White House HBCU Initiative Chief Quits During Contentious Board Meeting

On the job for slightly over a year, White House Initiative on HBCUs Executive Director Charles Greene has called it quits. This came at a meeting of the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs last week, in which several members expressed frustration with Greene for failing to deliver on time a completed 2004-05 report on federal agencies’ grant activity with HBCUs.

Since coming into the job, Greene has openly complained about the lack of clarity in his job function and chafed against what he called the board’s micromanagement. Numerous board members expressed outrage that a contractor hired by Initiative staff to produce the 2004-05 report did so with so many grammatical errors that it was declared unfit for review by President Bush.

“After some extensive consideration, I’ve chosen to move on,” Greene said without elaboration. “It’s in my judgment that there are myriad of things that can be done to enhance the role of the White House Initiative. …  But in the overall, I find, to be honest, things to be inconsistent with what I stand for.”

Greene said he plans to vacate his office by Oct. 15. Due to the short time remaining in President Bush’s administration, Greene said he may not be formally replaced — staff from the Department of Education, where the Initiative is housed, may take over his duties.

Greene’s resignation announcement further frustrated some board members, one of whom wondered aloud if he would ever see the 2005-06 report.

“Would it be fair for us to leave here assuming that we could ever get these reports?” asked board member and former Langston University President Dr. Ernest L. Holloway. “We said, at the last board meeting, that the 2004-05 report had undergone full vetting” and should have been ready by this board meeting for review. Holloway harshly criticized Initiative staff for “bumbling” the process of choosing a vendor to produce the reports.

Under the directive of a Presidential Executive Order, the White House Initiative on HBCUs is in charge of overseeing the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs which advises the President and the U.S. Secretary of Education on how best to support and strengthen HBCUs. This Executive Order also requires each federal agency to submit an annual report detailing partnerships and grant activity with HBCUs.

Meanwhile, Dr. James C. Renick, a board member and vice president of the American Council on Education, prepared a presentation titled, “Shifting Winds: The Impending Transition of Presidential Leadership.” During his presentation, Renick circulated data from an ACE survey of college presidents, which indicated that 60 is the average age of all college presidents. The average age of HBCU presidents is 62, which indicates many vacancies may be imminent.

The data also indicated that though 47 percent of Black presidents headed majority institutions in 1986, 71 percent of Black presidents head majority institutions as of the most recent survey last year, indicating that competition for the most experienced Black college leaders will grow more intense, Renick said.

“The proportion of presidents over 60 has increased exponentially, which suggests that in a very short period of time, there’s going to be a major transformation and transition of campus leadership,” Renick says. “So the major question for us is do we have a role in ensuring that succession takes place in a way that maintains the viability of our institutions, because the competition for talent is going to be more intense than it is now, particularly for African-Americans who are leading institutions.”

– David Pluviose

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