Dr. Johnson Center of TU Storm

March 23, 2015 Off By Michael
Margaret Murray Washington Hall on the campus of Tuskegee University. Photo Credits: Harold Michael Harvey

Margaret Murray Washington Hall on the campus of Tuskegee University. Photo Credits: Harold Michael Harvey

Dr. Brian L. Johnson, the new president at Tuskegee University is at the center of a storm brewing on the East Alabama campus, that once reveled itself as the “pride of the swift growing South.”

Johnson’s tenure got off to a rocky start when many in the alumni community questioned his lack of senior executive experience at the postsecondary level.

Shortly after arriving on campus, Johnson quickly alienated the Mayor and City Council of Tuskegee and the Macon County Commission. In quick succession he followed that up with banning Rev. Harold Lusk, Sr., Pastor of the Greenwood Baptist Church, from coming onto the campus. After media attention, the Board of Trustees Chair, Charles Williams, instructed him to lift the ban. Months later, Lusk is still awaiting an apology from Johnson over the banning.

Johnson, an avid social media commentator, picked arguments with alumni on social media and blocks those who do not chime in 100 percent with his views. Further dwindling the pool of alumni givers.

He refused to meet with a grieving mother who was seeking an update on a pledge made by the his predecessor, Dr. Gilbert Rochon. Board Chair Williams again instructed him to apologize to this parent. He called and apologized.

While these firestorms were brewing, Johnson’s saving grace was a perceived high approval rating from the student community. He stopped students on campus and took selfies with them which he later displayed across the full spectrum of his social media platform. He attended student hosted block parties and posed for pictures hugging the coeds. Also, he appeared at pep rallies and jumped up and down like a college crab along side the cheerleaders.

When students attempted to engage Johnson in a discussion over issues related to campus life he became evasive, hostile and demeaning in his response.

Last week students organized a protest against Johnson while the Board of Trustees was on campus conducting their annual meeting. The media was banned from coming onto campus to cover the protest.

Additionally, students are banned by the Student Code of Conduct from reaching out to the news media or to exercise their constitutional right of free speech, if that expression sheds Tuskegee in an unfavorable light. A violation of this code section could subject students to expulsion from the university.

A student representative did meet with the Board of Trustees and presented them with a list of 11 grievances. At the top on the list: “Dr. Johnson has created a hostile environment for students by invading their personal spaces and by imposing personal views about student living and/or lifestyle habits.”

The students accused Johnson of failing to engage in fundraising activities and resorting to strong-arm tactics to “solicit money from students, faculty, and staff for the general fund.” Johnson’s long-term strategic plan does not call for him to engage in a major fundraising campaign until the third year of his contract.

Also, the students grievance list states, “Dr. Johnson makes statements that make students, faculty, and staff feel incompetent.” Furthermore, the list alleges that “Dr. Johnson engages in intimidation tactics to silence the current Student Government Association.” They called out faculty members for being social media informants.”

Without specifying which alumni chapters, the students contend, “A number of alumni chapters have threatened to withdraw their financial support, if Dr. Johnson continues to serve as president of Tuskegee University.”

During the weekend protest, the students demanded that the Board of Trustees fire Dr. Johnson. The Board did not fire him.

This week the students are circulating a petition calling on Johnson to step down by the close of business on Monday of this week.

The once “pride of the swift growing South” is now embroiled in an ugly fight with students, the lifeblood of any educational institution.


Harold Michael Harvey, is the author of the legal thriller “Paper Puzzle,” and “Justice in the Round: Essays on the American Jury System,” available at Amazon and at haroldmichaelharvey.com. He can be contacted at hmharvey@haroldmichaelharvey.com