Texas Southern University has spent the last two years in the headlines because of financial mismanagement and the firing of previous president Priscilla Slade. Dr. John Rudley, the newly appointed president of TSU, discusses the new vision for the Houston historically Black university.
DI: How do you plan to solve TSU’s low retention and graduation rate problems and the school’s pending accreditation situation?
JR: If you dissect each issue, there is a solution for every last one. [The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools] is questioning our ability to produce financial statements. We can produce financial statements, and we will make sure that we do that on time. We will have to suffer through a year’s probation before we can get the stain of the probation off our backs. That’s what my expertise is, finance. Certainly, it’s a solvable problem.
Graduation rates are a solvable problem. We are going to recommend to our board that it is important for TSU to end open-enrollment and open-admissions and begin to attract more quality —students who have made the decision that they want to go to college.
We really can’t spend all of our resources on students who are academically unprepared. We would like to offer them the opportunity to go to the community colleges that are here. We’re not, in effect, going to leave them without an option.
DI: Should Texas Southern decide to end its open-admissions policy, how will it go about recruiting top-tier students?
JR: This is the university that produced U.S. Reps. Barbara Jordan and George “Mickey” Leland, and NFL player Michael Strahan. Everyone can’t go to a Division I school. We have the programs here. At the end of four- or five-year careers, students can be admitted to the pharmacy program, or they can go to law school. We have a wonderful education college here. One of the strengths of Texas Southern is the line-up of quality programs. We have the full-breadth: public affairs, communications and business. You name it.
DI: If you end TSU’s open-admissions policy and raise tuition, are you afraid that you might be alienating a large cohort of low-income students?
JR: [In] about 1947 when Texas Southern was first enacted to legislation and created, the students that came here were motivated. They could not go to majority institutions during the days of segregation, so Texas Southern was an option for students who were motivated, intelligent and dynamic. Fast-forward to 2008 and you have many students in our K-12 systems that failed them, and [these students] are not prepared.
It’s not the university’s responsibility, per se, to try to educate every child who wants to get a college education. They have to do something for themselves as well. They should have proven in high school by their academic performance that they wanted to go to college. A 2.0 GPA is not too much to expect. You cannot destroy this university trying to educate students who are not prepared. Our resources are too critical.
DI: There has been a revolving door of HBCU presidents as of late. Why did you decide to pursue the TSU presidency?
JR: Somebody has to step up to the plate. I have been all over the country. And after 21 years, [I feel that] if an African-American doesn’t step forward to do the job, whom do you expect to do it? I know this community. We know that Texas Southern is a jewel. It needs an opportunity to flourish, regardless of what happened in the past. It was my decision to take my talents and apply them to Texas Southern and bring it back to the quality that existed in the 1980s, when I worked here as chief financial officer.
DI: Historically Black colleges and universities have struggled to maintain their viability in an increasingly competitive academic arena. How do you respond to those who question the relevancy of HBCUs in the 21st century?
JR: We need more colleges, period. We need colleges that will be receptive not only to the top 10 [percent] in the academic class in high school, but also to those students who are motivated and need an opportunity to go to college. We definitely need more HBCUs. We definitely need institutions that serve other minorities as well.
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