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More Presidential Vacancies at HBCUs

There are at least three new presidential vacancies at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), which have already been experiencing high turnover within their leadership ranks.

In the case of two of the presidential departures β€” Dillard University and Florida Memorial University β€” the presidents resigned amid health challenges. Their departures raise new questions about the stress associated with being a college president, particularly at a smaller and under-resourced institution.  Dr. Rochelle FordDr. Rochelle Ford

Earlier this month, Dr. Rochelle Ford announced that she had stepped down as president of Dillard in New Orleans. It was a job that she held for just two years. She cited her health as the reason for the departure and university officials say that she had been on leave from the university since May.

Dr. Jaffus Hardrick, the president of Florida Memorial University β€” a private HBCU in Florida β€” also announced his immediate departure from the university because of health reasons. He has led the institution for the past five years.

In 2023, the American Council on Education (ACE) released their study of over 1,000 college presidents, which revealed the tenure of the presidency has diminished. In 2006, presidents spent an average of 8.5 years in charge. By 2022, that number shrunk to 5.9 years, and over half of current presidents reveal that they plan to step away from their roles within the next five years.

Last month, Dr. Gregory J. Vincent announced that he was leaving Talladega College in Alabama after just two years on the job. Vincent, a seasoned higher education administrator, said he plans to return to the practice of law. Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough, who was president of Dillard for a decade and previously served as president of Philander Smith University, has been named interim president of Talladega for at least the next year. Kimbrough's wife, Adria, is a 1997 graduate of the school. 

"We have seen before that HBCUs have experienced tremendous turnover in leadership at the presidency level," said Dr. Robert T. Palmer, professor and chair of educational leadership and policy studies at Howard University and an expert on HBCUs. "While the resignation of presidents from Dillard University, Florida Memorial University, and Talladega College is concerning, it is interesting to note that these are all private HBCUs with small enrollments and endowments. I wonder what role the need and pressure to constantly fundraise played in the departure of these presidents."

While it is unclear what health-related challenges that Hardrick and Ford are currently facing, the day-to-day stress of the college presidency, especially at HBCUs, can take a toll on its leaders. Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis, president of Benedict College, recently recounted a health scare on social media that she experienced shortly after taking the helm of the South Carolina institution.  

"Six years ago today, at the conclusion of my first year as president of Benedict College, I collapsed onstage at a college-wide assembly honoring the retirements and service anniversaries of our faculty and staff. My heart rate was elevated and irregular, my blood pressure dropped, and I simply passed out," Artis wrote in a May 15 Facebook post. "An ambulance was summoned, and I was transported to the hospital where I was determined to be suffering from anemia, severe dehydration, and pure exhaustion. The months of long days, late nights, poor diet, and stress had taken their toll on my body. Fortunately for me, while embarrassing, it was not life threatening. It was simply a warning to take better care of myself." 

Palmer said that more can be done to provide support to HBCUs leaders entering into these difficult and taxing presidential roles. 

"I think programs that aim to prepare leaders for the presidency at HBCUs must emphasize the importance of acquiring some experience and skills in fundraising as well as practicing self-care to prevent burnout," said Palmer.  



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