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General Discussion Forum / Shaw University's Leadership and Willie Gary
« on: August 19, 2011, 02:15:36 PM »

August 18, 2011

As Leadership Churns at Shaw U., Chairman Plays an Outsize Role

By Ryan Brown

Two years ago, Willie E. Gary, chairman of Shaw University's Board of Trustees, stood before the institution's faculty and staff to announce that their president, Clarence G. Newsome, had resigned his post. With the historically black university's finances sagging under more than $20-million in debt and reaccreditation looming, Mr. Gary said, Shaw needed to make aggressive changes. He added, opaquely, that Mr. Newsome and the institution "were going in different directions."

But the changes that were made were not lasting, and seem to have done little to improve the university's finances or its standing. Last week, after 11 months in the job, Mr. Newsome's permanent replacement, Irma McClaurin, quit abruptly. Mr. Gary found himself once again overseeing a changing of the guard and fielding questions similar to the ones he faced in 2009 about the relationship between the struggling university's president and its board. Echoing his assessment of her predecessor's departure, Mr. Gary told the News & Observer, a newspaper in Raleigh, N.C., that Ms. McClaurin's relationship with the Board of Trustees was "not where it needed to be."

Ms. McClaurin, who did not respond to repeated interview requests, is the third high-level campus leader to bow out in the last month, following Cornell L. Adams, a board member, and Marilyn Sutton-Haywood, vice president for academic affairs. Ms. McClaurin's chief of staff, Mack Ward, also resigned with her. They leave behind an institution still saddled with financial troubles and still recovering from up to $4-million in damages from a tornado that hit the campus in April—and reeling from protests over the firing of four long-serving professors in March.

In the midst of the turmoil is Mr. Gary. A lawyer and millionaire who has served as chair of the Board of Trustees for well over a decade, he has overseen three presidential administrations and two interim administrations and is one of Shaw's most-prominent donors. He has given the university about $5-million since 1991, he estimates. The student center and an annual football classic in which Shaw plays bear his name.

Mr. Gary has been in his position for so long that he says he cannot recall exactly when he first joined the board. A university spokeswoman could not answer the question either. The Chronicle archives refer to Mr. Gary as chairman of the Shaw board as early as 1994. He says that his long tenure has provided Shaw with steady guidance dedicated to the university's mission of educating future black leaders.

But his critics say the chairman has played an outsize role on the campus that has limited the university's ability to innovate and that has driven away presidents and many longtime faculty members.

His business dealings have also been questioned. The campus's insurance policy, for instance, is taken out with Gary Insurance Agency & Associates, a company whose chief executive, Freddie L. Gary Sr., is Mr. Gary's brother.

"In my time on the board, that was never raised as a problem," says Mr. Adams, who resigned from the board in July because, he says, he felt the board was not acting ethically in its financial dealings, including the insurance deal. "It's an incredible conflict of interest."

Mr. Gary says that he has always been open about his connection to the insurance agency and that it was chosen simply because it provided the best rate.

"Let me be clear: If you have business dealings with family, you must disclose it so it can be reviewed," he says. "I did that, and he is saving this school money."

Unusually Long Term
Experts on campus governance say that a long-serving and powerful chairman like Mr. Gary can make it difficult for a university to shift gears in a time of duress. It is "very unusual" for a board chair to last as long as he has, says Merrill P. Schwartz, director of research for the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. "If you have the same board members for an extended period of time, there isn't an opportunity to develop talent or have new ideas brought in, and that can stagnate a board," she says.

A study of college boards the governing group conducted in 2010 found that more than two-thirds of college governing boards limit the number of consecutive terms that a board member can serve and that half also limit the consecutive terms possible for a board chair. The average college governing board, a report on the study says, allows a board chair to serve no more than three two-year terms in a row.

At an institution like Shaw, which has had three presidents in as many years, Mr. Gary has been one of the few top-leadership constants, heightening the role he plays in university affairs.

The recent dismissal of four faculty members illustrates how central Mr. Gary's role seems to be.

In March, the professors, all of whom had worked at Shaw for more than a decade, received form letters from Ms. McClaurin telling them that their contracts had not been renewed. Shaw does not have a formal tenure system, and no reasons were provided for the dismissal, the professors say. They took their case to the American Association of University Professors, arguing that their firing had nothing to do with their job performance and that they had been given no opportunity to contest the decision. In July, the organization sent Ms. McClaurin and Mr. Gary a letter warning them that the firings violated accepted professional standards.

At most institutions, says Gregory F. Scholtz, an associate secretary at the AAUP, the board chair would not have been a part of that correspondence. "Typically we don't do that," he says. "But I had the sense from talking to faculty members that he was the person who was really in charge at Shaw." The institution, he adds, has been a perennial problem for the AAUP, which last fielded a complaint from a fired Shaw professor in 2009.

Rapid Turnover

James Nelson Jr., a former professor of mathematics and former president of the Faculty senate at Shaw who was among the four fired, says he believes he lost his job for his outspoken criticism of the administration over a previous decision to dismiss a faculty member. But part of his problem with the senior leadership, he says, is that faculty input has never been sought when the university has been in the process of choosing a new president.

Wilberforce O. Mundia, an associate professor of religion and philosophy and the current president of Shaw's Faculty Senate, says many faculty members feel they are being forced to work with an administration that does not take their interests to heart and does not involve them in key decisions, including when new leaders are hired.

"Because this is in an academic institution, I believe that the faculty really does need to be involved," he says. "In the past, there hasn't been that kind of shared governance."

This week Mr. Gary announced that Dorothy C. Yancy, who served as interim president between Mr. Newsome's and Ms. McClaurin's administrations, would return to that post as the board searches for a permanent president. The chairman says he is also working to persuade Ms. Sutton-Haywood, the former vice president, not to leave.

What Shaw seems to need most, if it is to emerge from its financial struggles and leadership turmoil, is a new kind of president, says Marybeth Gasman, a professor of higher education at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania and a Chronicle blogger who studies historically black colleges.

Historically black colleges, she adds, often draw from the same small pool of leaders, who then bounce from one such institution to another over the course of their careers. Ms. Yancy, for instance, had previously spent 14 years as the president of Johnson C. Smith University, a historically black college in Charlotte, N.C., before she retired in 2008.

Presidents, Ms. Gasman says, can lose the energy and the new eyes needed to effectively tackle the biggest issues at a place like Shaw.

"They need someone who is young, energetic, and innovative," she says of Shaw. "It should be someone with a completely fresh perspective."

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