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Why can’t black folks stand success? – unjust accusations against Lincoln University President Niara Sudarkasa

It is Saturday, July 25, and the National Association of Negro
Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, Inc., is celebrating a
successful conference with a fantastic closing banquet. The keynote
speaker, Dr. Niara Sudarkasa, is talking about the seven Rs — the
essential African values that African American people must embrace and
rediscover if we are to move smoothly and successfully into the
twenty-first century.

There are home truths in her talk, but also phenomenal wisdom, as
Sister Sudarkasa runs down the values of respect, responsibility,
restraint, reciprocity, reverence, reason, and reconciliation. I could
not be more charged up as I listen to my friend, this sister whose work
so brilliantly combines study of life on the African continent with
study of Black life in these United States.

Let me put it out there, then. I’m biased. I’m a Niara Sudarkasa
fan. I’ve always liked and admired the sister, and when I visited the
Lincoln University campus in the fall of 1997, my admiration grew by
leaps and bounds. I was delighted to be part of an honors program
speaker series, and energized by the focused honors students that I
dined with before my talk. I was impressed by the Thurgood Marshall
Living and Learning Center, which included a guest wing for visitors. I
was even more impressed when I realized that Dr. Sudarkasa was
instrumental in garnering the $17 million needed to build the center.

Because of my admiration for Dr. Sudarkasa, I was stunned to learn
that she and Lincoln University have been in the Pennsylvania headlines
and that accusations swirl around these last few years of her
administration. I was also amazed to learn that this wonderful woman
has been the target of a vicious, personal attack by a man who was once
the university’s attorney.

The attack and the charges have cast such a cloud over Lincoln
University that the Pennsylvania legislature is withholding its annual
appropriation to the university until there is an audit. Dr. Sudarkasa
had to issue a press release to reassure students that the university
will open on time this fall. She has also had to fight the perception
that the university is “endangered” and has had to develop contingency
plans in case the legislature’s appropriation is too long delayed.

The first thing I asked Dr. Sudarkasa when I talked to her about the situation was simply, “Can Black people stand success?”

Instead of engaging this woman in personal attacks, her board of
directors ought to be celebrating her success. When she came to the
university as its first woman president in 1987, she was charged with
finding just 100 students with SAT scores over 800. Instead of limiting
herself to that charge, she has boosted enrollment from 1,200 to over
2,000, designed an internationally replicated honors program, and
increased the average SAT score on campus by more than 30 percent.

Sudarkasa also has improved the quality of the faculty to the point
where three-quarters of them now have doctorate degrees, improved the
language program, and, in her own words, “restored Lincoln University
to its traditional greatness.” Lincoln is, after all, the alma mater of
Thurgood Marshall, Langston Hughes, Horace Mann Bond, Kwame Nkrumah,
and Roscoe Lee Browne.

Before Sudarkasa came to Lincoln University, the institution
languished. She quickly articulated her vision to provide students with
a global, twenty-first-century perspective. She also went to work on
improving the physical plant and the academic foundations of the

To be sure, Sudarkasa’s tenure has not been without controversy.
But much of it has had to do with men resistant to female leadership.
Her current detractor, Richard H. Glanton, seems to be a bully with
little regard for the truth, a man who has unleashed his allies in the
legislature and the press against Dr. Sudarkasa.

The current controversy swirls around Sudarkasa’s renovation of the
president’s house at Lincoln, a university property that had a
crumbling foundation until she moved to repair it. Newspapers have
reported that half a million dollars was spent on the house, failing to
note that this $500,000 was spent over a ten-year period.

A KPMG Peat Marwick audit, while making suggestions for improved
financial management, found no wrongdoing on Sudarkasa’s part. But
Glanton’s relentless campaign against her has resulted in negative
headlines about both Lincoln University and its president.

The headlines are unfortunate because they tarnish Sudarkasa’s
tremendous accomplishments and may diminish the reputation of the
institution that now ranks ninth in awarding bachelor’s degrees to
African Americans in the physical sciences. They are unfortunate
because they are baseless and they represent Black folks fighting each
other for personal gain and to the amusement of White folks.

So the question comes up again: Can Black people stand success? Can
we stand excellence? Can we stand to have a Niara Sudarkasa lead a
Lincoln University, or is her success so threatening to small-minded
and insecure people that they can do no more than attack?

Again, let me say that I’m biased — and add, this is an opinion
piece. In my not-so-humble opinion, the board of directors at Lincoln
have made a mistake by not nipping Richard Glanton’s allegations in the
bud. They’ve made a mistake by not giving Dr. Sudarkasa a vote of
confidence. But the biggest problem with their mistake is that they
won’t suffer; the students will.

Indeed, we African Americans — as a people — are all losers when
we tarnish our achievers and send signals demonstrating that we simply
cannot stand success.

Malveaux is the president of the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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