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Grambling’s Chief Ready for Change

Grambling’s Chief Ready for Change
Interim president announces plans to retire; she won’t seek permanent job
By Scott Dyer

Grambling State University Interim President Dr. Neari Warner, who played a major role in saving the school’s accreditation, isn’t interested in serving as president on a permanent basis.
“I need a change, and I want that change to be back home in South Louisiana,” the 58-year-old Warner said.
The board that oversees Grambling kicked off a national search for a permanent president in December, just a couple of weeks after Warner’s administration convinced the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to reaffirm the school’s accreditation (see Black Issues, Jan. 1).
Many considered Warner a strong contender for the president’s job, but she announced in early January that she is retiring, effective June 30.
Warner said she announced her plans because some contenders for the presidency said they might not apply for the job if she did. Last month the University of Louisiana System set up a search committee to find a president.
In an interview, Warner said that guiding Grambling through the accreditation hoops was an exhausting experience, and noted that she’s eager to return to her hometown of New Orleans.
“I’m a native of New Orleans, and I like South Louisiana — I’ve been here (at Grambling) for 10 years, and I’ve done those things that were requested of me,” Warner said.
A former English professor, Warner said she plans to write a book about her experiences during her three years as Grambling’s interim president. An alumna of Grambling, Warner was the school’s vice president of academic affairs when former Grambling President Steve Favors resigned under pressure in early 2001.
The university’s books were shambles, largely due to data that was lost when the school converted to a computerized accounting program. Warner noted that when she took the job, she was given several tasks by the University of Louisiana Board of Supervisors that oversees Grambling. The board wanted Warner to hire a chief financial officer to straighten out the school’s bookkeeping nightmare and to make sure that the academic programs and the other units remain strong.
“But the big one was to do whatever was necessary to get this university accredited,” Warner said.
While the focus was on finance, Warner said she’s just as proud of some of the other accomplishments that she made at Grambling’s helm.
In addition to getting the university accredited, Warner noted that the school also succeeded in getting several academic programs accredited during her three years as acting president. Warner also turned around the declining enrollment that plagued Grambling in the late 1990s.
“I sent lots of letters to keep key people informed — I started out by sending 6,000 letters to students, reassuring them that Grambling was going to remain accredited,” Warner said.
Warner recruited Billy Owens from the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s organization to serve as Grambling’s chief financial officer.
Owens had been approached by Grambling’s previous president, but Warner said she simply refused to take “no” for an answer.
“I was very persistent,” Warner said.
Once Owens was on the Grambling payroll, Warner gave him wide latitude in assembling his own finance staff. Under Owens, the school was able to restore its lost records and get its first clean audit in nearly five years. All the hard work paid off last month when Grambling was taken off probation and given full accreditation.
Warner said the loss of accreditation could have forced the school to close, since an estimated 97 percent of Grambling’s students receive some form of federal aid.
University of Louisiana Board member Gordon Pugh said that Warner “breathed life back into Grambling and put it on a solid foundation.”
Pugh said Warner was initially reluctant to take the job as acting president, and only agreed to do so when pressed by state officials. Pugh said he hopes to find a permanent president for Grambling by the summer. 

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