Stillman’s Wynn provided accessible visibility – Stillman College Pres Dr. Cordell Wynn

Dr. Cordell Wynn, president of
Stillman College in Tuscaloosa,
Alabama, may be retiring, but
he’s not going to stop working.
He plans to remain active in
the world of higher education,
writing and consulting on the
relationship between
presidents and boards of
trustees of historically Black
colleges and universities
(HBCUs).

“The relationship
between the HBCU
president and board of
trustees is a president’s key
to success,” said Wynn.
“The successes I have had at
Stillman have come from my
ability to build a good board
and to help them understand
what trustees do.”

Those successes for
Wynn at Stillman include: an increase in the
college’s budget from $5.3 million in 1982, when
he took the helm of leadership, to $14.2 million
in 1996-97; an increase in endowments, from $2
million to $20 million; an increase in enrollment,
from 523 to 1,014; an increase in faculty, which
nearly doubled; and improvement of the campus
infrastructure, which added two new buildings
and renovated numerous others.

“There used to be a time when it was I not
necessary for the president or administration
and the board of trustees to work very closely
together. But now that is a must,” Wynn said.
“The role of the board is to hire a competent
administrator [and] to make policy, but to let
that administrator implement policy. I have seen
too much interference. I have seen them want to
run the school on a day-to-day basis and
interfere with hiring.”

Dr. Moses Jones, chairman of Stillman’s
Board of Trustees and a local neurosurgeon in
Tuscaloosa, agrees with Wynn on the
importance of a good working relationship
between a board and president.
“There has to be a clear demarcation of
authority and open communication. Dr. Wynn
has been excellent to work with and the most
important thing he did was to inform,”
acknowledged Jones. “Before every meeting,
we received a very thorough written report
containing an agenda, highlights, schedules,
statistics on enrollment, faculty, finance,
bylaws–everything you needed to evaluate
and plan for the meeting.”

“The tremendous turn
over in presidencies at
HBCUs has come about as
a result of [presidents and
trustees] not being able to
work together
harmoniously and focus on
mutual goals.” said Wynn.
who believes that turnover
rates are a problem because
longevity is important to
the success of a president.
“I think [long presidential terms are] a
good idea if you are effective. Continuity is so
important in fundraising, implementing a
vision, and gaining respect in the community,”
added Wynn, who also said that presidents
can’t just sit on campus but must extend
themselves to the community.

A Good Fit

Stillman College, which is affiliated
with the Presbyterian church, was a good fit
for Wynn, who is the product of a devoutly
Christian family from Eatonton, Georgia. He
completed elementary studies at Jefferson
Private School, where he was valedictorian of
his high school class. He received a
scholarship from Pepsi-cola and attended
Boston University, where he earned an
associate’s degree. He received a bachelor’s
degree from Fort Valley State College, and a
master’s degree in education from South
Carolina State College. At the University of
Georgia, he received an education doctorate
and a specialist in education doctorate.

During his sixteen-year tenure in
Tuscaloosa Wynn has extended himself to the
community through such projects as the
Stillman Community Service Center, where
students volunteer their time and effort to
earn a co-curricular transcript. He also
developed a “Marshall Plan” to revitalize
Tuscaloosa’s western section, where Stillman
is located. The plan attracted more than $1
million in funding from the U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban Development in 1996. He
is also chairman of the West Alabama
Chamber of Commerce which has brought
industry to the area.

Wynn says his insight comes from
serving as chairman of The College Fund/
UNCF (formerly known as The United Negro
College Fund) and the National Association
for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education
(NAFEO).

“What I have seen is that we need
stronger leadership for the tough times in
which we are trying to survive. I’m really
concerned about stronger leadership, but I
don’t see that on the horizon,” he said.
Leadership is crucial because, according
to Wynn, “these are very tough times in which
we live and HBCUs are needed now more than
ever before. We have gotten past segregation
and we don’t worry about who sits next to
who and where we eat.”

Wynn, who co-chaired the writing of the
desegregation plan for Bibb County schools in
Georgia when he was an assistant
superintendent there, eventually became a
consultant on desegregation for school
systems throughout the South. He still sees
something lacking when it comes to majority
institutions giving full recognition to the
ability and talents of Blacks.

“The historically Black college takes
students from impoverished environments
and nurtures them. We have a better sense of
how to motivate and reinforce these students
and we provide leadership opportunities for
them,” Wynn said. “When we look around
and see renowned leaders in our race who
went to HBCUs, it’s testimony that we have
done a good job and continue to do a good
job.”

Some recent examples of Stillman’s
nurturing are two sets of twins–Kafi and
Anika Wilson, and Jason and Yahari Butler–who
graduated magna cum laude in, 1995. The
young women, Kafi and Anika, are pursuing
medical degrees, and the young men, Jason
and Yahari, are computer systems specialists
with the federal Air Intelligence Agency (AIA).
Yahari is also doing post graduate work.

“I came to Stillman from the small
Alabama town of Maplesville–population
1,000. I learned about Stillman from an uncle
who attended and would not be where I am
today if it were not for HBCUs,”
Jason Butler said.

In addition to a board with which they l can
work, HBCU presidents need dedicated faculty.
“We need to especially work on the
younger faculty who may not have come
through an HBCU,” said Wynn. “They have
not seen the struggle and often don’t
know the history.”

“It Really Gets on My Last Nerve”

Wynn has been particularly annoyed with
having to justify the existence of, and the need
for, Black institutions of higher education.
Many of the financial problems that plague
Black institutions, he believes, relate to this
question of justification.

“HBCUs are hit very hard in trying to
raise money and I am sick and tired of having
to justify why we need HBCUs. It really gets
on my last nerve,” said Wynn. “We get the
crumbs when it comes to foundations and
philanthropy from the business world in
comparison to what they give to historically
white institutions.”

But the problem, as Wynn sees it, does
not come just from the white world of
philanthropy.
“Another problem is with support of
HBCUs by Blacks themselves. There is a lack
of commitment of alumni. It comes
out of the mentality in our own community
that white is better,” Wynn said. “It is
something that has been ingrained from
slavery. It is reflected in the tendency of some
Blacks to say ‘I went to a Black school, but I
got my master’s and doctorate from a white
school.’ there doesn’t seem to be that
proudness.”

That kind of pride is something that
Wynn has tried to instill at Stillman during his
tenure. And the way he has tried to do that is
by making the college more visible to the
world outside of academia.
“What I’ve tried to do at Stillman is to
build a culture and a proudness in our
students. One way we can do that as
presidents is by visibility of the institution,”
said Wynn. “The more a president is involved
at the national, local and state level in
organizations and community gives the college
more visibility.”

A Student-Centered Legacy

Wynn hopes that his legacy at Stillman
will be one of respect gained through hard
work, professional and creative leadership on
and off campus, and an openness in his
administrative style that has encouraged
students to seek out his guidance and advice.
“I’m very student centered. I really love
students and if we didn’t have students, there
would be no need for a Stillman College. We
are here to serve students. They are our
clients and customers.”

Jason Butler said that it was absolutely
true that Wynn had created a very student
oriented institution. He recalled that Dr.
Wynn was often out and about on campus
and that he would stop and talk with
students.

“You could go to the administration with
a problem and the problem would be
corrected–maybe not that year, but it
would be done,” he said.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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