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Amid Criticism, Tennessee HBCU President Announces Retirement

Citing family and personal reasons, Dr. Melvin N. Johnson announced that he would step down as president of Tennessee State University (TSU) at the end of the year. After serving five years at the helm of the Nashville-based historically Black public university, Johnson said he will join the TSU faculty as a business professor effective Jan. 1, 2011.

Johnson was appointed the TSU president in March 2005, replacing Dr. James Hefner. He is the seventh president in TSU’s 98-year history and earned $235,735 annually as president. Before joining TSU, Johnson was provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Winston-Salem State University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

In recent months, Johnson had come under some criticism from faculty and alumni who thought that the university had made too little progress under his leadership. Critics also have voiced their dissatisfaction, citing declining enrollments and budget problems.

Johnson, however, last week touted university achievements occurring during his presidency, including the award of an $8 million “Race To The Top” U.S. Education Department grant for training elementary and middle school math teachers. 

Despite the criticism, alumni and officials expressed support for Johnson and wished him well.

“As a proud alumnus of the university, I do feel that others had a say in Johnson’s decision to retire,” said TSU graduate Demetria Dailey. “Why would you leave a top position and then go to the classroom. I believe he was forced out of his seat. I feel that he did a good job while it lasted and I wish him the best as he transitions to the classroom.”

Dr. Melvin Wright, a 1958 graduate of the university said, “I had high regards and respect for Johnson. I hate to see him go.”

Tennessee Board of Regents vice chairman Bob Thomas said, “The board very much appreciates Mel Johnson’s efforts as president and we know he will be an asset to TSU’s faculty,” according to The Tennessean.

“I was looking forward to him being here for the 100th anniversary but now it’s not going to happen,” said Shenitha Hampton, TSU assistant director of residence life.

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