NASHVILLE — Michigan administrator H. James Williams was selected Wednesday to be the next president of Fisk University and said he’s prepared to tackle the financial struggles of the historically Black college.
Williams is dean of the Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., and the founder of a consulting practice. He is to begin his duties Feb. 1.
“The Board made an inspired selection,” P. Andrew Patterson, vice chairman of the board of trustees and chairman of the search committee, said in a statement from the university Wednesday night. “Dr. Williams has shown strong leadership, steadfast integrity and creativity in fundraising for scholarships, academic programs and buildings in partnership with corporate leaders, faculty and alumni.”
Williams said he realizes he’s in for a challenge.
“I understand that there have been some financial challenges,” he said Wednesday. “And we know that’s one of the things we have to try to address, and we’ll do that.”
The university recently won a court fight concerning its modern art collection donated by painter Georgia O’Keeffe.
The courts have allowed the school to sell a 50 percent stake in the collection to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. Fisk gets $30 million under the arrangement.
Fisk said the 101-piece collection donated by the late painter Georgia O’Keeffe, under the present plan, will be rotated every two years between the school and the museum. The collection will remain at Fisk through fall 2013 and then move to the museum.
Final details of the arrangement were approved by a Nashville judge in August.
O’Keeffe had stipulated that the collection never be sold. A legal battle over the issue lasted more than a decade.
Fisk had said the school might have to close if it didn’t sell the stake to the museum, built by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton.
Current Fisk President Hazel O’Leary, who was energy secretary in the Clinton administration, had planned to retire Dec. 31 but the university said in its statement Wednesday night she would delay her departure to ensure a smooth transition.
Williams said he will share his plans for Fisk’s future once he gets on campus and talks with its faculty and administrators, but right now is just preparing to transition.
“I’m looking to living in the Nashville community and working with that community to make sure that Fisk can be all that it can be,” he said.
According to the Grand Valley State University website, Williams has worked as a corporate and tax attorney.
He received a bachelor’s degree in accounting from North Carolina Central University, an MBA in accounting at the University of Wisconsin, and a Ph.D. in accounting at the University of Georgia.
He got his law degrees from Georgetown University Law Center.