Straight Outta Grey Columns

November 13, 2015 2 By Michael
Brian Johnson, President of Tuskegee University

Brian Johnson, President of Tuskegee University

“Straight outta Skegee, a photojournalistic piece by Albert A. Cesare was published in The Montgomery Advertiser this week following his attendance at Tuskegee’s homecoming game against Miles College last weekend. Ceasare, a professional photojournalist, regularly covers football in the south. Last Saturday, his work took him to Alumni Bowl on the historic campus of Tuskegee University, home of the world’s largest tailgating party inside a football stadium. He undoubtedly witnessed a festive event that rivals anything he has seen covering football in the south.

In the “Tuskegee Way,” he was treated to a fun-filled party, “straight outta Skegee,” where incidentally a football game to determine the division champion was at stake. Miles College won the game by three points.

Cesare, has the Tuskegee University community up in arms after his piece described a student offering him a drink from a water bottle containing an “orange substance.” He does not take the student up on the offer, but Cesare intimates that the orange substance was of an alcoholic nature. Then he describes “sweet smelling smoke” hitting him in the face. He suggests that he turned down an opportunity to enjoy what was producing the sweet smelling aroma in the air. The fact that he describes it as “sweet smelling” might indicate that he has enjoyed the pleasure of that type of smoke in other settings.

Alumns want Cesare fired. However, the source of the alumni’s angst probably comes “straight outta Grey Columns, that 18th century slave master’s mansion where the university’s seventh president, Dr. Brian Johnson, resides.

Since Johnson took the helm of the university a year and a half ago, it has been involved in one public relations controversy after another. First, he disrespected a grieving mother, whose son had been murdered while a student at the university. His show of disrespect led to negative news coverage from Channel 2, the ABC Affiliate in the Atlanta, Georgia market, a market that the university traditionally counts on to provide new recruits.

Next, he barred Rev. Harold H. Lusk, Sr., pastor of Booker T. Washington’s old church, from the campus. The order was later rescinded.

Students at Tuskegee University protesting conditions at the university. They have demanded the resignation of President Johnson and the entire Board of Trustees. Photo Credits: Cascade Publishing House

Students at Tuskegee University protesting conditions at the university. They have demanded the resignation of President Johnson and the entire Board of Trustees. Photo Credits: Cascade Publishing House

When students protested last year demanding that Johnson be fired because of his failure to address safety concerns on the campus at night, he banned the news media in Montgomery from the campus to report on the protest. He frequently posted pictures on social media hugging coeds, some with his clothes in disarray.

Then Johnson fired the consultant working on a report to the university’s accreditation agency. The report was subsequently submitted incorrectly and the university was given a warning notice that further failure to provide the appropriate information would jeopardize the university’s accreditation. Again this news resulted in bad publicity at a time when the university needs a strong recruitment push to bring dollars to sustain the university’s programs.

Last summer, the Tuskegee Board of Trustees, meeting in Atlanta, entertained a motion to terminate his services. They instead voted to provide him with a coach to teach him how to become a college president; only straight outta Skegee would a college president need a coach to teach him how to do his job. According to sources, the coach walked off the job in recent months complaining that he was not getting any cooperation from Johnson. So much for providing Johnson with the tools to get the job done.

So what brought the Montgomery Advertiser out to snoop around this year?

Perhaps, it was Johnson’s ultimate public relations blunder. A week before the big homecoming game, the university issued a security plan for homecoming. The plan provided for 40 drug sniffing dogs with accompanying canine handlers for the homecoming crowd. One alumni described it as “Johnson bringing the ‘Birmingham dogs’ on campus to police black people.”

The iconic Shed at Tuskegee University is the center of attention following negative depiction of student conduct at Homecoming 2015.

The iconic Shed at Tuskegee University is the center of attention following negative depiction of student conduct at Homecoming 2015 by the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper.

Prior to homecoming, there were no known credible threats of violence or drug use. Johnson’s chief of staff cited the fact that 30,000 people attended homecoming 2014 as justification for the additional officers and dogs to handle the crowd and the fact that the campus emcompasses 500,000 acres, notwithstanding the fact, all of this land is not developed or in areas where the public normally traverses.

This rationale points up the immaturity of the Johnson administration. The university has drawn in excess of 30,000 people for homecoming for much of this century. There has never been any acts of violence or known health problems associated with drug and alcohol use during previous homecoming events.

So why now?

Some alumni and students speculate that this is a plot by Johnson to close the “Shed,”(the student body section in Alumni Bowl that is covered by a tin roof which was placed on the stadium during the first half of the 20th century to shield the crowd from the Alabama sun) to students and to prohibit the alumni from tailgating inside Alumni Bowl. Johnson has displayed an inability to raise large sums of money to keep the university afloat. He raised student fees at the beginning of this academic year and it is thought by some alumni, that if he restrict the tailgating the university would earn additional money from the concession revenue it is now losing to the tailgaters.

Grey Columns, the former slave master mansion which serves as the residence of the Tuskegee University president.

Grey Columns, the former slave master mansion which serves as the residence of the Tuskegee University president.

Another example of the immaturity of Johnson’s leadership, in an effort to do damage control, this week he has engaged in a twitter conversation with Josh Moon, a columnist for the Montgomery Advertiser. Moon, has very pointedly and professionally asked Johnson to verify that there is underage drinking and drug use under the famous “Tuskegee Shed.”

Josh Moon: “…I have to ask you, does the obvious drinking & drug use in the Shed cause you some concern.”

Dr. Brian L. Johnson7: “@Josh-Moon That’s right!Use those great pictures of our beautiful students and alumni.”

Perhaps, Johnson’s next move should be “Straight outta Grey Columns.”

Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist, the author of Paper puzzle and Justice in the Round. He can be contacted at haroldmichaelharvey.com.

 

SOURCES:

http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/news/local/blogs/fstops/2015/11/10/strait-outta-skegee/75522750/

https://haroldmichaelharvey.com/2015/03/20/tuskegee-protest-underway/

https://haroldmichaelharvey.com/2015/03/21/tuskegee-protest-day-2/