In the third decade of the 20th century, nearly 30 years after the founding of her beloved Bethune-Cookman College (B-CC), Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune organized the institution’s graduates to help garner support.
By doing so, Dr. Bethune established a “Direct Support/Service Organization (DSO),” similar to what is being proposed by the current Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) leadership.
Dr. Bethune appointed staff with institutional support for what would in the future become the National Alumni Association of B-CC (NAA).
Originally, an arm of the administration, as time passed both the administration and NAA agreed that the NAA should become an independent 501© (3). By the 1970s, the alumni organization evolved into an independent organization and was a strategic partner that merited representation on the Board of Trustees (BOT).
A reason for the NAA’s separation from the university was to be independent, having its own voice, apart from the university’s leadership. As a non-profit, the NAA could help attract resources for the university as well as be custodians of the traditions and legacy of the institution.
Most importantly, the NAA as an organization could also use its voice to hold university leaders accountable for their actions. This is particularly relevant because as a private university, B-CU has no external oversight and is not required to answer to any entity outside of the BOT (other than its accrediting body).
Because the NAA is the institution’s major external stakeholder, it is incumbent upon its leaders and members to raise concerns about and with B-CU leadership. Recently, the NAA’s expression of concerns has led to censorship and its banishment.
As a course to objectivity, alumni concerns have been focused on the institution’s best interest by calling for best practices, especially as it relates to governance. During the institution’s last accreditation process, university leadership did not measure up to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ (SACS) governance standards and was sanctioned for it.
Reaccreditation next year
Although these sanctions were removed, one wonders if the current BOT’s heavy-handed involvement in alumni matters (which are mainly administrative), may be an overreach and/ or beyond its purview and may portend a repeat failure regarding governance issues with SACS.
A response to this wonderment is forthcoming as the institution is up for reaccreditation next year. As the university prepares for the SACS visit, B-CU leaders should think long and hard about their actions pertaining to the role of the BOT as a policymaking body and the administration’s oversight of day-today activities of the university to ensure adherence to SACS standards.
Typically, it is the university administration that relates to the alumni organization. Until recently, there was a symbiotic relationship between the NAA and the administration with a free flow of information that benefited the university, especially with student recruitment and fundraising.
All of this changed when the NAA’s Board of Directors passed a vote of no confidence in the chair and vice chair of the BOT after the resignation of former President Dr. E. LaBrent Chrite.
Chrite’s sudden resignation was a signal to alumni and other stakeholders that the BOT had challenges living up to its responsibility to hire and retain a competent CEO for the university.
This was even more concerning because Chrite’s presidency was seen as a reprieve for the BOT after so many financial and administrative leadership debacles in the three previous years. This was a signal that the university has regressed in the area of governance.
Instead of majoring in the minor by establishing a DSO and disassociating the university from an organization established by its founder, the BOT should be laser focused on establishing a presidential search committee using higher education best practices.
Best practices would also include the BOT:
Adhering to the governance standards of SACS (including board development)
Communicating humbly and truthfully with stakeholders like the NAA, the Daytona Beach community, the United Methodist Church, and donors Focusing its efforts on fund-raising and cultivating supporters to help sustain the university.
Immediately initiating a presidential search by engaging a search firm.
During this homecoming week, we were able to witness the arrival in Daytona Beach of the marble statue of Dr. Bethune that will be placed in Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.
It’s as if Mother Mary want- ed to appear at homecoming to help the leaders of B-CU remember that the future of her legacy is in their hands and the demise of her institution is not an option.
Sheila Flemming, Ph.D., is a 1971 Bethune-Cookman graduate. She is a member of the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune National Alumni Association and a Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune/ Bethune-Cookman University Scholar.