When Did HBCUs Become a Leadership Pipeline for State Systems?

Alcorn State University President Alfred Rankins is headed back to another familiar place, returning to the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning as its first black commissioner of higher education. Dr. Rankins, who previously served deputy commissioner, was vaulted to two HBCU presidencies from that post; an interim appointment at Mississippi Valley State University, and a permanent appointment at Alcorn State.

Rankins is the latest in a recent succession of state university systems promoting black executives to lead HBCUs from within the system ranks.

Albany State University Interim President Marion Fedrick, who previously served as the University System of Georgia’s Vice-Chancellor of Human Resources. She replaced Art Dunning, who prior to leading ASU had turns in the system office leading its divisions of services and human resources as an assistant or senior vice chancellor.

Savannah State University President Chery Dozier Davenport, who served as an associate provost and chief diversity officer at the University of Georgia prior to her HBCU appointment.

Fort Valley State University President Paul Jones, who served as senior vice president at Georgia College and State University.

Elizabeth City State University outgoing Chancellor Thomas Conway, who had an eight-year term of service as vice-chancellor at Fayetteville State University, but who spent 32 years at North Carolina State University.

North Carolina A&T State University Chancellor Harold Martin served as UNC System senior vice president prior to his chancellor appointment, but also served as chancellor of Winston-Salem State University.

There is a drawback to this kind of direct feed from systems into HBCU presidencies; in some cases, leaders have been selected without the benefit of a search or input given by the campus community.

In other respects, students and alumni have growing concerns about the investment of leaders who have worked closely with system leaders who have not always held black college campuses in high regard. Elizabeth City State, Albany State, and Alcorn State have all fallen victim.

In the end, there is little pushback for system leaders who appoint or who pipeline presidents into black colleges with little examination of institutional fit or skill for the job. But until there is pushback from students and alumni, more public colleges will find this kind of culture soon arriving at their institution – for better or worse.

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