Wilberforce President Fact Checks UPENN Professor on HBCU Leadership Training Pipelines

In a recent interview with the Daily Pennsylvanian, University of Pennsylvania Professor Marybeth Gasman commented on her Center for Minority Serving Institution’s Aspiring Leaders program, which she claimed to be the first of its kind nationally in training presidents and chancellors to head institutions serving under-served communities.

“There are 650 minority-serving institutions across the country,” Gasman said. “We really don’t have leadership training programs for future presidents that are specifically focused on these minority-serving institutions.”

But in a recent blog post for the Higher Education Leadership Foundation, organization co-founder and Wilberforce University President Herman Felton countered Gasman’s claim, suggesting that HBCUs and their presidents have established a long and productive history of training minority-serving presidents, well before the establishment of Gasman’s research center in 2014.

Reclaiming Our Time and Our Space: The Politics of Invisibility

As I continue to process my feelings about the unspeakable events in Charlottesville and the current climate in our country which birthed them, I was recently forwarded a link to an article which served as my tipping point.

While I applaud anyone who genuinely supports the goal of strengthening MSIs (particularly HBCUs), this assertion is not only false, it is offensive and problematic.

Most troubling is the assertion that this program is the first of its kind. This egregious statement clearly ignores the blatantly obvious: The longest sitting HBCU president, Hampton University’s Dr. William R. Harvey, has himself produced 17 presidents and hosted the Executive Leadership Summit to introduce and nurture the next group of HBCU presidents. But this article’s assertions render his contributions to the space invisible. Also invisible is the work of Drs. Charlie Lyons, Dorothy Cowser-Yancy, Edison O. Jackson and Johnnetta B. Cole, who have mentored, guided and sponsored past and current presidents.

As a new president who has benefited from HBCU leadership development and mentorship, I can attest that HBCUs are already earnestly committed to cultivating the next leaders. But again, our contributions are invisible. My inherent and genuine love and respect for the HBCU space left me feeling unsettled over this realization that those of us who are toiling in the fields each day are invisible to the broader populace.

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ Millennium Leadership Institute is another annual training program designed to train future presidents of minority-serving institutions, and was established by former North Carolina Central University Chancellor Emeritus Charlie Nelms and is currently directed by Kentucky State University President Emerita Mary Sias.

Both the Harvey Executive Training Institute and the MLI have annually convened for 16 and 19 years, respectively.

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