By Ronald W. Weathersby
Leonard Stephens, president of the Tennessee State University National Alumni Association has informed the Tennessee Tribune that he has been told by a member of the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR), “…that the selection process will begin in the spring of 2012 and a president selected by the fall 2012.
The Tribune sent President Stephens a series of questions last week regarding the future of the University. One question dealt with the status of the University presidency. Stephens then sent a letter to the TBR asking the governing body when a search for a permanent president will begin.
“I sent an inquiry to TBR late last week to find out the status of the Presidential Selection process,” Stephens a 1968 TSU graduate wrote. “I received a response on Friday that the selection process will begin in the spring of 2012 and a president selected by the fall 2012.”
Here is the written statement from TBR Board Member Robert P. (Bobby) Thomas who represents the 5th Congressional District (Davidson County) and has served on the board since 2005 and was selected in 2009 for a six-year term expiring in 2015.
“We will have a new President chosen in the next 12 months. Searches normally last about six months, so the process will begin early this spring.
“When we decided that we needed an Interim President, we thought it would take 18 months or so to do the job. We are on schedule. Dr. Shields took office January 2, 2011 and we plan to have a permanent President named by the Fall Semester 2012.
“Please feel free to share this email.”
The TBR has come under some criticism from a TSU support group and others for the lack of information or a timeline regarding the permanent replacement for former President Dr. Melvin N. Johnson who resigned in July 2010 and left the position on January 1, 2011. Dr. Portia Holmes Shields has held the position of interim president since January 2, 2011.
Thomas’ letter is the first official word after fifteen months regarding a search for Johnson’s permanent replacement. Critics of the TBR have noted that conversely East Tennessee University President Paul Stanton announced his retirement on March 30, 2011 and the TBR announced an October 17, 2011 meeting to review applicants for the post.
TBR spokesperson Monica Greppin-Watts says TSU is not being treated differently and that the timing of Johnson’s retiring came at the same time as Chancellor John Morgan was appointed.
“Chancellor Morgan was hired as the new chancellor for the Tennessee Board of Regents in October 2010, just two months before Dr. Johnson retired,” explained Greppin-Watts. “There was simply not enough time to begin and complete a search within that time period before Dr. Johnson left.”
She pointed to TSU’s accreditation problems as a factor in naming Dr. Portia Shields as interim president.
“It was during those two months that we also learned about the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges’ decision to delay reaffirmation of TSU’s accreditation and to place the university on warning status… Chancellor Morgan decided to bring in an interim president with proven experience addressing these issues. With an institution as important as TSU, he wanted to invest the appropriate time to evaluate all possibilities and make the best choices for TSU. In that critical time period, he needed someone to provide strong leadership and quality governance to quickly address operational issues, reaccreditation and budget stability. He wanted to ensure TSU’s progress toward enhancing student success and service on the campus, and to prepare the university relative to the Complete College Tennessee Act.”
Greppin-Watts answered critics who accuse the TBR of treating TSU in a different manner than East Tennessee State.
“ETSU and TSU are two completely different schools with different missions and different issues to address,” Greppin-Watts wrote in an email to the Tribune. “Dr. Stanton announced in March his plans to retire effective January 2012. We feel confident we will have a strong candidate in place by next year. (It should be noted that a recommendation is expected later this week on who will be name as the ninth president of East Tennessee State University.) – this is according to AP.
A search firm was hired recently to assist the TBR with presidential searches, beginning with the ETSU search. The same firm will be used when the TSU search begins.
“As Chancellor Morgan stated previously, Dr. Shields was chosen to lead the campus during the critical transition period because he felt she could substantially resolve the major issues plaguing the university and better position the campus as a more stable and attractive institution – to identify the best possible pool of candidates in a nationwide search. We are allowing her time to make progress toward those goals.”
The TBR spokeswoman also reiterated that there will be a permanent president in place at TSU next year.
“We don’t have a definitive starting date for a permanent TSU president, but we have discussed finalizing the search process during that timeframe in order to allow Dr. Shields to continue making positive progress at the university and to coincide with TSU’s Centennial Celebration.”