Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Native Sons: Veteran Educators Return to Lead Their Embattled Alma Mater, Central State University

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Native Sons: Veteran Educators Return to Lead Their Embattled Alma Mater, Central State University

Article excerpt


In the 1960s, in the midst of Vietnam War protests and the emergence of the Black power movement, students John Garland and James Renick worked as campus advocates to change the environment and curricula at Central State University.

"We were trying to make the institution relevant to our time," Garland says. "We had many hours of thoughtful conversation. We talked about what we believed in and the direction society was taking."

Today, Garland, president of Central State, and his college friend Renick, who began serving as senior adviser to Garland in May, spend time brainstorming ways to strengthen and expand their alma mater, whose main campus is located in Wilberforce, Ohio.

The duo are working to address serious challenges, such as securing more funding and improving student retention at Ohio's only public HBCU. They are also devising ways to boost graduation rates as Ohio has started linking school funding to institutions' ability to graduate students. A significant expansion is in the works, which includes a recently opened Dayton campus.

Troubled Times

Garland, a New York native who dropped out of high school at 17 to join the U.S. Marine Corps, enrolled at Central State after earning a high school equivalency diploma. He graduated from The Ohio State University School of Law in 1974.

The journey back to Central State in a leadership capacity for Garland began when he became general counsel to the University of the District of Columbia in 1988. He became intrigued by higher education.

"It's the students. It's the whole idea of helping young people. It's helping the next generation--it's an exciting process," Garland says. "Universities are one of the most complex nonprofit organizations that you can find. We not only educate people, but we house, we feed. We're an organization that takes on a complex role in the lives of young people."

By 1995, Garland, who had held multiple positions at the University of Virginia, began reading articles and conversing with former classmates about his alma mater, which was struggling with severe debt and a troubled football team.

The school's accumulated debt in 1995 was reportedly $11.6 million, and a later state audit found that about $5.2 million of the money students owed had not been collected, according to published reports. In early 1995, Dr. Herman B. Smith Jr., Garland's predecessor, came to Central State but was fired in the summer of 1996 for not helping the school climb out of debt. In 1997, there were talks of merging Central State with the private historically Black Wilberforce University because it was struggling so much.


Central State canceled its football program following the 1996 season after the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics banned the team from post season play for two years for fielding academically ineligible players. The state required the school to temporarily drop football as a condition for continued funding.

Garland quickly volunteered to provide his consulting services to Central State's board of trustees and his resume began circulating as a potential new leader for the school. Garland says uniformly his colleagues were supportive of his selection as president, but that some expressed concern that he would not gain enough political support to direct his embattled alma mater.

"I did not think of this as a career move as I did an opportunity to offer leadership and support to help a very, very important institution," Garland says of his decision to leave UVA for Central State.

Over the years, Garland stayed in contact with Renick, who held a number of administrative posts, as they moved through the ranks and continued to advance their careers.

"When I took over the presidency, I often called on Renick for advice and counsel. I would bounce things off of him," Garland says. …

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