On his way out as president of Tuskegee University, Dr. Brian Johnson kicked the proud “Skegee” machine in the teeth.
Three days after rumors surfaced that Johnson was out as president of the “Skegee” family, the university is yet to issue an official statement about current leadership of the university.
This has not stopped Johnson from getting his side of the story out.According to a local television station in Montgomery, Alabama, Johnson confirmed to them that he was no longer president at the school that alumni affectionately dub as “Skegee.” The television station said Johnson declined to appear on air, but that he confirmed he was out as the school’s president.
Two days later a news report of his departure was published in diverseeducation.com. The headline read: “Tuskegee University Fires Johnson.” This was the first indication that Johnson was fired from his duties at “Skegee.”
The Diverse Education article was written by Jamal Eric Watson, a former professor of English at Mercer County Community College in New Jersey. Watson quotes “a source familiar with the situation.”
According to Watson’s unnamed source, “several trustees were angry to learn that Johnson has interviewed for the top post at North Carolina Central University (NCCU), which is located in his hometown of Durham, N.C.”
Watson writes, that Johnson “is reportedly a finalist for the [NCCU] job.”
According to Watson, Johnson declined to interview for his article. However, given the slant of the information about Tuskegee, Johnson appears to be the source of Watson’s information, as the article seems to be a parting shot by a disgruntled former employee.
For instance, Watson does not cite any members of the Board of Trustees as his source, but discloses inside information – “several trustees were angry” – that only a member of the board or Johnson would know.
Additionally, the article cites financial woes of the university presumably to make “Skegee” an unattractive school for an experience university president to consider taking over the helm.
While the financial information cited is a matter of public record, it is not easy to find. More than likely this information was provided by someone at the university. Since the university has not issued a statement on Johnson’s status, ten will get you nine, that Johnson is the source of this information.
If not convinced consider this: In three years the Tuskegee Board of Trustees have never released any details about Johnson’s contract. The board never wanted alumni to know what type of contractual control they could exercise over Johnson’s tenure. Many have speculated that Johnson was under a five year contract and was thus at the mercy of the board until the assumed five-year deal had expired.
According to Watson’s article, “The Board of Trustees has decided not to renew Dr. Brian L. Johnson’s annual contract, effective July 1, 2017.” Absolutely no one outside of the board of trustees and Johnson knew that Johnson worked on a year-to-year basis.
This information could only be known by Johnson or the board.
Also, Watson’s article appears to be self-serving on Johnson’s behalf as he cites a pledge Johnson made to give $100,000 to the university over a five year span. Watson states the pledge was made to encourage alumni to give money to the school.
However, when the pledge was made, no such implication was made to alumni. This is a blatant attempt to shame “Skegee” alumni by suggesting that graduates are not providing financial support to the university. Moreover, there is no record that Johnson came anywhere close to donating the $100,000 he pledged to donate.
Here is the rub, the majority of the money raised during the three years that Johnson was president was raised by the Tuskegee National Alumni Association (TNAA).
Many of TNAA’s members remain blindly loyal to Johnson in spite of fact that he did not published a financial report in either of the three years he was president, that after he fired the school’s SAC consultant, he failed on two occasions to file a plan that was acceptable to SAC, and that he leaves with the school’s accreditation still hanging in the balance.
Moreover, Watson intimates that Johnson leaves Tuskegee by making good on a pledge to increase student enrollment from 3100 to 10,000. Nothing could be further from the truth. The linchpin of Johnson’s plan to increase student enrollment was an online course offering. Watson fails to mention that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools failed to approve the online course of study as proposed by Johnson. Today, Tuskegee’s enrollment remains at the same levels they were when Johnson was hired.
A “Skegee” alumni, Ransom Juno Woodson, Owner and Curator at the Roberson, Flud-Nessen and Black Collection, believes Tuskegee’s board dropped the ball in hiring Johnson and urges North Carolina Central University not to make the same mistake, said:
“From the very beginning Johnson lacked the skills required to manage the complexities associated with leading a University. NCCU, don’t make the same mistake as the Tuskegee University Board of trustees.”
The Tuskegee Board of Trustees is probably missing a few teeth this week after they steadfastly defended Johnson against the hue and cry of alumni activists, who urged them three months into his presidency to fire him and get a more seasoned president. Instead, the board hired a trainer to help Johnson learn how to become a university president.
Then Johnson repays them by interviewing for a job with another university. No wonder several trustees were “angry” with him.
The board sided with Johnson, pushing aside faithful alumni; and now that Johnson is gone, the grads who were “kicked to the curve, are as they were before Johnson came, still “Skegee” grads. This should serve as an object lesson to all HBCUs: Presidents come and go, but alums are always with you.
Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist, the author of Paper puzzle and Justice in the Round, 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.