Portia Shields Takes Over Struggling TSU

Portia Holmes Shields is officially running the show at Tennessee State University. The first female president of the 98-year-old university was named interim president in mid-December and officially began her duties January 2.

Shields, the former president of Albany State University in Georgia, inherits a school facing accreditation troubles, declining enrollment and pressure from the state to improve its graduation and retention rates.

According to the Tennessee Board of Regents, Shields has 18 months to turn TSU’s fortunes around. The board has no plans to search for a permanent president when Shields’ contract expires, and, as the interim president, Shields is ineligible to seek the permanent position.

Just before the new year, TSU was placed on warning by its accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. If Shields cannot find some quick fixes for the university’s woes, the school could lose its accreditation altogether.

Adding to her troubles, several members of TSU’s faculty have expressed anger and mistrust at the school’s administrators. According to a report on Nashville-area television station WMSV, Shields was mobbed by angry faculty after a January 6 meeting with the entire faculty. The faculty demanded that Shields “clean house” to fix administrative corruption.

“I need to get a handle on what they’re concerned about because they seem to be very emotionally bound to their point of view,” Shields is quoted as saying.