Can John Page Restore Tuskegee’s Legacy?

June 9, 2017 2 By Michael

Lewis Adams legacy depicted in the iconic statue at Tuskegee University of Booker T. Washington pointing the way to progress through education.
Photo Credits: Harold Michael Harvey

Last week the Tuskegee University Board of Trustees put to an end campus rumors that Dr. Brian L. Johnson, the university’s seventh president would be leaving his job on June 30, 2017.

He will.

Guy Rhodes, Editor and Publisher of the Tuskegee News opined last week that Johnson’s situation at the university was on shaky ground from the outset.

Rhodes’ editorial on the brief tumultuous tenure of Dr. Johnson outlined alumni criticism of Johnson from the start of his tenure.

Top on Rhodes’ list is the fact that Johnson was, “Hired when he was 40 years old with no experience as a University president.”

Johnson’s age would not have been so much of a factor, Booker T. Washington was only 25 years old when he became the first Tuskegee Principal, however, in a different century, Johnson’s youth coupled with the fact that he did not have any indicia on his resume that he could manage a legacy university was a protend of problems to come.

Rhodes points out that Johnson’s fate at Tuskegee perhaps was sealed when the Tuskegee Board ousted Gen. (Retired) Charles E. Williams as it chair.

Board members in an off the record conversation two years ago, told this writer, that Williams pushed Johnson through by acclamation as members were preparing to leave for the airport.

This brings us to John Page, a corporate attorney who was selected by the BOT to replace Williams as its chair.

Page is fond of saying he grew up in the ghettos of New York and that he could relate to Dr. Johnson’s recitations of having grown up in rat and roach infested tenements in North Carolina. Page was a staunch supporter of Johnson’s. He boldly defended Johnson against financial contributing alumni who called for Johnson to be replaced several years ago.

It was with reluctance, the university’s statement of Johnson’s departure, seemed to say in announcing that the BOT declined to renew Johnson’s contract when it expires later this month.

Now, it is on the shoulders of John Page to steer the BOT through the search for a new leader.

Can Page do it without meddling in the selection process like Gen. Williams?

The future of the university depends on smart leadership unencumbered by personal egos or agendas. Does Page have what it takes to hire a good president that will serve the university for more than three years?

Page’s brief tenure as board chair is not without criticism. Alumni contend that Page, a graduate of a Historically White University, also known as, PWI’s, does not know, understand or respect the HBCU legacy. They cite the condescending, ghetto-esque tone he often strikes when speaking before student, administrative and alumni groups.

“If you would not speak to a group at Auburn like that, or at one of your corporate board meetings, like that, then don’t speak that way to a group at Tuskegee,” one alumni said.

Also, Page comes under fire from alumni because he will not release a financial statement on the university. Last year Page told a group of concerned Tuskegee alumni in Atlanta, Georgia that he was reluctant to release a financial statement because the university was involved in a large number of lawsuits and he did not want to get that information into the hands of the plaintiffs who are suiting the university.

Perhaps, this is a corporate lawyer trick to hide information from disclosure in the discovery phase of litigation. In any event, alumni argue they are entitled to see the assets and liabilities of the university. Page says that far too few alumni give to  preserve the legacy of the university and thus are not entitled to know its financial status.

Graduates argue they would give more if the university would release information for them to determine whether the BOT is a good steward of its financial resources.

The crux of Page’s leadership hinges on whether he releases a financial statement certified by a public accountant. So far, Page has been stubbornly litigious in refusing to release a financial statement.

One graduate argues that Page’s own school, Pace University, annually releases a financial statement that is available to anyone in the world who has an interest in reviewing them.

Concern alumni view Page’s refusal to release a financial statement when his alma mater does, is another piece of evidence that he does not respect the HBCU legacy and believes that a HBCU institution and its alumni are not entitled to the same respect and information as a Historically White University.

Does John Page have the right stuff to follow the Tuskegee trajectory set in place by Lewis Adams in 1880?

Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist, the author of Paper puzzle and Justice in the Round, edited Easier to obtain Than to Maintain: The Globalization of Civil Rights by Charles Steele, Jr.; and the host of Beyond the Law with Harold Michael Harvey. He can be contacted at haroldmichaelharvey.com.