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Friday, February 27, 2009

A&T president resigns abruptly

After serving as the Chancellor of North Carolina A&T State University for a mere one year and seven months, Dr. Stanley F. Battle announced that he is resigning from his position.

According to a university press release, June 30 will be Battle’s last day as the university’s president. Battle's resignation caught faculty and students and North Carolina's largest HBCU off guard.

Officially, Battle is stepping down due to personal and family reasons. However, the resignation came amid apparent tensions over his managerial style and opposition to his efforts to raise admission standards at the university, according to interviews with faculty, staff, administrators and alumni.

But the leader of the school board of trustees said Battle left on his own accord.

“It was a shock to me and a shock to the board,” Franklin McCain said. “But when he gave his reasons as family and personal, we have to respect that.”

McCain said the board has not discussed replacing Battle.

A source close to the administration said there was “no big thing” that forced him to step down.

“There’s just a bunch of little things,” the source said. “Sometimes you just get tired of dealing with it all. His mother died at Christmas, the things at work — sometimes you ask yourself, 'Is this what I want to do?’ ”

Whatever drove him to leave, Battle’s departure will bring renewed instability to a university that has experienced considerable turnover in the chancellor’s office.

Battle’s replacement will be A&T’s fourth leader since Edward Fort retired in 1999.

“Stability is extremely important and I hope the next chancellor is able to work with the culture and the politics in Greensboro and Chapel Hill,” said Ralph Shelton, a former chairman of the A&T board. “I think the students deserve better.”

Battle has served as chancellor since July 2007, earning $273,156 a year.

In his short tenure, Battle pushed to raise A&T’s admissions standards by seeking students with higher grade point averages and higher SAT scores.

The SAT scores of incoming freshman have risen in each of the past two years, narrowing the gap between A&T and UNC’s systemwide average. The gap — and the high number of A&T students on academic probation when Battle arrived — had been a source of criticism in the past.

However, according to some interviewed Wednesday, the improvements put Battle at odds with those who believe A&T, as an historically black university, should accept and work to improve all students who want a college education.

Campus officials said the conflict started soon after Battle arrived. The board apparently gave Battle a list of mandates; accomplishing them, he told staff, would require raising standards.

Others on campus questioned Battle’s managerial style. Some described him as passionate and hands-on; others as a hard driving micro-manager who favored results over tradition.

None of the 20 faculty, staff, administrators, alumni, trustees and community leaders interviewed agreed to speak about these issues for attribution. Many sources on campus said they had been told by university officials not to speak with the media.

Like many others contacted Wednesday, UNC system President Erskine Bowles declined comment. His staff referred questions to the system’s public affairs office.

UNC would have nothing more detailed to say about Battle’s departure than the brief statement of praise and best wishes that Bowles had released earlier in a press release, said Joni Worthington, the 16-school system’s vice president for communications.

Battle had told Bowles in advance about his decision to step down, she said.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

S.C. State strives to diversify student body

South Carolina State University president George Cooper says he plans to market the historically black school to students of all races as a way to increase enrollment in tight budget times.

Cooper told The Associated Press he expects diversity to increase as soon as next year. Currently, about 97 percent of the students at SC State are black.

He says the school has an opportunity to recruit and educate students of other races, particularly as the state's Hispanic population grows.

More than 4,500 students currently attend South Carolina State. Cooper expects enrollment to top 6,000 within three years.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

First Lady visits Howard to discuss Women's issues

First Lady Michelle Obama visited the Howard University School of Business Wednesday to kick off a panel discussion on the challenges for women of balancing a professional career and family.

Mrs. Obama told a crowd of 250 students, faculty, staff and administrators that even she still struggles with the challenge of balancing work and family.

"There isn't a day that goes by, particularly after having kids, that I don't wonder or worry about whether I'm doing the right thing,” she said, “for myself, for my family, for my girls."

Obama said that as women move through the various phases of their lives, their priorities and their decision-making process will change.

"There is no right way or wrong way to do any of this,” she said. "The question I hate most that we ask of young people is 'What are you going to be when you grow up?' And the truth is, I still don't know, and I'm 45!"

After the hour-long discussion and question-and-answer period, Mrs. Obama shook hands and spoke with students and faculty before heading outside where she was greeted by hundreds of students waiting for just a glimpse of the First Lady.

Monday, February 09, 2009

CAU cancels classes amid layoffs

On the heels of a mid-semester "restructuring" that left 70 faculty members and 30 other staff unemployed, officials at Clark Atlanta University Monday abruptly cancelled classes. University officials classes were cancelled as it prepares to revise class schedules. The school said that all physical education classes had been canceled for the semester.

A letter to students from the university’s academic affairs office said that class schedule changes in the School of Arts and Sciences “will be made available to you shortly,” but that class schedules in the schools of Education, Business and Social Work would remain unchanged.

Clark Atlanta isn’t the only higher educational institution feeling the sting of a floundering economy.

On Friday, Clark Atlanta president Carlton E. Brown announced that an “enrollment emergency” exacerbated by current economic conditions required 100 faculty and staff members to be laid off.

Monday’s unscheduled holiday didn’t give any joy to some students.

“I’m very concerned,” said Carlos Leavitt, 24. “I’m worried Clark Atlanta is going to implode.”

