Political Pitfalls for Presidents: An Uneasy Environment Exists Today for Presidents of Public HBCUs, Leading to a Revolving Door of Higher Education Executives

By Seymour, Add, Jr. | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, February 7, 2008 | Go to article overview

Political Pitfalls for Presidents: An Uneasy Environment Exists Today for Presidents of Public HBCUs, Leading to a Revolving Door of Higher Education Executives


Seymour, Add, Jr., Diverse Issues in Higher Education


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The South Carolina State University Board of Trustees wasn't in a very festive mood when they met this past December.

They did give their president of nearly five years, Dr. Andrew Hugine Jr., something during the Christmas season: a pink slip when they decided not to renew his contract.

It was a move that has caused much consternation in Orangeburg where the 111-year-old historically Black university is located.

"It's just hard when you've got a president that the politicians, alumni and students think is doing a good job, but then the board decides to get rid of him" says Charles Williams, a 21-year SCSU trustee, who left the board in early January in the wake of the Hugine dismissal. "It just questions what's wrong with the board."

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It's also a very good example of the uneasy environment that exists for presidents at public HBCUs these days.

For a variety of reasons, stability in leadership has increasingly become an issue for both public and private HBCUs.

It's led to a revolving door of presidents or a hot seat for others at various HBCUs. For example:

* Southern University System President Ralph Slaughter was suspended for two months after he acted as a "whistle-blower" saying the system's board of trustees tried to cover up sexual harassment allegations against then-board Chairman Johnny Anderson, who was also assistant chief of staff for then-Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco (see Diverse, May 7, 2007).

* At the behest of the Georgia Board of Regents and University System of Georgia Chancellor Erroll Davis, Dr. Carlton Brown unexpectedly resigned from the presidency at Savannah State University in fall 2006. Brown's nine-year tenure brought stability to the school, but had been dotted with complaints from faculty and staff about the school's leadership and a 2006 audit criticizing the school for financial and management issues. Brown joined Clark Atlanta University in 2007 as executive vice president during a time when CAU President Walter Broadnax was being criticized by students and alumni for his management of the school. Brown has taken over day-to-day management while Broadnax focuses on fundraising (see Diverse, Dec. 28, 2006).

* New Savannah State University President Earl Yarbrough became the school's president in 2007, several months after accepting the presidency at struggling Knoxville College. The board of trustees had fired former president Barbara Hatton in 2005 and couldn't afford to pay Yarbrough and his staff, so they terminated his contract so he could take the SSU job.

* At Florida A&M University, Dr. Fred Gainous replaced retiring Dr. Frederick Humphries in 2002, but by 2004 Gainous was dismissed after clashing with the school's board of trustees, and audits found financial mismanagement, bookkeeping problems and administrative issues (see Black Issues In Higher Education, Dec. 2, 2004). The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the region's accrediting group, placed the school on probation in June 2007 and will continue that probation until the association reviews the school's situation again in June 2008.

* Dr. John Rudley was named president of Texas Southern University in January nearly two years after Dr. Priscilla Slade was fired after allegations she misspent several hundred thousand dollars, some of it for personal expenses (see Diverse, April 20, 2006). The school is currently on probation because of financial management, governance and administrative issues.

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It all points to a very turbulent and difficult time to lead historically Black institutions, particularly public ones.

Unique Challenges?

There are many other instances of change.

But the landscape for leading public HBCUs is a bit more complex than that of their private counterparts. …

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