As stakeholders of the Bethune-Cookman University, the National Alumni Association (NAA) is ready to stand with university leaders in support of “best practices.”
The B-CU Board of Trustees has a decade-long history that demonstrates the need for board reform, transparency and more effective collaboration with its stakeholders, namely the NAA as a national organization.
Board reform is not merely the replacement of people, but the re-education of trustee roles and responsibilities on behalf of the university as the fiduciary agent, which are distinct from “the administration” of the institution.
More than meets the eye
With what appeared to have been a sudden resignation by President E. LaBrent Chrite and the initial reaction of the board denying any knowledge of the resignation, everyone – especially alumni – was taken back. As events unfolded, we learned from Dr. Chrite’s statement that he and the board “were not aligned” in the vision for the institution. In addition, we found that the chair of the board, Belvin Perry, provided a reference for Dr. Chrite’s new job.
But while most of the stakeholders assumed the university was moving along swimmingly in its steps to recovery from past board and administration mistakes, in the background was lurking dysfunction that led to the departure of a president in less than two years and a board chair who wished him well.
Recognizing that the positive trends of the university’s outgoing leadership “did not align” with the board leadership, the question is raised: “What manner of circumstances does a leader need to ‘align’ appropriately with the board to bring security and stability to the institution?” Specifically, what on earth does the university leader need to do to “align” with the board?
No confidence in the board
Do stakeholders have confidence that, given the abruptness of events that recently transpired, the board of trustees is capable of playing out their role to employ yet another president and uphold its fiduciary responsibilities to ensure stability? The NAA is not confident of this.
With these circumstances and queries in mind, recently the NAA passed a vote of “no-confidence” in the leadership of the B-CU Board of Trustees.
Upon hearing about that vote, the administration and board leadership requested that the NAA not move forward with an announcement about the “no confidence vote” due to potential negative impact on urgent financial matters in play.
The NAA agreed to temporarily hold off on the announcement for several weeks. In the meantime, the board would meet with the NAA to discuss the concerns that led to no-confidence. Because of this agreement, the no-confidence announcement was not made as planned at the NAA Town Hall Meeting on March 20.
However, the NAA communicated with the board that alumni were anxious to get more information and clarity on next steps as well as a response to the issues raised because of Chrite’s resignation before the next town hall meeting on April 10.
Critical steps are necessary
These issues included: engaging an external search firm to manage the appointment of both an interim and permanent president; embracing board reform and education; and restoring the official voice and vote of the NAA on the board. The alumni who currently serve on the board do not represent the voice of the association as a body and are not accountable to the association.
In the space of three weeks from the NAA’s initial town hall to now, the board of trustees has not agreed to meet with the NAA.
The NAA is ready and well able to partner with the board of trustees. The search that resulted in the last selection of our president was nearly terminated as it was challenged by conflicts of interest (current board chair Perry applied for the job), a lack of transparency and a lack of experience associated with “best practices.”
The alumni recognize that long-term tenures of Dr. Richard V. Moore and Dr. Oswald Perry Bronson are administrative relics in the 21st-century academy. We understand that best practices call for a clear delineation between administrative matters and board responsibilities, and that the tenure for current university presidents is some 20 months, not decades.
Transparency is a requirement
Best practices dictate some level of respect and communication among the alumni organization, the administration and the board of trustees. While transparency is relative in all situations, best practices indicate the more transparency with stakeholders, the better.
In the 20th century, Bethune-Cookman was blessed with administrative and board leaders who were loyal to the university and who excelled in understanding the nuances of educational leadership. It is in the best interest and practice of the university in the 21st century to align itself with a president with compatible visions for the university as well as recognition of the vital role the NAA played and will play to ensure stability.
For example, just this last year, the NAA has worked to increase alumni giving, financially assisted the university with its marketing plan, recruited hundreds of students and walked the Capitol halls in Tallahassee to lobby for increased funding that was recently approved.
B-CU is vital to the state and nation. We must be attuned to the best practices that will guide us to an inspired trajectory for centuries to come. The NAA is advocating for that.
Let’s Go, Wildcats!
Johnny L. McCray, Jr. is a Pompano Beach-based attorney who is president of the Bethune-Cookman University National Alumni Association. He graduated from Bethune-Cookman University in 1974 and served on its Board of Trustees from 2007 to 2016. This commentary was also published in the Daytona Beach News-Journal.