WATCH: Why Did Two HBCU Presidents in Missouri Leave Suddenly?

It has been a few days since the second of the two HBCU presidents in Missouri suddenly resigned from his post for seemingly no reason at all. Corey Bradford, with just over a year of experience in his first presidency at Harris-Stowe State University, left the institution for an unnamed opportunity at a research university, according to a release from the university.

He followed the departure of Lincoln University President Jerald Jones Woolfolk, who last month mutually agreed to part ways with the institution after just two years.

Two leadership transitions in less than a month, at two institutions that have been significantly hurt by budget cuts in recent years, and had high hopes among alumni that these leaders would be long-term advocates for the school surviving, and potentially thriving in the midst of recovery from the global coronavirus pandemic.

But there’s a backdrop to these departures and the immediate future for both schools resulting from these changes.

No president, particularly one securing their very first presidency, would dare leave after just one year. Someone who entered a search, interviewed, and made plans to change living situations, career planning, and financial goals around a job that under normal circumstances lasts three to five years on average, doesn’t just up and leave for a lower position, prestige, and the mark of being a quitter.

Bradford’s exit suggests one of two things; either he was asked to leave by the board for disagreement over his style or priorities in guiding the institution, or he up and left the board for similar reasons. Both scenarios suggest that the board wasn’t happy, which could impact HSSU’s capacity to recruit, select and retain a high-quality presidential candidate when the word on the street is now that the last president fell out with the board.

If it’s another situation like board misconduct, legislative interference, or indeed another job opportunity, Bradford looks the better for it. If it was arrogance or a mismatch in personalities, the board looks better for it — one of the two sides owes it to the institution to give a hint about what went wrong so that the next candidate has the advantage in knowing what to do to make and keep the working relationship right.

Lincoln University is much different – it appears that Woolfolk’s resignation was tied to board activity surrounding the reboot of its relationship with a private foundation, which years ago was severed because the university and the nonprofit couldn’t agree on oversight and disbursement of funds raised on behalf of the school. Woolfolk looked to be okay and the board looked somewhat bad because of the seeming split over the money, but then the school made itself look worse by hiring LU athletic director John Moseley to serve as interim president.

Moseley, who is white, seems to be an unorthodox choice for the historically Black institution because of his race and training, but so far, no one in the LU community has had bad words to say about it.

But it’s an interesting choice in Moseley, whom the board credited for fundraising and relationship acumen as part of his selection for the temporary CEO role.

Moseley came to Lincoln as head men’s basketball coach, was named athletic director a year after his arrival, and five years later is named interim president. Interestingly enough, his entire career and educational training has been in athletics dating back to his days in East Carolina, until four years ago he started his doctoral work at the University of Missouri in educational leadership, earning the Ph.D. a year ago.

A coincidence that a minority candidate with no executive experience beyond the athletic side of an institution, who just earned a terminal degree one year ago gets vaulted in the leading position of one of the nation’s most diverse HBCUs in a racially divided state? Could be. Chances are, it isn’t.

Both institutions face the real potential of having their budgets cut by state lawmakers in the next few months, and increased chances of diminished student enrollment as a result of the pandemic and its impact on families’ economic capacity. Both institutions are largely off the radar of HBCU advocates nationwide, because they are outside of the mid-Atlantic/southern orbit of institutional culture.

But these two HBCUs deserve a lot more attention for how these presidencies have turned over, the impact of these boards on both departures, and how their communities should have faith in leadership going forward.