A graduate student who is finishing his master’s thesis in American history, Leavitt was one of more than a half-dozen students and university employees interviewed on campus Sunday.

Ernest Moore, the university’s director of student housing and judicial affairs, called the staff reductions “a necessary action to address some old issues.

“It’s something that schools across the country are dealing with,” Moore said. “It’s regrettable, but necessary.”

This decade has been a difficult one for Clark Atlanta. A series of financial difficulties led to complaints and periodic protests. The university eliminated its engineering program over faculty and student objections. Enrollment has fallen from more than 5,000 at the start of the decade to less than 4,000 now, and about 200 students didn’t show up for this semester, citing financial difficulties.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Senator moves to rename ASU arena

Trustees at Alabama State University say were caught off guard by an attempt to restore a former Board chair's name to the ASU arena.

Just last May, trustees had voted to remove Joe L. Reed's name from every inch of the building after the Board claimed Reed was giving the university too much negative publicity and was wasting taxpayer's money filing frivolous lawsuits.

Now a state senator has filed a bill to restore Reed's name to the arena. Alabama State University says the bill, "sets a bad precedent and opens the doors for members of the Alabama Legislature to randomly rename buildings at other state colleges and universities, without the person authoring the legislation having any affiliation or association with the school whose building is being renamed."

The Board also contends the bill totally usurps the University's authority.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Court backs AL Gov. in lawsuit over AAMU trustees

The State Supreme Court today dismissed a lawsuit seeking to block four Alabama A&M University trustees appointed by Gov. Bob Riley from sitting on the board.

Riley appointed the four, including Huntsville developer David Slyman, last year, but they were rejected by the state Senate. Riley re-appointed them after the Legislature went out of session. Several taxpayers sued to block those appointments.

Today's high court ruling dismissed that suit on the grounds the taxpayers had no grounds to sue.

"Our position from the beginning has been that the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring this case and, therefore, the court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction over this case," Riley said today. Today's decision is a confirmation of our position. I'm hopeful now that the board will come together as a functioning board of trustees and conduct its business for the university in a manner in which they are bound to by their fiduciary duty."

"We have lost a battle, but not the war," said plaintiffs' attorney Troy Massey of Montgomery. "These four trustees must still be confirmed by the Alabama Senate during the current session. I am disappointed, but not really surprised."

The suit contested Riley's appointment of trustees David Slyman Jr., Leroy Richie, Edward May, and the Rev. Clyde McNeil.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

No-shows foil AAMU's attempt to name new leader

The lack of a quorum stymied Alabama A&M University trustees attempt to name a new president Saturday. Five trustees didn't show up to Saturday's board meeting leaving those who did attend the meeting "furious". The AAMU board will try again on Monday.

At least two of the AWOL trustees were unrepentant saying they would not support a meeting to choose a president for A&M held 100 miles from the campus and shrouded in secrecy.

"I am outraged that these board members are not here," said Carol Ann Watkins of Birmingham, vice president of A&M's national alumni association. "If they don't think enough of the university to show up, they need to get off the board."

"I'm as disappointed as I've been in anything since I've been on the board," said trustee Dr. Raymond Burse. "Not fulfilling the highest and most important fiduciary duty of a board member speaks volumes. The more we delay, who gets hurt? A&M."

The five trustees who didn't show are Velma Tribue of Dothan, James Montgomery of Anniston, Madison County District Judge Lynn Sherrod, Robert Avery of Gadsden and Emma Melton of Tuscaloosa.

Melton was having none of the criticism.

"I was concerned about meeting off-campus," she said later. "I was concerned about all of the secrecy surrounding the meeting and the process. All of the board members should have had all the relevant material well in advance, and we did not. And the search agency, which is an excellent agency, was never approved by the full board."

"I have a problem with doing it off-campus," agreed trustee Robert Avery of Gadsden. "If they'll meet on campus, I don't have a problem."

The process that picked the finalists - Dr. Lawrence Davenport of Florida, Dr. Andrew Hugine Jr. of South Carolina and Dr. Rodney Smith of Virginia - began with the trustees naming a search committee last April.

That committee met repeatedly with the private search firm and interviewed candidates, but the meetings were not announced and no records were kept, according to A&M attorney Rod Steakley.

Houston accountant Odysseus Lanier, a former trustee and vice chairman of the search committee, angrily defended the panel.

Every constituency on campus was represented, he said, and the committee was not dominated by board President Pro Tem Dr. Shefton Riggins or anyone else.

"No matter what you hear, no matter what you read, we had no puppet master in this process. ..." Lanier said. "We announced to the full board, regardless of what some members may say, what was taking place with the selection process.

"I have taken great pains to hold this process in the center of the freeway with full disclosure, and that's what we have done."

Lanier went on to warn the board about issues raised while narrowing the field from 21 candidates to a final three.

"The market ... is speaking to you right now," Lanier said. "This is a pivotal decision to be made. We got a group of good candidates, but it took a long time to get 'em because of the perceived turmoil at Alabama A&M University, and you need to understand that."

The board listened to brief statements from each finalist Saturday and left citing bylaws that allow it to adjourn one day at a time until a quorum is reached. Riggins said the board won't meet today, but will attempt to meet Monday at a time and location to be announced.