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Lack of Board’s Support Prompts Bennett President to Resign

Lack of Board’s Support Prompts Bennett President to Resign
Board selects retired university administrator to serve as interim president
By Allison Foreman

After less than a year on the job, Dr. Althia Collins is resigning her post as president of historically Black Bennett College, a small, all-women’s school in Greensboro, N.C.
Collins says she’s leaving this June because she does not have the support she needs from the school’s board of trustees.
“The president, to be successful, has to have the board’s support,” Collins says. “I didn’t have it.”
Bennett’s board of trustees announced Collins’ resignation Jan. 19. A day later, both Collins and board chairwoman Marian Tasco confirmed the board did not ask Collins to resign.
Collins, 51, says she does not want to assign blame for her decision to leave. She and the board agree on the college’s vision, mission and priorities, she says.
“They want for Bennett what I want for Bennett, and that is to make it a premier institution for women,” she says.
Collins, who left her CEO position at a consulting company in Alexandria, Va., last spring to take the job at Bennett, replaced Dr. Gloria Scott. Scott served as Bennett’s president for more than 14 years. She announced she was retiring in May 2000 because she had reached her long-term goals for the college. Her announcement did not mention problems at the campus earlier in the year. Students protested living conditions and missing textbooks, and faculty gave a vote of no confidence in Scott.
Collins says she was aware of the issues when she took over the position as the college’s 13th president on July 1, and she established her goals for the college early on: Improve campus facilities and services, expand and strengthen academic programs, increase student recruitment and retention, develop student diversity, increase community development and improve fund-raising.
But Collins says some board members have questioned if she’s the right fit for the college. And during her brief tenure, some alumnae criticized her leadership decisions.
Charges of nepotism started when Collins hired her husband, James Collins, to oversee needed renovations on the campus. He was credited with fixing many of the problems that had prompted students to protest. But some alumnae and board members objected that hiring him violated school policies.
Criticism grew when Collins hired her daughter as an assistant.
Some alumnae also criticized Collins for removing the college’s mission statement from its Web site. Others criticized her religion. Bennett College is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Collins is Muslim, but the church has said religion is not an issue when it comes to Bennett’s leadership.
And Collins’ decision to cut back staff to address a $2 million budget deficit drew its share of criticism as well.
But through all the criticism, most students have supported her. More than 100 of them demonstrated in October 2001 outside the administration building to support Collins and the changes she was making.
And many students said last month they were shocked and saddened to learn of
her resignation.
“A lot of good stuff has happened on this campus because of her,” says Olanike Soyoye, a junior. Crews repaired and repainted residence halls, Internet access was improved and faculty and staff had a better attitude, she says.
Collins also organized new landscaping for the school and moved her office closer to students, the student union and the chapel.
Others students say Collins brought stability to the campus.
The next president after Collins will be the third for junior Ceora Wearing. “When I walk down the aisle at graduation, I won’t be able to look up and see someone that I have a history with,” Wearing says.
Board Chairwoman Tasco would not discuss details of the resignation but says Collins’ decision to leave did not come as a surprise. When she received Collins’ letter in January, it was dated Dec. 31.
“It happens to other institutions,” Tasco says. “Sometimes, things just don’t work out.”
To prevail, Tasco says, the college needs to maintain a strong sense of togetherness. It also needs its alumnae to give money to the school now more than ever, she adds.
Tasco also says she realizes losing a president after only a year will be hard on students. But she emphasized that Bennett’s students still will receive a quality education.
“The board is certainly sensitive to the students and their needs, and will do everything that we can to make sure their lives are not interrupted,” Tasco says.
At Black Issues press time, the board had just named retired university administrator, Dr. Charles Fuget, as interim president. Fuget, who replaced Collins earlier this month, recently retired as commissioner for postsecondary and higher education for the state of Pennsylvania. He had previously served as vice president and interim president of Indiana University of Pennsylvania. 

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