Tenuous Situation at Clark Atlanta University Led to President’s Decision to Retire

ATLANTA

It became pretty clear that it was time for Clark Atlanta University President Walter Broadnax to leave the school.

There was the faculty who didn’t speak whenever they saw him on campus. Then there was the time when some members of the CAU Board of Trustees didn’t show up at Broadnax’s table for a luncheon where he was being honored as one of Georgia’s 100 Most Influential People.

So after six tumultuous years in which some students, faculty and alumni fiercely criticized his management of the school and Broadnax oversaw the shutting down of two academic programs resulting in two lawsuits, he has decided to retire, effective July 31.

“We’ve done things that have been unusual,” he tells Diverse. “You don’t see universities go through right-sizing. But it leaves scars.”

With the school deep in debt — he’s says CAU’s expenses exceeded revenues by $7.5 million when he arrived in 2002 — Broadnax oversaw the dismantling of the school’s library sciences program and engineering department to help save money.

The university has gone from deficits to surpluses, embarked on a new campus housing building project, and the school’s accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools was reaffirmed last year.

But the cost-cutting moves never sat well with many on campus who also questioned Broadnax’s salary, which rose from $236,000 in 2003 to $400,000 in 2005. It made him one of nation’s highest paid HBCU presidents.

Both lawsuits were ultimately dismissed, but the damage was already done.

“I think there were some people who didn’t quite get it,” Broadnax says. “But I think the medicine that needed to be given and taken was so difficult to people. The medicine was bitter.”

So was the criticism.

Last May, 86 percent of the faculty who participated in a survey gave Broadnax a “no-confidence” vote in his leadership of the 3,500-student, private, HBCU. 

A month later during a news conference, CAU Faculty Assembly head, Dr. Lebone Moeti, said Broadnax hadn’t been a good fundraiser and wasn’t being truthful when he said that CAU had a $25 million debt when he took over the school’s presidency in 2002.

“The only way (CAU) can be renewed and move forward is (Broadnax) should step down, resign or retire,” Moeti said in June 2007.

That will now happen. Executive Vice President Carlton Brown — the former Savannah State University president who was hired last summer to take over campus day-to-day management from Broadnax — will become interim president when Broadnax leaves.

“Dr. Broadnax came to CAU at a critical time in our history when we had grave financial challenges,” says board chairwoman Juanita Baranco. “We congratulate President Broadnax for his many accomplishments and thank him for his faithful service to Clark Atlanta.”

Even though Broadnax says he’s in good shape, the tenuous situation at CAU was starting to affect his health. Now he plans to take it easy for awhile. He doesn’t foresee another foray into a college presidency, though he says he’ll never say never.

And while Broadnax is satisfied knowing that he did what he needed to do to bring CAU out of a crisis mode, the way his tenure is ending bothers him a little.

“It’s been a tough six years,” Broadnax says. “There’s still a lot of difficult things left for the university to do, and I think they need a younger person. But it’s just been really hard.”

–ADD SEYMOUR JR.

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