Creating an Environment for Sustainable Leadership at Public HBCUs

Creating an Environment for Sustainable Leadership at Public HBCUs

Sharron Y. Herron-Williams (Alabama State University, USA), Alecia D. Hoffman (Alabama State University, USA) and Sidney L. Brown (Lamar University, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1049-9.ch007
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There is a leadership conundrum at HBCUs. There has been a revolving door in the administrative ranks. According to Nichols (2004), “since the Civil War, presidents of HBCUs have struggled with students who are underprepared, inadequate management, dwindling financial resources including low endowments, competition for students and faculty members, an alumni base with not much wealth and students from low-income families who may be unable to pay ever increasing tuition.” At one point, in 2012, there were 19 HBCU presidencies vacant. This causes one to question the reasons for such high turnover/attrition rates. Some would argue it is because in most cases the individual chosen was not a good “fit” for the institution. There are also those who would say they would rather have someone who is familiar with the institution. That is code for alumni. For the purpose of this chapter, we contend there are five important factors which have contributed to the rising number of vacancies in the administrative ranks: 1) lack of succession planning; 2) lack of leadership training in areas such as fiscal management for universities, board relations, alumni relations and academic integrity/student success; 3) lack of professional educational preparation prior to the attainment of a presidency; 4) the power play (the recycling of HBCU presidents); 5) lack of adherence to institutional mission and goals.
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Reordering Our Steps

As a result of an amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1965, HBCUs are recognized as any black college or university (that was) established prior to 1964, whose principal mission (was and) is the education of Black Americans. There are currently 105 institutions of higher education recognized as historically black colleges and/or universities located in 19 states (NCES, 2013). Some of these institutions are community colleges, private four-year institutions and public four-year institutions. Forty-six of these institutions are public historically black colleges and/or universities (HBCUs).

Developing new designs to research the effectiveness of HBCU presidents is imperative because the reputation of the institutions and the ability of presidents was severely crippled at one time by the publication of research by Harvard sociologists, Christopher Jencks and David Reisman. Their research only highlighted problems and mistakes at HBCUs and failed to present any empirical data about effectiveness and success at HBCUs. In fact, they labeled HBCUs as “academic disaster areas” (Freeman & Gasman, 2014).

Presidents of HBCUs are often accused of being autocratic and the mission of these institutions are said to compromise academic quality while upholding segregation (Hamilton, 2002). There was a time when presidents of historically black colleges and universities remained in those positions for decades until they are of a ripe old age and ready to pass on the blood stain banner (Watson, 2013). However, that is not the current situation with the exception of Hampton University whose president has been there for thirty-years, or recently retired president of Xavier University whose reign was forty-seven years are exceptions to the recent rule of revolving door of HBCU Presidents. The tenure of most public HBCU Presidents is five-years or less. Hamilton postulates that factors which affect leadership capabilities at HBCUs include: financial instability, accreditation challenges, questionable governance structure(s) and lack of a clear vision. Decision-making contexts for leaders at HBCU’s can be affected by structural, cultural, or situational distinctions that leaders of these institutions must take into account (Minor, 2004).

Most if not all HBCU Boards of Trustees are too conservative and unwilling to change the current pattern of recycling and or hiring only persons with past president’s experience. (Gasman, 2013). “I do have concerns when presidents at HBCUs (and in general) are recycled despite past indiscretions. HBCUs, nor any other institution, can afford to take chances on leaders with bad track records.” When referring to matters of “governance contrary to regulations, this means in custom but not necessarily ordained law” (Brown and Burnette, 2014). Arnett (2015) quoting Dr. Norman Davis, President Emeritus-Xavier University of New Orleans, HBCUs are facing the traditional perceptions that all black colleges are going to close or go out of business. “That is foolish,” Francis said. “We who operate the institutions know we have a major job to do (in educating Black students) as we have done for the 100 past years.” Since HBCUs inception, they provided a unique service, and significant role for African Americans to “explore their racial identity; and equipping students with the tools to function in a racist society” (Davis, 2015).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Succession Planning: The identification and development of internal people who have the potential to fill key positions in academic leadership and administration.

Sustainability: The ability to be upheld, confirmed and continuously improve upon existing practices and procedures.

Mission: A written statement identifying the core purpose and focus of an organization which states who will be served and the intended direction of the organization.

Vision: The exceptional ability to know and communicate what should be done in the future in order to achieve the desired outcome.

HBCUs: Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

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