Field of New Tennessee State Presidential Candidates Narrows to Six

Field of New Tennessee State Presidential Candidates Narrows to Six
Despite ‘Save Hefner’ campaigns, current president will leave post, but stay on as business professor

By Marlon A. Walker

NASHVILLE, Tenn.
The search to replace outgoing Tennessee State University President James A. Hefner was narrowed to six candidates at the presidential search committee’s Dec. 13 meeting. The process could’ve proven disastrous because Hefner surfaced as an early nominee to succeed himself.

Hefner, 63, announced in the spring that he would retire in May 2005. The announcement came after two audits criticized his leadership. In one of the audits, he had allegedly accepted Super Bowl tickets from a company that does business with the university. The other claimed he’d allegedly handed out nearly $3 million in scholarships from an endowment that was tapped out. He’s admitted to doing both, though he said he tried to pay for the tickets. Hefner said shortly after he was “exonerated” of the audit’s claims, his wife expressed her opinion that he should think about retirement.

“I’ve been a college president for 21 years,” said Hefner, who was president at Jackson State University for seven years before coming to TSU in 1991. “My wife felt it was time for me to step aside.”

Others felt he’d been forced aside.

An unofficial “Save Hefner” campaign was immediately underway — with students, alumni and local leaders voicing their support for the outgoing president, who has continually said the decision was one made by him and him alone.

But the biggest twist came in November when Nashville city councilwoman Carolyn Baldwin Tucker said in a meeting of the presidential search committee that she planned to nominate Hefner for president. She did so in an e-mail to Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) director of communications Mary Morgan later that evening. While supporters were in favor of the nomination — and Hefner said publicly he’d leave it up to the TBR to decide if he was eligible to replace himself — members of the TBR decided not to debate the nomination. It was eliminated because Hefner had already submitted a letter earlier in the year expressing that he wished to retire.

“Having him (as a nominee) would’ve cast great doubt on the process and on other candidates as to what’s going on,” said Tennessee Board of Regents’ Chancellor Charles W. Manning.

When Hefner steps down in May, he will take a job as a business professor at the university. He will also hold the Frist Chair of Excellence position. His salary of $177, 280 will be reduced to $155,000. Hefner has three years in the new position until his retirement from the Tennessee University System. After that, he will receive 20 percent of his president’s salary as an active president emeritus, which a retired president receives for actively recruiting and raising funds for the school.

For Devonte V. White, Hefner’s retirement means a chance for a new leader to show a more aggressive role in the retention of out-of-state students. He said resources for out-of-state students, who pay thousands more per year to attend the university, should be made a priority.

“Make us feel like you want us to be here,” said the junior elementary education student from Detroit. “They keep saying ‘students matter most.’ But do we really?”

While he said he hasn’t had a problem with Hefner’s leadership — and even participated with others on campus in “Save Hefner” activities — he hasn’t seen anything done that really affected students.

“The changes that do happen don’t really affect us,” he said.

Hefner started at TSU in April 1991 with the goal of bringing the school into the echelon of mainstream universities. At the time, he said, he at least wanted it to rival others in the Tennessee University System. He worked on a mediocre graduation rate, updated the campus’s cosmetic look and brought in more money to provide for scholarships and research. In the process, he’s installed three endowed chairs, built eight buildings and recruited top students throughout the country who help keep the name of the university in a good light.

“I told them I was an elitist without apology,” he remembered saying when he first arrived.
The next step in finding a new president is for the remaining candidates to appear on campus for a series of interviews with faculty, students and administrators. According to Manning, after the interviews take place, he will have the opportunity to sit with each candidate and deliver his recommendation to the board. The new president will be confirmed by the TBR, and is expected to begin serving out his or her term beginning on June 1, 2005. Manning said he looks forward to what the new president will do when he or she begins.

The six finalists include:

Dr. Toy Caldwell-Colbert, consultant to the president of Howard University; Dr. Melvin N. Johnson, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, Winston-Salem (N.C.) State University; Dr. Cynthia R. McIntyre, chief of staff to the president at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y.; Dr. Charlie Nelms, vice president for institutional development and student affairs at Indiana University; Dr. Handy Williamson Jr., vice provost for international programs and faculty development at the University of Missouri-Columbia; and Dr. David Wilson, vice president for university outreach and associate provost at Auburn University. 



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