New Black College Presidents: Talented Group Includes Those Who Have Moved from Other Schools and Those Who Are First-Timers in the Top Job. (Special Section on Historically Black Colleges and Universities)

Ebony, September 2002 | Go to article overview

New Black College Presidents: Talented Group Includes Those Who Have Moved from Other Schools and Those Who Are First-Timers in the Top Job. (Special Section on Historically Black Colleges and Universities)


THEY are administrators, teachers, fund-raisers, motivators, cheer-leaders and parental surrogates. And they are ardent supporters of their institutions and passionate in their love for their schools. These are the new presidents named since last July. At least 13 men and women have been named to their positions in the past year, and many more were named to interim or acting positions.

Many of these new presidents face the same challenges as their predecessors and colleagues: dwindling financial resources, inadequate endowments and high competition for students and faculty members. Some have trod the path and blazed the trail before, such as Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, who came out of retirement to become the new president at Bennett College in July. Dr. Cole, former Spelman College president who retired from her post as a professor at Emory University in 2001, says she asked her friend Bill Cosby if she should accept the position.

"He said, `You have only one question to answer: Is this work that you will enjoy?'" says Dr. Cole, whose main task is to make the Greensboro, N.C., college fiscally sound. "And the more I thought about it, the more I came to the realization that yes, I would enjoy this. Being a part of turning Bennett College upward is exactly what I would enjoy being a part of."

Another president who has held the top job before is Dr. Henry Ponder, who has taken the reins at Talladega College after a distinguished career in higher education. He served as president of Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., for 12 years and as president of Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., for 11 years. Alabama State University President Joe A. Lee was formerly the president at Tougaloo College. Beverly Wade Hogan is the first female president and second alumna to serve as president at Tougaloo.

Some of the new presidents are alumni, called to lead their alma mater in crucial times. In addition to Hogan, the Rev. Floyd H. Flake, pastor of the Greater Allen A.M.E Cathedral in New York, is the new president of Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio, and Dr. Fred J. Gainous is the president of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Fla.

"I don't know anyone in the country who would not want to be president of Florida A&M University and certainly don't know of any graduate of this institution who is in higher education who doesn't want to be president," says Dr. Gainous, who had been chancellor for the Alabama College Systems Department of Post-Secondary Education for the past 14 years. "We look forward to working with parents, alumni and an outstanding faculty to ensure student success and access."

Clark Atlanta University's new president, Dr. Walter D. Broadnax, had been dean of the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, D.C. He said he wants to take Clark Atlanta to the "next level."

"Clark Atlanta is a venerable institution. It is among the oldest of the HBCUs. It has a tremendous reputation," says Dr. Broadnax, who assumed his duties in August after the retirement of Thomas W. Cole Jr. "The thing that is clear to me and my trustees is that for us to continue to make strides in terms of our overall competitiveness, we're going to have to be able to raise a large number of dollars over the next five to 10 years."

These new presidents, committed to excellence and survival of the Black college, hope to continue the important traditions that can only be found at an HBCU, and they also hope to find new ways to make the experience as memorable as possible for current and future students.

DR. JOE A. LEE is the 11th president of Alabama State University in Montgomery, Ala. He had served as president of Tougaloo College in Mississippi for six years before accepting his current position in July 2001. He holds a doctorate and master's degree in educational administration from Miami University and a bachelor's degree from Talladega College. …

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