Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Long View

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Long View

Article excerpt

When Bowie State University President Mickey L. Burnim recently announced his retirement, the move was couched in the kind of environment and language that made it stand out for its lack of drama.

The 67-year-old career academician told a scheduled university assembly "the time has come for me to transition to spending more time enjoying my family," giving the institution's family a school year's notice of his planned departure for June 2017.

Burnim's announcement on the campus of the suburban Washington, D.C. HBCU was made as it was trumpeting a rise in enrollment for the 2016-17 school year on the heels of its largest graduation ever.

Not bad for a small-town Texan who was among the first Blacks to attend the University of North Texas and, since earning his degrees, has spent some four decades in higher education as a teacher, leader and mentor.

No unnecessary drama has been one of Burnim's operating principles, he relates, one that has helped him weather his share of challenges in the Maryland higher education environment and in the routine of running a community such as Bowie Stale with nearly 5,000 citizens.

While looking back at his 40 years in higher education in Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Maryland and looking toward making his "transition" to more time to spend with his wife of 46 years, two children and six grandchildren, Burnim also paused to share his thoughts for those who aspire to be a leader in higher education on the path to perseverance and success.

Leading an institution of higher education is rewarding and challenging, he says. It's not easy, he adds.

"It's [a presidency] such a revered and respected position," says Burnim, whose Bowie State tenure was preceded by a 10-year stint as chancellor of North Carolina's Elizabeth City State University. That experience, added to his work as an administrator in the University of North Carolina System and teaching at Florida State University, have helped him embrace and develop his chances to lead.

"An effective presidency is a partnership between the governing board and the person who holds the responsibility," says Burnim, offering his take on the plethora of troubles that have beset peer institutions in recent months and years. "Antagonism between a board and a president should never happen."

Burnim echoes other veterans of the field in suggesting that, in recent years, too many boards of trustees have prioritized paper over people.

Too much attention has been placed on the value of a person based on their credentials and portfolio, at the expense of getting to know whether a candidate would complement the trustees and staff with whom they might work, he says. …

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