Despite an outcry from university stakeholders, lawsuits from multiple directions, and a growing national eye on its affairs, Lincoln University of Pennsylvania remains, if the school’s website is to be believed, without a president.
This is after a judge required the school to reinstate former president Brenda Allen to the position, and forced the board to reconsider her contract renewal at an upcoming board meeting.
For all of the positive qualities that Allen brought to the university to earn the love of virtually every corner of the campus community, and for all of her negative qualities that led the board to break state law to force the issue of her departure, both sides have contributed to a new universal truth for the institution.
Leadership at Lincoln, at least for the next several years, is ruined.
If Allen is awarded a new contract, she will be as close to invincible as any president of any college or university in the country will be. With the backing of the campus’ students, faculty, and alumni, in tandem with support from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, the board severing ties with Allen is no longer a matter of ‘when’ or ‘how,’ but ‘at what cost?’
That cost could be board resignations, more divided votes, and more press scrutiny over each board decision, to say the least. Texas Southern University’s presidential fiasco is the most recent and related situation mirroring this one, and TSU has yet to even begin its recovery.
But if Allen is blocked from returning, the board is now in the crosshairs of the institution’s biggest stakeholder groups and subject to speculation on their motives for removing a successful president. That kind of animosity typically leads to media leaks, and lower outcomes in alumni and corporate giving.
Neither choice provides a stable foundation for leadership cultivation at the school. And when the time arrives for the next orderly presidential transition, any candidate facing the prospect of working under this current board will likely think twice about seriously considering the job.
Allen and the board can’t stay together, and they can’t rid each other without creating oversight impotence or fissures of mistrust.
But one side of the fight has to walk away, or the university will have the burden to bear for years to come.