Veteran higher education leader, Dr. Wesley McClure, president of Lane College for two decades and a past national chair of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), died earlier this month after a short illness. He was 71.
McClure, a native of native of Jackson, Tenn., where Lane is located, earned his bachelor’s degree in math at Lane, his higher degrees at the University of Virginia, then took off like a rocket. In the course of his pursuits, he established himself as a talented administrator with tours of duty at several institutions before returning to his hometown and Lane.
He served administrative stints at Virginia State College, Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., St. Augustine’s College in North Carolina and Clark College in Atlanta.
McClure also served a term as chairman of NAFEO, the principal professional association of presidents of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
“He was someone who didn’t grab the limelight but who had a prescription for success that was a model for Lane,” says attorney Lezli Baskerville, president and chief executive officer of NAFEO, referring to McClure and Lane.
Baskerville, who said she considered McClure a mentor and friend, says he would provide “constructive criticism when I did something wrong or there was scuttlebutt about me. He would call and give me a confirming speech,” Baskerville says, the kind of talk that would reassure her of her value as a human being.
Others echo Baskerville’s sentiments of McClure’s loss leaving a big gap.
“The (Lane) search committee will have a real tough job trying to replace him,” says Dr. Melvin Wright, a Tennessee dentist who served on the Lane College board of trustees for some 20 years before his retirement several years ago.
Wright, who served on the Lane board that hired McClure, says the educator had a rare combination of roots in Jackson and a passion for making sure Lane, a private, liberal arts institution sponsored by the CME Church, was always an institution of which Jackson could be proud.
“He made Lane the shining star of East Jackson,” says Wright, a graduate of Tennessee State University and Meharry Medical College.
McClure, who encountered his share of dissent and criticism from disgruntled alumni during the latter years of his service, established himself as an advocate for college students who would be shunned by most institutions. He was noted for giving students a second chance, focusing on young male Blacks from low-income cities around the country.
At times, McClure was challenged over his strict codes of conduct and dress attire rules. By the same token, he managed to keep the institution funded as some peer schools folded their tents due to accreditation and other peers found themselves in trouble with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), the regional higher education accrediting agency.
“There’s a sense of loss for one of our sister institutions and a sense of loss of one of our fellow presidents,” says Fisk University President Dr. H. James Williams, who says he did not know McClure personally but did have the chance to meet the late Lane president.
McClure’s sudden passing came as more than half a dozen HBCUs were already in search of a new president. Neither the CME Church nor Lane officials have publicly discussed a succession plan for filling the position. Dr. Deborah Buchanan, vice president for academic affairs, has been assigned day-to-day operations of the college pending appointment of an interim president.