Tuesday, January 24, 2012

In Higher Education News: Bethune-Cookman University President Trudie Kibbe Reed Resigns/Retires

In the world of higher education, a very strange story now coming out of Bethune-Cookman University in Florida: as Michael Stratford reports  in the Chronicle of Higher Education yesterday, the university president, Dr. Trudie Kibbe Reed, has retired in the middle of the academic year.  At least, that appears to be the story.  But getting a clear picture of whether this is a resignation or a retirement or why it's taking place: that's another story altogether.

To the best of my knowledge, the first media outlet to report this story was the Miami-based paper the Florida Courier, which reported last Friday that Reed was resigning and the board chair, Larry Handfield, would be stepping down as well.  The Daytona Beach paper the News-Journal then followed with an article yesterday stating that Reed was resigning and that at a board meeting last Friday, 30 of the school's 33 trustees voted to accept the resignation.

The Orlando Sentinel then followed with a similar report in an article that later disappeared from its website.  This article was followed by another in the same paper reporting that Reed is retiring and not resigning.  This piece cites a trustee, Rev. Randolph Bracy, who contradicted the initial report of the board chair, Handfield, and who told the Sentinel the following:

The chair of the board misspoke.  Resignation is out of the question.  The chairman is out of order and will be dealt with.

The Sentinel reports that Bracy's information was substantiated by another trustee, who had stated that  "the issue had not been discussed at Friday's meeting."  According to the Sentinel, the welter of conflicting reports even got local political figures concerned about the story: the Sentinel cites Rep. Dwayne Taylor of Daytona Beach, who told the media that the local community has a vested interest in knowing what is happening at this important local institution, and who stated,

We need, in the community, clarity on what is going to take place and how it is going to take place.

And then the Daytona paper followed with another article, now stating that Reed has retired (when its first report had used the word "resigned"), noting that Handfield is also stepping down as board chair but reporting that Handfield says this has nothing to do with Reed's retirement announcement, and reminding readers that the board had chosen to keep Reed on as president at a fall meeting at which the media reported that the report of an outside evaluator had raised critical questions about her leadership.

That fall meeting and the report of the outside evaluator are extensively discussed in a series of articles the Miami paper the Courier did last fall, which interested readers can find here.  Rev. Randolph Bracy, the trustee cited above, responded to the Courier's series with an op-ed piece defending Reed, as the paper reported on various questions that were being raised about her leadership.

As the Chronicle of Higher Education notes in its opening paragraph about Reed's resignation/retirement, she "has twice presided over a college while it was censured by the American Association of University Professors over its firing of faculty."  The article notes that she came to Bethune-Cookman from Philander Smith College in Little Rock.  In her history as a college president, she has been president of two colleges/universities, both historically black United Methodist institutions, both of which were placed under AAUP censure for alleged violations of the academic freedom of faculty and for violations of due process in firing faculty.

As the Chronicle article and the series in the Florida Courier also report, B-CU now faces a series of lawsuits due to several of the firing incidents, and Reed herself is named personally as a defendant in a number of these lawsuits.  Shortly before the American Association of University Professors censured Bethune-Cookman University with claims that the president's violations of the rights of faculty members had undermined the institution's integrity, the Southern Association of Colleges, whose accreditation guidelines note that integrity is the governing principle by which SACS judges institutions as it accredits them, re-accredited Bethune-Cookman University.*  The school's press statement announcing the reaccreditation states that SACS found no standards that the school did not meet, placing it in the top two percent of schools accredited by SACS during that accrediting cycle.

Prior to the re-accreditation actions, Reed had been placed by SACS on its executive council.  She was elected to the SACS board of trustees in May 2010.

I write about this story with a vested interest in understanding what is going on at this important historically black university, since I have fifteen years' experience teaching and doing administrative work in HBCUs, and a long commitment to helping assure their academic excellence.  I also know Bethune-Cookman University in a very personal way: I was academic dean under Trudie Kibbe Reed at Philander Smith College for a number of years, and when she took her position at Bethune-Cookman, she asked Steve and me to join her there and offered me the job of academic vice-president.

After one year, she fired me under atrociously unjust conditions.  I have recounted here the story of that atrociously unjust firing and of her violation of a promise to Steve and me to provide a job for us up to our retirement, which resulted in our buying a house in Florida that we do not want or need but with which we're now stuck.  As I've noted, homophobic prejudice played a very clear, discernible, and easily proven role in what Reed did to us at Bethune-Cookman--and I am willing to provide details about this story all over again to anyone who might be interested in it.  

In all that I have written about this story in the past, I have not named the institution or the president who has made our lives extremely difficult by luring us to indebt ourselves on the basis of promises she broke, who willingly used homophobia to cover the gross injustice of her treatment of us, and who has been permitted by the United Methodist church, her board of trustees, and the Southern Association of Colleges and Universities to behave in similar fashion and with impunity to a long string of other employees.

I am naming Dr. Reed and Bethune-Cookman University now because what is happening at the school at this moment provides an opening for changes that might--if someone with strong integrity and leadership ability chooses to act--place this valuable HBCU on a sound footing again.  B-CU deserves the very best leadership it can obtain.  It does not deserve the shoddy and integrity-challenged leadership it has had recently at its top administrative and board level--shoddy, integrity-challenged leadership that the United Methodist Church and SACS could and should have challenged, but have not chosen to challenge in any effective way, to the strong discredit of both institutions.

On the same day that Reed's resignation was announced, an announcement was issued that Bethune-Cookman has been named to the Civil Rights Hall of Fame.  Because of its illustrious, courageous founder, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, and its long and distinguished history educating generations of well-trained African-American students, this university deserves the best leadership it can obtain.  It deserves capable, astute leaders with strong integrity and a strong commitment to academic excellence.

I hope that what is taking place at this school right now will open the door to a new future for the school, the kind of future it richly deserves.  But the school cannot go through that door until those with governing responsibility for it--its board, the United Methodist Church, and the Southern Association of Colleges--begin facing honestly what has been taking place at the school in recent years, and begin dealing with the serious injury inflicted on more than one person by the school's abysmal lack of good leadership in the recent past.  And until these dignitaries begin acting justly towards those who have been significantly harmed in this period of the school's history, listening to our stories, and seeking, as is mandated for a Methodist institution, to heal some of the deep wounds inflicted on some of those associated with this school in the recent past.

* For an addendum to the preceding posting that further discusses the role of SACS, see this subsequent posting.

P.S. The Chronicle of Higher Education is a highly esteemed national publication.  Through this esteemed national publication, Bethune-Cookman University is receiving national publicity right now.  I wonder if that publicity, with the conflicting reports by trustees and the information about Reed's track record getting two schools in a row on AAUP's censure list, works to the advantage of the school.  More than that: I wonder how those with leadership positions and responsibility for this outstanding historic HBCU can reclaim the credibility the school is losing with these reports.

No comments: