Tuskegee Board Decline Vote On President

October 2, 2016 4 By Michael
Concerned Tuskegee Alumni praying before lobbying Board members to change the downward trajectory at Tuskegee University. Photo Credit: Calvin Austin

Concerned Tuskegee Alumni praying before lobbying Trustee Board members to change the downward trajectory at Tuskegee University.
Photo Credit: Oscar Austin, III

Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, Cascade Press, This weekend, the Tuskegee Board of Trustees declined to take a vote on firing President Brian Johnson. The board met on the historic campus of Tuskegee University for their annual fall meeting, September 29 through October 1.

A contingent of “concerned alumni” from Atlanta, Georgia and Tuskegee, Alabama held out hope that they could convince the Tuskegee Trustees that dismissing Johnson was in the best interest of the university. This group began each day of the board meeting at the gravesite of Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. They prayed for guidance and the right words to speak in their conversations with board members.

Prior to the meeting, members of the Concerned Tuskegee Alumni group believed they had secured, via telephone lobbying, the six votes needed to remove Dr. Johnson from office. However, when the board met on opening night, John Page, Chairman of the Board, gave a “house divided” speech to members.

Consequently, two of the six members who had given strong indications that they believed a change in the leadership of the university would be a good idea, changed their minds and gave Chairman Page the unified front he wanted coming out of the fall board meeting.

Concerned Tuskegee Alumni camped out in the lobby of the Kellogg Conference Center waiting for a Trustee member to walk by so they could lobby for a vote to terminate the contract of President Brian Johnson. Photo Credit: Gene Cummings

Concerned Tuskegee Alumni camped out in the lobby of the Kellogg Conference Center waiting for a Trustee member to walk by so they could lobby for a vote to terminate the contract of President Brian Johnson.
Photo Credit: Gene Cummings

When the “Concerned Alumni” got wind of this shift in support for their contention that Johnson’s contract should be terminated, they intensified their lobbying efforts. They spent all day Friday, September 30, talking with every trustee member they saw walking in the hallway of the Tuskegee University Kellogg Conference Center, site of the meeting. The group got on the telephone and tried to convince two board members who live in Birmingham to travel to Tuskegee for the fall meeting. They both had conflicts which prevented them from being present.

Practically every board member the lobbyists spoke with did not deny that Dr. Johnson has received two poor evaluations in the two years he has been the president.

Also, they acknowledged that Johnson lacked the skills that the university needs during this period of financial and accreditation crisis. The trustee members told the group the university’s successful navigation through the accreditation problems would not be affected if Johnson was fired. Board members also, agreed that Dr. Johnson’s erratic social media persona taints the university’s brand.

Every board member the alumni spoke with asked them to trust the board’s leadership. They each expressed confidence in Chairman Page’s business acumen and several of them said that Johnson was no longer in charge of the decision making at the university. One board member went so far as to say that Johnson was president in name only. The inference was that the day to day operation of the school is now in the hands of the trustees.

If this is true, it presents the university with a governance problem similar to the one the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools told them to correct in the first warning notice the university received in 2015. The 2016 warning notice removed governance as an issue primarily because the board removed General Charles Williams as Chairman. Williams was accused of meddling in the daily affairs of the university. He later resigned.

Then why do the trustees not fire Dr. Johnson?

One trustee member said the trustees were reluctant to terminate Dr. Johnson because of the small available pool of applicants seeking to become president of historically black colleges or universities in today’s climate. This board member intimated that things the board learned in their recent meeting in Las Vegas made terminating Johnson problematic; and that there are more problems confronting the university than those raised by the “Concerned Alumni” group.

Chairman Page will travel to Atlanta, Georgia on Saturday, October 8 to meet with the “Concerned Alumni.” He is expected to give his “house divided” speech to the group in hopes of quieting opposition to the trustees decision to maintain Dr. Johnson as president in spite of irrefutable proof that the university would be better served with someone other than Johnson serving as president.

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