I’ve Been Like This For A While (My TSU editorial is nothing new)

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Before I go back on my social media fast I thought I should offer some context to an editorial I wrote this week. In the wake of the separation of Dr. Austin Lane as president of Texas Southern University, I decided to write an op-ed that Diverse Issues in Higher Education published. I was doing what I always do, and this one got a lot of buzz. I have no idea how many times it was retweeted, liked or shared, but I got lots of texts and e-mails about it.

Soon after, a reporter from Inside Higher Ed called to ask me about it. Part of her curiosity if you will was that I, as sitting president, would call out another institution’s board. She obviously asked others how commonplace this was.

The reporter thought it was unusual. But I’ve been rolling like this for a LONG time. Let me share some examples, and as I share some examples I am going to add quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that speak to why I have to speak up. I know it isn’t the King Holiday or Black History Month, which means this is a great time to discuss King.

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I was VP for Student Affairs at Albany State University from 2000–2004. The Albany Herald was always taking shots at ASU. I couldn’t stand it. So I wrote several editorials, and surprisingly, they published them. This one was from 2003 when I saw stories that used data to diminish the success we had with retention of students.

“The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.” MLK

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I became president of Philander Smith College in 2004. Yes, we had some of the same battles with the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, and I had to go hard once at the editor for his blasphemous editorial in 2010 about Dr. King where he uses the “I Have A Dream” speech to attack affirmative action. I ended my rebuttal with “Act like a Pulitzer winner, not a pimp.”

But I was watching events nationwide. When Dr. Andrew Hugine was removed as president of South Carolina State University in 2007, I penned the piece above, “New vocabulary word: kakistocracy.”

In the 13 years since, the university is on its 4th president.

“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But… the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’” MLK

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That same year a professor at UNC Chapel Hill wrote a scathing editorial about T J Bryan, outgoing chancellor of Fayetteville State University, and really all HBCU presidents. My letter to the Fayetteville Observer began with “There is an adage that says those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach. Every now and then someone shows why people said it.”

I ended it with “ On second thought, maybe he shouldn’t teach either.”

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” MLK

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I became president of Dillard in 2012. That December Alabama State University fired its president of two months who was uncovering some shady behavior.

I challenged that board as well. The funny thing was that next month their board chair wrote a letter to my board wondering why I would attack another HBCU. Nope, I was supporting the school but attacking the mismanagement of the board. He sent copies of their magazine which I distributed, but while he thought he was telling on me I had already shared my editorial with my board.

But on their next hire the board continued their shady ways. They are lucky they did this prior to the heightened awareness of equality for women in the workplace because this may have been the most sexist contract in history. I hate that I didn’t strike another blow after they fired her after a few years, in an ugly, public spectacle.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” MLK

I even had to check the Archbishop here who unfairly smeared the legendary Dr. Norman C. Francis. I know folks were shocked because we’re rivals (I’m mad they beat us in the playoffs too), and I had a number of Xaverites call me to thank me for the piece. But I’m not going to let someone come for one of our legends and one of my heroes; I don’t care who it is.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” MLK

So, there you have it. This is who I am. I am my mother’s son. My dad is a United Methodist minister so he is more diplomatic. My mom doesn’t play and always taught us to speak up for ourselves.

I am United Methodist and believe in the social principles and social justice. Dr. Joseph Lowery was my pastor for 6 years and that had a profound impact on me.

I am from Atlanta. I don’t know how I could grow up in the crucible of the Civil Rights Movement, attend a high school named for King’s mentor, Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, and be content with silence.

Sure, you get criticized for speaking up, maybe even attacked. But we need people to speak truth to power.

That’s me. Now back to the fast.

The Prez

Written by

7th president of Dillard University

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