NO TURNING BACK

As the Bethune-Cookman University’s depleted Board of Trustees dumps its latest chairwoman, her successor mentions delaying a presidential search that is in its final stage. Concerned alumni aren’t feeling that.

New president
FLORIDA COURIER FILES
Bethune-Cookman University’s presidential search has identified three candidates who are scheduled to visit the campus next week.

BY THE FLORIDA COURIER STAFF

DAYTONA BEACH ‒ In a Jan. 18 meeting, Bethune-Cookman University’s Board of Trustees (BOT) removed controversial chair Michelle Carter-Scott and replaced her with retired Circuit Court Judge Belvin Perry.

Later that day, Perry ‒ who jumped three positions on the board from third vice-present because of approximately 20 board vacancies ‒ set off alarm bells among some B-CU stakeholders when he mentioned the possibility of delaying the university’s national search for a new president.

Perry had previously called for terminating the search, thus leaving Interim President Hubert Grimes ‒ also a retired Circuit Court judge ‒ in charge of the embattled university for the foreseeable future.

One alumni group, Concerned Constituents Committee for Bethune-Cookman University (CCC/BCU), is vigorously opposed to any further delay. On Wednesday, the organization’s co-chairs, Sumner Hutcheson III and Dr. Sheila Flemming-Hunter, sent out a widely distributed press release.

New president ‘necessary’

“CCC/B-CU stands with the faculty of B-CU who have made it clear that a new president at this hour is necessary for the university to reform in hopes of maintaining its accreditation and achieving financial stability,” the release states.

According to the release, CCC /B-CU formed in October of 2017 “in the absence of transparency and collaborative dialogue among stakeholders, including alumni, to address issues at B-CU and to initiate solution driven dialogues. We’ve attempted to work respectfully with trustees, administrators of B-CU and the National Alumni Association, often behind the scenes with recommendations, letters, meeting requests, etc.,” according to the release.

“Bethune-Cookman University hired a premier executive firm in higher education, AGB Search, to assist with its current presidential search. Amid public statements of B-CU leaders interested in canceling or postponing the search, it should be noted that canceling this presidential search is not in the best interest of B-CU.”

Other ongoing searches

According to its website, AGB Search “has conducted more than 750 successful client engagements ranging from small private colleges to large public institutions.” The company bills itself as “the only firm that offers executive search, interim search, and compensation evaluation services exclusively for higher education institutions.”

The firm says it has active searches for vacant presidencies at Florida State College at Jacksonville, Thomas More University, Claflin University, Missouri Western State University, Montana Technological University, the University of Pittsburg in Bradford and Titusville, Richard J. Daley College, Concordia University, Tougaloo College, and Barry University, in addition to the BCU search.

AGB Search’s January update as posted on the B-CU website indicates the presidential search is in its closing phase.

Campus visit coming

“The Bethune-Cookman Search Committee held two days of confidential interviews off campus to screen the large pool of applicants for its next President,” it states.

“The committee selected three persons to be advanced in the search along with an alternate, all of whom were deemed qualified for the position. After consultation with candidates, three persons have been invited to the campus for open interviews, with campus constituencies, during the last week of January…The Search Committee hopes to have a recommendation for the Board of Trustees in early February.”

Ethics and transparency

In its AGB Search’s presidential search profile, the company states that B-CU’s next president must be “an ethical, visionary, and strategic leader” who will be faced with a number of challenges.

“Bethune-Cookman University needs an institutional leader with impeccable and respected academic credentials prepared to gain the respect and support of the trustees, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and others in an environment of openness and transparency,” according to the profile.

“The next president of Bethune-Cookman University will need to be a strong problem solver who will work to restore faith and trust in institutional efficacy. The current Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC, B-CU’s academic accreditation agency) probation, The University Senate warning, and the Florida State Board of Nursing probation statuses represents a substantial challenge for a new president,” the document states.

SACSCOC sanctioned the university for being out of compliance with governance, integrity, and financial standards.

‘Trust the best’

“We hired the best, we need to trust the best,” says B-CU alum, college professor and former dean Dr. Davina Jones. “While BCU does the final selection, it is fair to conclude that given AGB Search’s reputation in the industry, the three finalists are properly qualified.”

Canceling the search would be “disingenuous in the face of AGB and the academic community and would taint B-CU’s future attempts to invite qualified presidential candidates to apply,” exclaimed CCC /B-CU co-chair Flemming-Hunter. She is a BCU alum and former senior vicepresident of Lemoyne-Owen College.

According to the CCC /B-CU release, “the timeline of B-CU’s search is not out of the ordinary. Its greatest challenge may not be the timeline, but its lack of transparency among stakeholders who do not yet know the list of candidates and their background – a decision of the university, not the search firm which has a reputation to work with institutions to release such information at the appropriate time.

“To cancel the search at this juncture sends a message to SACS and all qualified candidates that current leaders of B-CU are not ready for the serious change needed for the university’s survival and progress.”

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