Tuskegee Board Decline Vote On President
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.
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.
What I would like to write in response to this blog has no business being placed on the internet for public consumption. I can only say that the treading of water and reluctance to move by trustees at Tuskegee Institute is not a problem endured solely by Tuskegee. I literally lost my mind in an office once and challenged a pair of professors at an institution that I will not name (for now), and asked them how did they manage to talk about how much influence they had at the university, yet somehow be unable to identify what were severe problems that directly affected their department and its students. I left this university after months of breaking out in hives during my sleep over the lethargy and the unwillingness to take-the-bull-by-the-horns and make changes. At least you are not taking this mess lying down and remaining passive. But let me say this: Most Black academics and alums of HBCUs worry about embarrassing their alma maters and I completely understand it! But you might have to go after the trustees in a manner you had not planned. Here’s why, and I am drawing from my own experiences here: While a grad student at a particular university, I noticed that instead of listening to some simple recommendations that myself and several students came up with, the university ignored everyone’s complaints and ended up part of the subject matter of an unflattering article in the “Chronicle of Higher Education” about HBCUs that interfered with student newspapers coverage of college and university problems. Almost all members of American academe read the “Chronical of Higher Education” (hint, hint) and what was a simple problem that could have been handled on the campus became a public problem to everyone in academe. I found out how widespread the Chronicle’s readership was when a lady at the Atlanta History Center read a letter I wrote (unrelated to the problem with this school) and emailed me to tell me how much she enjoyed reading my letter. Stay strong brother!
I have completed a bit more research on my own.
I must acknowledge that I have more questions than answers.
I admit again that I have been more financially supportive than physically involved and active. Many alumni believe if you are not an Eminent Associate you can not speak on matters regarding the university. A recent call from the university and plea from TNAA will go unanswered until there is appropriate accountability and new leadership at the university.
I believe I am not alone in stating the university will not even receive $5 from me until they secure new leadership.
This all is extremely disturbing. Is there no man or woman on this intra-appointing board with an ounce of integrity? Who represents the alumni contingency on the board? I am more disturbed by alumni who believe that the public and private antics of Johnson should be protected to protect
This group can not discontinue moving forward.
Knowledge is power.
Several board members scoffed at the Concerned Alumni group efforts telling them, that in spite of the group’s protest, donations to the university are up.
Marybeth Gasman interview with John S. Wilson, the executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities which was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Innovations: Insights and Commentary on Higher Education, July 17, 2012.
Wilson closed the interview with an interesting perspective. He noted, “We know HBCU’s have value and this is the ideal time to demonstrate that value. The opportunity to choose new leadership can be good and hopeful. The current challenges facing many HBCU’s can often be traced to decades of decisions made or not made by HBCU boards. The question is: Do today’s trustees have what it takes to imagine, sift, and select leadership for a necessarily new future? Boards with the right answer to that question have a golden opportunity to set a new trajectory for their HBCU, depending upon whom they choose as presidents. The spotlight is on them.”
Earlier in the interview Marybeth Gasman asked Wilson, whether HBCU alumni are right—was there a crisis in HBCU presidential leadership? He replied, “To some degree there is a crisis—some institutions are facing serious challenges that have either been simmering or ignored for years, and it’s only in the last few months or in the past year that either the boards or the presidents themselves elected to ‘make a move.’ So for some it is a crisis. However, it is also a challenge to leadership and an opportunity for leadership.” Wilson noted that “It’s a mistake to focus only on the office of the president … a challenge to and an opportunity for the HBCU trustees. They have the challenge of finding solid presidents.” Wilson added “It’s hard for trustees who are not sufficiently familiar with the requirements and levers of transformation in higher education to find good leadership.” College and university trustees play a vital role in any institution and one of their most important jobs is selecting a competent, energetic, and innovative president. Wilson suggests that HBCU trustees must have a “knowledge base, a skill base, and a resource base. They must give or be able to get others to give financial and other resources to the institution.”