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Tuskegee University Fires President Allegedly For Interviewing at NCCU


Tuskegee University — the private Alabama institution founded by Booker T. Washington — has fired its current president.

The Board of Trustees has decided not to renew Dr. Brian L. Johnson’s annual contract, effective July 1, 2017. It’s unclear exactly why the trustees decided to let Johnson go, but a source familiar with the situation said that several trustees were angry to learn that Johnson has interviewed for the top post at North Carolina Central University (NCCU), which is located in his hometown of Durham, NC.

He is reportedly a finalist for the job.

NCCU has been without a permanent leader since its former chancellor, Dr. Debra Saunders-White, died last November from cancer.

A W.E.B. Du Bois scholar and expert in 17th to 19th century American literature, Johnson took the helm as president in 2014 at the age of 40. He previously held teaching and administrative positions at Gordon College, Claflin University and Johnson C. Smith University.

Contacted over the weekend, Johnson declined to be interviewed for this story.

Raised by a single mother in Durham, Johnson earned an undergraduate degree from Johnson C. Smith, a master’s degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a Ph.D. in American literature from the University of South Carolina in 2003.

Observers had high hopes for Johnson, who was praised for his visibility on campus, his engagement on social media and helping the university secure philanthropic partnerships with outside foundations.  In an effort to encourage alumni to give to the university, he personally pledged $100,000 over a five year period and was intent on increasing the school’s enrollment from about 3,100 students to 10,000.

But there were some who wondered if the selection of Johnson, with his humanities background, was a good fit, particularly for an institution that is so focused on STEM.

Despite its name recognition, Tuskegee has struggled with its finances. Among HBCUs, the university’s loan debt is considered high, according to the Capital Financing Program of the U.S. Department of Education.  Tuskegee is ranked number three, having borrowed $132 million between 2002 and 2010.

A source said the trustees have not done enough to address the institution’s long-term debts.

Johnson’s departure means that Tuskegee will join several other HBCUs, including Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga., that will be looking for permanent leaders.

Dr. Marybeth Gasman, the director of the Center for Minority Serving Institutions and the Judy and Howard Berkowitz Endowed Professor of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, said she is worried about the vacancies.

“I’m concerned about presidents of HBCUs being given the chance to lead,” said Gasman.

“However, I’m most concerned about few people wanting to be presidents of HBCUs given the current atmosphere for leadership.”

Source: By Jamal Eric Watson


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Phyllis Coley
Phyllis D. Coley is CEO/Publisher of Spectacular Magazine and Host of Spectacular Magazine Radio Show. With a B.A. in English from NCCU, the Durham native began her professional career as Promotions/Marketing Director for New York City’s WKTU-FM. While at the radio station, Coley discovered the rap group Kid ‘n Play and managed them for five years, guiding their music and movie careers to success. Moving back to Durham, Coley produced a nationally syndicated television show, The Electric Factory, while working as News Director for FOXY 107/104. In April 2002, recognizing a void in highlighting the achievements of African Americans, she started her own business publishing ACE Magazine. Coley launched Spectacular Magazine in November 2004. Recognizing the lack of pertinent and truthful information, Coley began Spectacular Magazine Radio Show in March 2009. Coley is the organizer of Durham's Annual MLK/Black History Month Parade and the Annual North Carolina Juneteenth Celebration. She currently serves on Central Children’s Home Board of Directors, Raleigh Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Advisors, as Immediate Past Secretary of the Durham Rotary Club Board of Directors and is one of the founding members of the Triangle United Way’s African American Leadership Initiative.

4 thoughts on “Tuskegee University Fires President Allegedly For Interviewing at NCCU

  1. This is a prime example of fax news. Johnson has been under fire alumni since his 90 th day on the job. The Tuskegee University Board of Trustees simply exercised good judgment and severed their ties to the toxic culture Johnson brought to the university.

  2. The Tuskegee University Board of Trustees could not have possibly considered “not renewing” his contract because:
    1) He has yet to raise $1 in the endowment or major donations
    2) He has yet to increase student enrollment any significant manner, he arrived with 3,100 students; student enrollment dropped to almost 2,800 and is not back to 3,100 yet
    3) Students protested the manner in which he left them vulnerable and unprotected while building a gate around his home
    4) A grieving mother exposed his lack of uncouthness by sharing the text/email communications sent to her regarding the death of her son
    5) He has not provided adequate access to 24hr healthcare on campus for the students; resulting in student deaths
    6) He has shown the lowest level of professionalism by tweeting demeaning, aggressive and low-level (also known as “hood” tweets) about his “trigga fingers” on Twitter and posting (plagiarism) the lewd lyrics of the rapper Drake on his public page for the world to see
    7) He announced at a university town hall the university under his 2-year tenure was operating at a deficit with zero cash reserves (while giving his hirees to the university 40-$50,000 increases
    8) He was asked to leave a student block party, was intentionally photographed with a glow-stick on his head and decided to step-down the university avenue during high-noon as any 18 year-old neophyte would sans a PhD and holding the highest administrative-level position on the university’s campus
    9) He has encouraged the premature and unnecessary departure of numerous multi-million dollar researchers/professors and deans; due to his unprofessionalism and inappropriate administrative behavior
    10) He has poor public persona and behavior have damaged the confidence stakeholders have in the competency of leadership and the university; resulting in a significant decline in stakeholders investing and contributing to the university. The past year due to Johnson’s erratic, outrageous and unprofessional behavior particularly on social media (which alumni to support professional and appropriate outreach of university respresentatives on all social media platforms) alumni and stakeholder giving was at it lowest! Reflective of the lack of investor confidence!

    Every sector of the university from students, staff, faculty, alumni and stakeholders were not satisfied with the poor performance of Johnson nor his constant inappropriate behavior and antics publicly.

    If one was in a committed monogamous relationship and found out there significant other/spouse had decided to begin dating or seeing someone else without making them aware that they planned to leave or divorce; that individual would be justified in asking for a divorce! It appears Mr. Johnson was aggressively interested in joining another institution. However this simplistic faux pas does not appear to be sole lynchpin in Mr. Johnson’s demise!

    I’m absolutely no defender of the board, but maybe his alleged poor performance rating last year and inability to increase that poor rating this year contributed to his annual contract not be renewed! The university is not obligated to continue paying for poor performance!

  3. So Tuskegee was willing to fire him because he interviewed at one university that doesn’t want him nor are they interested in taking on his baggage with these slanted press releases from his journalistic buddies. We are not fools! NC deserves better! Thanks for showing us who you really are before we shot ourselves in the foot with the selection! Which would have never happened! Tuskegee was not bothered by the other universities that he applied to and didn’t get an interview, though? Now that seems shallow! Which again makes no sense. This article appears to be written by one Tuskegee’s president’s allies. NC is not stupid! We will not make the same mistake as Tuskegee and have our university’s legacy attacked and our credibility questioned in the same manner this author attempted to do on behalf of Brian Johnson. So unprofessional and demonstrates his immaturity and last ditch efforts to preserve his reputation publicly. Tuskegee’s board should possibly entertain or pursue avenues of recourse.
    No thanks BJ!
    NC is just fine without you!

  4. Anyone ever considered it may have been the justified
    VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE in Johnson taken in February 2016 by one of the largest alumni groups at Tuskegee. Over 95% of the alumni voted
    NO CONFIDENCE in Johnson over a year ago.

    Loss of confidence in Johnson’s leadership over a year ago must have impacted their decisio. I can’t conceive some interview in which he was not a viable candidate was the result of his non-renewed annual contract.

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