Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

"Guiding DSU to the Level of Greatness," President Claims: But a Delaware State Alumni Group Issues 'No Confidence' Vote

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

"Guiding DSU to the Level of Greatness," President Claims: But a Delaware State Alumni Group Issues 'No Confidence' Vote

Article excerpt

After nearly two years in office, the president of Delaware State University remains vigilant about making good on his promise to bring about bold and unprecedented faculty, administrative, financial and academic changes at the historically Black campus, but some of the institution's ardent supporters want to stop him in his tracks.

"From the outset, I will be driven by the demanding challenge of guiding DSU to the level of greatness where, without a doubt, it is destined for a premier place among not only historically Black colleges and universities, but also among the top institutions of higher education in the country," said President Allen L. Sessoms in a lengthy written response to concerns raised by university alumni in a September 2004 position paper. Sessoms did not respond to requests for interviews.

The paper, drafted by an ad hoc committee tasked with investigating the president's tenure, spawned another group composed of past alumni presidents and endorsed by a majority of the DSU Alumni Association. Called the Committee to Advance Alumni Recommendations, the group has delivered a strong blow to Sessoms by endorsing in a March report a "no confidence" vote in the president's leadership. DSU board chairman Claibourne Smith, in an April 21 letter to Philip Sadler, the head of the committee that developed the report, called the vote and the complaints leveled against Sessoms "gross distortions" and "divisive."

Such a vote coming from university alumni is unprecedented, says Dr. Reginald Wilson, senior scholar emeritus at the American Council on Education. "No confidence votes, such as the one taken recently at Harvard, usually come from the board of directors, faculty or even students. This one (at Delaware State) is unusual. I wonder how much weight their vote will have?" adds Wilson.

What the vote and the alumni report has done is give a voice to those on campus who felt powerless to speak out, says Dr. Lee Jones, dean of graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater and an active DSU alumnus who has been closely monitoring events at his alma mater since allegations arose about Sessoms' leadership a year ago. The widely circulated report from the alumni group, which includes the statement of "no confidence," is critical of both Sessoms' management and proposed changes they say will put the survival of the university and its status as an HBCU in jeopardy.

"When you look at the process that this group of alumni has gone through to investigate and document changes and the situation on campus, it speaks volumes," Jones says. "These people are extremely busy professionals--corporate executives, physicians, dentists, educators--from across the country. They are the ones speaking up at a time when others on campus can't or feel that they will lose their jobs if they do."

Calling the allegations outlined in the alumni committee's report "unfounded" and the group's actions "hurtful to the University," A. Richard Barros, a DSU board member, remains steadfast in his support of Sessoms, saying the "no confidence" vote is without merit and was not issued by the official DSU Alumni Association. "The ad hoc committee does not reflect the sentiments of the official alumni association. As a board, we have reviewed every inquiry and letter about things that people consider as changes to the status of the university. We stand by Dr. Sessoms who has done an exemplary job and is a great president," Barros says.

REIGNING CHAOS

But "chaos seems to reign" at DSU and the institution lacks "definitive direction" and a "strategic plan" since Sessoms became president, the alumni committee concluded in a 22-page report obtained by Black Issues In Higher Education. Recommendations issued in the March report include the development of a comprehensive strategic plan for DSU that includes input from alumni, alumni representation on the university's administrative council and alumni representation and voting rights on the board of trustees. …

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