LeMoyne-Owen Trustees Resign for $2.5 Million Donation

MEMPHIS

Members of the board of trustees at LeMoyne-Owen College heeded the call to resign, allowing their institution to receive an anonymous $2.5 million donation to pay its operating costs that were due Friday.

An anonymous donor pledged to award the money to this historically black college in Memphis, Tenn., so long as its board of trustees step aside.

All but three of the college’s 30-plus trustees had submitted their letters of resignation by Thursday, says board chairman Robert Lipscomb in an article in the Commercial Appeal. Those who resigned will remain on the board until their positions are filled. Trustees who hold alumni slots or those designated for churches were not asked by the donor to leave.

“We have the opportunity to renew ourselves,” Lipscomb says in the article. “Our progress isn’t going to happen overnight, but it will happen.”

In the last two years, LeMoyne’s board of trustees experienced a lot of internal dissension, stymieing its effectiveness, a crisis that the anonymous donor was aware of, says Gayle S. Rose, who resigned from the board three weeks ago because of this conflict.

“The anonymous donor understood that the current board was full of strife as that was quite public knowledge,” says Rose who was chair of the board’s institutional advancement committee and vice chair of its finance committee. “Everybody recognized that we were pretty much in a stalemate and very ineffective as a board of trustees. We have an important legal responsibility that we were having a hard time meeting because of the fractiousness of the board.”

The board had been fractured since the fall of 2004 when ABT Consulting of Boston presented a strategic plan to the trustees that among other things called for a strengthening of the leadership of the college.

“The consultants informed that board that in no uncertain terms that we had a very short window of time to begin implementation of the plan,” says Rose, chair of the Rose Family Foundation. “And the plan would take a lot more strength in governance and strength on leadership on the college campus. The board kind of split right there.”

Those who welcomed the changed became opposed to those who shunned change, splitting the board right down the middle, says Rose who was one of those who welcomed change.

Over time, the reformists on the board grew frustrated. “And they started to peel off the board, so those of us that were left felt (change) was necessary got to be very much in the minority,” she says.

So three weeks ago, Rose resigned. 

“I could see that my participation was perpetuating the conflict,” she says. “Sometimes you have to do what is best for the school.”

Similarly, her former colleagues did the same thing: they stepped aside, so the college could begin to step up. But it took the prodding of a donor to make the change.

“I hope this will be a renaissance for LeMoyne because this community really needs this school,” she says. “I don’t think that there is a trustee on the board that doesn’t really want that. It’s just that we got mired down in disagreement with how to accomplish that.”

-Ibram Rogers

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