NAFEO Board Cites Need to Move in ‘Another Direction’
Humphries out; Washington-based attorney to serve as interim president
By Cassie Chew
Citing the need to “move into another direction with its leadership,” the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), at an April 26 board meeting, requested that its top officer, Dr. Frederick S. Humphries, step down from the position of president and chief executive of the 35-year-old association of historically Black colleges and universities.
“NAFEO clearly has a very noble mission — to represent, influence and win friends on behalf of the nation’s Black colleges, and it is important that we stay close to our mission,” Dr. William R. Harvey, NAFEO board chairman and Hampton University president said.
Founded in 1969, the organization works to represent the issues of HBCUs with Congress, federal agencies and private corporations.
“Our dialogue was driven by fact-based decision-making, a desire to provide responsible leadership tempered by equity and sensitivity,” Harvey wrote in an April 30 letter informing NAFEO’s 118 members of the board’s decisions. “We appreciate the contributions made by Dr. Frederick Humphries and wish him well in the future.”
According to a biography of Humphries on NAFEO’s Web site, the organization has been “re-energized” by his presence. Before taking on the role as NAFEO president, Humphries, a chemist by training, had a distinguished 27-year career as president of Florida A&M and Tennessee State universities.
A committee is being formed to conduct a search to select a new president, Harvey said. As transitional leadership, the board appointed Washington-based Attorney Lezli Baskerville as interim president, effective April 27.
“Baskerville is well known in Washington circles and is well-versed on higher education issues,” Harvey said.
Over the past 25 years, Baskerville’s career has included work on higher education access issues. She also served as vice president of government relations for The College Board.
“I am honored to be selected,” Baskerville said. “The board and membership have established some priorities, and I will try to advance the entire agenda of NAFEO.
“I hope that my familiarity with the association, my years of training and experience; my professional relationships; my instincts for people and politics; my passion for prodding educational access, equity and excellence and preserving and enhancing HBCUs, will serve the association well,” Baskerville said.
While the decision to replace Humphries was made by NAFEO board members in a “closed door” meeting, some members support the decision.
“I trust the board has good judgment,” said Dr. James C. Renick, chancellor of North Carolina A&T State University. “I’ve always maintained that the most significant role (for NAFEO) is to be a strong advocate with the federal government to support the mission and goals of HBCUs.”
“I think (Baskerville) is a great choice for interim president,” Dr. Ronald Mason Jr., president Jackson State University said noting that Baskerville is the first attorney to be appointed to a presidential role at the organization. With only four past presidents, NAFEO has had a short history of leadership changes, but presidential appointments, permanent and interim, previously have been held by former college presidents or vice presidents.
According to Harvey the leadership change comes as the organization begins to “reinvigorate our membership,” increase membership participation on committees and bring greater value to its members.
“We have a new opportunity to strengthen our association and begin a new transformation from ‘good to great,'” Harvey wrote in the letter to NAFEO colleagues. “In doing so, our institutions, our faculties and staffs, and our students will also be strengthened.”
No Small Task
Leading an association of colleges and universities is no small task, according to NAFEO past president and current president of Talladega College, Dr. Henry Ponder, who says that the current leadership change likely reflects a shift in “style of leadership — not substance.”
“The board has been very consistent with its mission,” Ponder said. “It wants to be the flagship organization for Blacks in education and make sure that the federal government understands that role and develop legislation that will help colleges do the jobs they are designed to do.”
Functioning as the top officer at NAFEO and similar organizations that work to advance the interests of colleges and universities requires “people skills,” Ponder added.
“The challenge is to be able to work with 118 colleges through their presidents,” Ponder said. “Although the member colleges have similar goals, each college is different. It takes a lot of leadership ability to work to keep all 118 college presidents happy and to make NAFEO grow.”
But the position also requires skills at communicating with federal policy-makers, something that Baskerville, who also has served as legal counsel for NAFEO, may bring to the organization during her tenure.
“You have to work both sides of the aisle,” Ponder said. “You have to be very non-partisan. You have to know which congressperson is turned on by which funding proposal. If you get to know the (congressional) staff then you need to know which congresspeople have a strong feeling for (issues important to NAFEO).” Ponder served as NAFEO president from 1996 to 2001, retired, and later came out of retirement to serve as president of Talladega College.
NAFEO and other organizations that advocate on behalf of colleges and universities are facing new challenges this year.
“I think that (events like) the budget deficit and the war against terrorism are drawing resources away from education,” said Dr. Michael Lomax, president of Dillard University. In June, Lomax will take on a new role as president and chief executive of the United Negro College Fund.
“The big challenge is the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. We have to be vigilant about ensuring polices and resources are available for HBCUs, minority-serving institutions and low-income students,” Lomax added.
Other Changes Under Way
At the April 26 meeting, the board also voted to appoint a bylaws review committee and a committee to “examine and recommend appropriate action to address any issues that the membership may have raised during the last several weeks,” according to the letter from Harvey to NAFEO’s member institutions.
The issues raised by some members, according to Mason, are “routine.” Mason has been appointed to chair that committee.
“The questions were about process and procedures by the membership — things like proper notes taking, were meetings duly called…nothing that would affect the direction of the organization,” Mason said.
NAFEO hopes to report results from the committees at the next board and membership meeting in July, Harvey said.
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