicly voiced their concerns about the board urging it to re-examine itself before hiring another president.

One former trustee, Del Glover, who resigned a week after Reid-Wallace stepped down, was quoted as saying the board needed to examine "why Fisk continues to have a succession of presidents. Not all of them could have been poor choices."

For her part, Reid-Wallace left quietly, deviating from the publicity-driven way she reined as president, frequently thrusting Fisk into the media spotlight with bold ideas of a new, racially diverse institution.

Instead of fanfare, Reid-Wallace submitted her letter of resignation on Oct. 2, it was accepted by the board of trustees on Oct. 3, and she said the next day during a press conference that she was leaving Fisk because she had accomplished what she came there to accomplish. She has refused to give further interviews.

"The school was going in a good direction when she was here," Barnett says. "I think she would have kept it going in a good direction. Her leaving hurt a lot of students' feelings. A lot of students were depending on her.... She didn't even come to tell us she resigned."

The board of trustees adamantly denies that a feud existed between them and Reid-Wallace. The board chairman, Reynaldo Glover, a Chicago lawyer and 1965 Fisk graduate, admits that some trustees, including himself, did not always see eye to eye with Reid-Wallace. But he rejects the notion that a riff drove the former president away or that she was being micromanaged.

"The notion that the board forced her out, that's just not true," Glover says, adding, "I don't know what micromanaging means. Collectively, this board (demonstrated) its support of Dr. Reid-Wallace by spending close to half of its liquid endowment to follow her vision and giving her the power to hire and fire. …

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