Did Lincoln Choose Foundation Politics Over Leadership Stability?


Less than a year into Jerald Woolfolk’s tenure as Lincoln University president, the school found itself in an internal battle over the work of its foundation. The school dissolved its relationship with its fundraising affiliate, saying that it sought to more efficiently raise and collect funds for institutional and student support while having more stewardship over how money was actually spent.

Two years of acrimony and two lawsuits later, Woolfolk is leaving as president and the foundation is reconnecting with the institution.

It is ironic that the school is ushering in an actual or perceived era of leadership instability for a foundation that leaders thought was engaged in less-than-supportive alignment with the university just a few years ago. Budget cuts, which all but drove away Woolfolk’s predecessor, are still ravaging the institution and in spite of this, innovations in fundraising and program development have helped Lincoln to raise millions and to establish the nation’s first HBCU-based police training academy in just a few years under the exiting campus CEO.

It’s not exactly a blockbuster trade to swap a president of three years for a foundation that was either underperforming or not providing full institutional support with the funds it was raising. From the university’s 2019 statement on the dissolution of the partnership:

Going forward, all donations will be made directly to Lincoln University through its Office of Institutional Advancement and Alumni Relations. Donors can be assured that their gifts will go directly to Lincoln University’s priorities and according to the donors’ personal wishes. In addition, Lincoln University donors can have complete confidence that their gifts will be used effectively and efficiently to support the University and its students.

The public deserves to know what makes the foundation so special, so necessary that an entire executive team will change over, legislative relationships will be rebooted, corporate partnerships risk fracturing, and the university’s public relations strained for its support? Is the MacKenzie Scott magic headed for Jefferson City? Did Missouri insiders send word to trustees that a Woolfolk departure would pay off in more corporate money or expanded appropriations?

While HBCU boards have more effectively kept their foolishness out of the light of public scrutiny in recent years, some of it has begun to resurface as the country toils towards the end of the coronavirus pandemic and an unknown era of enrollment instability and financial rightsizing.

Executive spats like these, particularly over relationships and money, are sure to be a driver for several HBCU presidents to walk away from the headaches and for good presidential candidates to steer clear of the searches for their replacements.

HBCU boards remain undefeated, and campus communities lose again.