HBCU DIGEST: Alabama A&M Presidential Search Making for a Hot Time in Huntsville

A stunning report in today’s Alabama Political Reporter outlines a growing discontent with Alabama A&M University’s presidential search and a slate of troubling allegations against one of the finalists for the job.

AAMU Provost Daniel Wims, who joined fellow finalists Philander Smith College President Roderick Smothers and Huston-Tillotson University President Colette Pierce Burnette in final interviews with the university’s board of trustees this afternoon, was named as the target of several allegations of inappropriate conduct by current and former school employees. From the Reporter:

Over the past two weeks, APR has spoken to nearly two dozen current and former A&M employees, including three women and one man who accused Wims of inappropriate conduct and two former employees who corroborated the allegations. Several other employees spoke generally about the environment on campus, as it related to Wims and the allegations against him. 

This report follows a letter from outgoing president Andrew Hugine, who warned campus community members against tainting the search in an effort to spur personal agendas.

The same tactics that were deployed at the beginning of my presidency are now being deployed again. The desire is to once again use the university for personal gain. The attacks are being waged by former and current disgruntled employees, employees who were terminated for just cause, individuals who have been promised positions at the university, and individuals who would desire to use the AAMU-RISE, the research contracting arm of the university in the same manner as the now defunct Research Institute. Therefore, the selection of the next president is paramount to the future of the university. I will not endorse or recommend any person, but it is imperative that this decision at this critical time be based on what is best for the university, not any individual or groups of individuals, but for the common good of all.

About - Alabama A&M University

Alabama A&M experienced great growth and resilience under Hugine, and that’s a legacy that shouldn’t disappear under a new president. But it also shouldn’t be a high watermark for a new president staying at the status quo, regardless of how high caliber that status may be.

Listening closely to the interview questions of the trustees, they very much had an interest in the candidates’ views of how they would personally approach fundraising, legislative lobbying, and innovation development on the campus in the near and distant future. Reading the president’s letter and the information revealed by alumni in the APR article, there is great dissonance over the nature of the search itself, and the board’s fitness to fairly see it to completion.

Who will win and what’s truly at stake in the tussle aren’t quite clear, but what remains true is that the next president will have a highly productive campus to run and a constituent group that will need significant relationship management once they lose.

The question is which burns hotter — a heated alumni base or a trustee board with the power to fire?


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Read & React

“We are struck by the contrast between the vision laid out by the president and the actual application that we see in Congress. It buoys us to work like heck to make sure that the students and institutions we serve remain at the table and are an active part of this build back better agenda.”

United Negro College Fund Senior Vice President Lodriguez Murray on Congressional reconciliation for higher education and support for HBCUs.

React – Murray and UNCF are spot-on in identifying potential gaps that may exist in umbrella funding for HBCUs and Minority Serving Institutions, and the disadvantages caused to HBCUs by lumping the two institutional types together for grant competition. Considering the bipartisan political appetite for HBCU support, this should be a relatively easy fix — but it will be up to entities like UNCF, TMCF, and the White House Initiative on HBCUs to lobby effectively on the minutiae of grant-making eligibility and formulas to scale a final bill that can earn the support of the majority.