In these turbulent times, the resignation of a university president in the middle of the fall semester is not startling news. But when the president announces his resignation on Oct. 21 and leaves the position Oct. 31, observers take note.
That’s the way Dr. Horace Judson, Grambling State University’s president since 2004, made his curious departure from the cash-strapped historically Black institution. Judson left behind an angry student senate that had taken a vote of no confidence against him and a hostile faculty senate that also was in the process of sending a similar resolution to the full faculty.
He also left behind a physical memorial of his tenure. Judson recently had a formidable iron and brick fence constructed around the president’s official residence on campus. Grambling provost Dr. Robert Dixon says the fence cost about $158,000.
“It beautifies the property, enhances its value and provides security,” Dixon says while admitting “the decision to have the fence constructed resulted in a great deal of criticism.”
SGA president Steven Jackson was among the critics. “We don’t have air conditioning in the library; we have an auditorium we can’t really use because of maintenance problems including air conditioning. We have our own security issues – and he spends that money on a fence around his house.”
But from the University of Louisiana System leadership, there were only plaudits for Judson’s presidency.
“Dr. Judson contacted me at the beginning of the semester about his desire to explore other career options,” UL system president Dr. Randy Moffett said in a news release. “We were hopeful he would be able to stay on through the semester and are saddened that a close family member’s illness accelerated his decision.”
Moffett added that Judson completed all pending accreditation reports before his departure. “Grambling is a thriving institution thanks to his service,” he said.
As enrollment declined 5 percent from last year, numerous complaints surfaced from staff, faculty and students – complaints that simmered for much of Judson’s tenure.
Faculty senate president Dr. Matthew Ware reeled off a litany of grievances that culminated in the faculty senate’s resolution to take a vote of no confidence.
“The faculty had a number of issues, not just with the president but with his administrative team,” Ware says. “They did not consider the faculty’s role in self-governance; the administration usurped the faculty’s role in developing curriculum … the whole administration was flawed and suffered from fragmentation, isolation, litigation … disassociated itself from the national alumni association …violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
That was just for starters. The resolution was being prepared when Judson resigned.
Jackson said the students’ concerns were numerous as well but mainly related to maintenance and infrastructure problems, parking, transportation, financial aid and other administrative services. Jackson says there is a misperception – put forth by the administration – that a small group of student leaders propelled the vote against Judson.
“That’s not the way it was,” Jackson says. “The students came to us. I walked out of class one day at the end of August and about 40 to 45 students came to me saying ‘we want to talk to the president now,’ and I set up a meeting.”
Jackson says the students laid out their concerns and when there was no action on the issues for a month the SGA senate drew up the resolution for a vote of no confidence, which passed the senate on a 12-5 vote.
“We had just gotten it out of the senate and we wanted the entire student body to vote on it,” Jackson says. That’s when Judson resigned, citing the illness of a family member.
Dixon said he is aware Judson’s mother has been ill for some time.
“He has been hoping to spend more time with her,” Dixon said.
However, he acknowledged that some of Judson’s recent actions prompted “extremely negative responses.” Most notably, the fence, but representatives of students and faculty say the volume of complaints had become overwhelming, particularly after Judson’s wife, Dr. Gail Shorter-Judson, began working in the university’s office of advancement.
“The first lady was running that office and people who ran afoul of her were gone,” Ware said.
But, according to Dixon, “The president asked the first lady to assist him in the office of advancement and she worked directly under the president. She sought to make a contribution to the university but she had no authority to hire or fire anyone. It is true that this did generate some controversy but it was his decision to use her in that role.”
Dixon noted that it was a voluntary effort to improve the university’s fundraising.
He also said the harshest complaints about the administration have come from “a few people who decided they were against the president.” Dixon said most faculty and students did not support the no-confidence votes.
Judson declined requests from Diverse for an interview.
However, in the press release announcing his departure, Judson said, “The extraordinary progress that has been achieved in every facet at GSU over the past five years has been validated. I believe that this is a good juncture for me to complete my tenure and focus on my family. I am proud of all that has been accomplished and I consider it a privilege to have served as president of GSU.”
Dixon says as provost he is the highest-ranking official at the school and is the acting head until the system president appoints an interim university president. Moffett issued a statement Nov. 6 saying he would hold meetings at GSU to obtain input from the campus community before deciding on an interim appointment.