It is often the dream of professional educators in higher education to be tapped for the leadership position of the institution that nurtured them. But even when that occurs, no one
is ever prepared f6r the realities, the real demands, and sometimes
unrealistic expectations placed upon the head and shoulders of the
This is especially true when you are female in a domain that has
previously been all male; when you come — as I have — from a campus
(Georgia Institute of Technology) that was filled with the rapid
changes of 21st century technology, but now find yourself immersed in
an environment steeped in tradition; and when there are those who stand
by expecting you to fail. There is no way to explain to the novice
about the jobs within the job; or about the many constituencies to
which you are accountable — the trustees, the donors and benefactors,
the faculty and staff, the students and their parents, and the alumni.
At times, the job can be tantamount to embarking on a journey
without a definite destination and without a return ticket. For me, it
has been an odyssey filled with challenges and some surprises. Coming
from an environment of plenty and being plunged into one where the
pinching of pennies is a necessity, it has been a cultural shock as
Although ;crises upon crises may arise, stability must be
maintained. You’re expected to have a little magic wand that, when
waved while reciting the correct incantation, produces the desired
funding for whatever project — fanciful or fundamental — presented.
Little did I know that a zero-based budget would be an
all-too-constant reality. Coming from a generation when one was taught
to respect the wisdom of elders, I believed it when I was told that a
successful college president finds the resources and creates the
environment where successful ventures — ventures that establish
opportunities for professors to teach effectively and do research, and
for students to experience a quality education — could happen.
The stewardship of my alma mater, while forward looking, had been
anchored in the past. While I have not cast aside, the: legacy of the
previous eleven presidents, I know that I must consider the needs of
the current clientele. It is important that one studies and analyzes
the past for the degree to which it can inform the future in a
As W. E. B. DuBois wrote in Souls of Black Folk: “The function of
the university, is not simply to teach bread-winning, or to furnish
teachers for public schools, or to be a center of polite society; it
is, above all, to be the organ of the fine adjustment between real life
and the growing knowledge of life, an adjustment that forms the secret
He further wrote: “The function of the Negro College, then is
clear; it must maintain the standards of popular education, it must
seek the social regeneration of the Negro, and it must help in the
solution of the problem of race contact and cooperation. And finally
beyond all this, it must develop men [and women].”
Since I acknowledge the educational imperative apparent in these
words, what then was the vision, the dream, the blueprint that I
brought to the presidency?
At my inauguration, I expressed a strong commitment to a new era of
celebration — focusing on restoration, redevelopment, and projections.
My blueprint evolved from tradition, my own academic training,
reflections, conversations, and personal experience. I envisioned that
Johnson C. Smith University would exemplify a spirit of discovery,
intellectualism, and commitment to service. That included the skillful
and creative use of limited resources to provide access and excellence
for all students.
I remain committed to strategic planning and well-supported
implementation of initiatives that guide the educational experience.
As a graduate of this institution, I feel compelled to pass on the
torch of hope and faith to those who pass through during my watch.
We know that a true university exists for the future. To that end,
JCSU does not need to be reinvented; it only needs continuous renewal.
I am propelled by the chilling awareness that today’s excellence is
tomorrow’s mediocrity. As JCSU’s first alumna president, I serve as a
vanguard for its future. Hopefully, my high aspirations and
irrepressible determination will encourage the success of my alma mater.
Dr. Dorothy Cowser Yancy President,J Johnson C. Smith University Charlotte, N.C.
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