Lincoln Faculty Members Dissatisfied with Appointment of Nelson as President
by Rich Henson
OXFORD, Pa. — Lincoln University trustees were hopeful that the announcement of their selection of a new president last month would mark a new beginning for the storied historically Black institution — and put an end to its highly publicized recent troubles.
But it was not to be.
In the days following the board’s selection of Dr. Ivory Nelson, the current president of Central Washington State, to head Lincoln, some faculty members at the southeastern Pennsylvania college publicly blasted the selection process, saying it was marred by infighting which could set the stage for future administrative instability.
Nelson was picked to replace Dr. Niara Sudarkasa, who resigned from Lincoln last year after a state audit uncovered financial mismanagement. Also last year, the school’s attorney and its chief financial officer resigned after it was alleged in an in-house audit that the pair may have been involved in potential financial conflicts of interest (see Black Issues, Oct. 1, 1998).
An unsigned letter issued by some faculty and released to the press, stated the faculty was “disturbed and concerned by the events associated with the current presidential search.”
The selection method, the letter said, “demonstrated a breakdown of collegial process and respect for the norm in higher education. The board … is badly divided and confused over who should lead Lincoln University into the 21st Century.”
“We have nothing against the man,” says Dr. Abdulalim Shabazz, chairman of the mathematics and computer science department. “The problem is the way the board search committee recommended him, and the small group of people who made the selection. We are upset with the way it was carried out.”
Shabazz says the selection process was less than encouraging because only 17 of the board’s 39 members were present for the vote. The final tally was 9-6 in favor of Nelson, with one abstention.
Adrienne Rhone, chairwoman of the trustees and head of Lincoln’s presidential search committee, says she received three letters between April and June, each signed by various faculty members, that were critical of the selection process.
Rhone says the board established a 13-member committee last October and winnowed down 60 candidates to a final three. She stressed that the process “was not rushed.”
“This process was not rushed,” she says. “It started on Oct. 3rd and took eight months. We tried as well as we could to keep the various constituencies informed … there were representatives on the search committee for all Lincoln constituencies.”
Rhone did not rule out any actions to address faculty dissatisfaction, but says there was no violation of procedures. She explained that only 12 members are needed to constitute a quorum, and there are no minimum requirements for those voting. She also disputed accusations that the selection process was underhanded.
Joseph Tucker, a Philadelphia attorney and Lincoln trustee, says the low attendance at the June 19 meeting was mostly due to the fact that the meeting was called hastily and during the summer. He acknowledges that a unanimous vote may have garnered more confidence from the faculty, but says the split vote “should not suggest” there was any animosity.
“There was no animus,” Tucker says. “But reasonable people can disagree.”
Tucker says the split was due in large part to support among some board members for James Donaldson, the interim president who took over after Sudaraksa’s departure. Donaldson is a longtime trustee and a Lincoln alumnus. Although he had vied for the top job, his name was not among the final candidates.
Tucker says that those who did not vote in favor of Nelson were not necessarily “against Dr. Nelson. I think they just favored Donaldson, who had been a very good interim president and a Lincoln grad.”
Still, despite statements of support for Nelson, some faculty members say they are concerned about his tenure at Central Washington University, in Ellensburg, Wash.
In November, 63 percent of faculty at Central Washington — which has 8,500 students compared to about 2,100 at Lincoln — supported a vote of “no confidence” in Nelson after he refused to acknowledge the teacher’s union there.
“Many saw [Nelson] as withdrawn, a numbers cruncher, autocratic, and without leadership skills,” said the letter made public by Lincoln’s faculty. Shortly after the no-confidence vote, the letter said, Nelson “announced his retirement. Can such a person effectively lead Lincoln University?”
Nelson thinks so. In response to the flap over his selection, Nelson says he and Lincoln’s faculty have the same thing at heart – providing high quality education.
“It’s a grand old institution,” Nelson says. “Let’s roll up our sleeves and continue this legacy.”
—The AP contributed to this report.
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