Letter to the Editor: Why Lincoln Alumni Requested Help from the Pennsylvania Attorney General

Recently, you published a misleading article—that is, “Pennsylvania Attorney General is Setting Foundation for Legislative Interference in Lincoln’s Autonomy”—that misrepresents the propriety of the Attorney General’s requested intervention in the affairs of Lincoln. Certainly, given the historical circumstance of African Americans, I agree it is wise for us to watchfully safeguard our cherished institutions, like Lincoln.

But you have gone too far by speculating that the Commonwealth’s Attorney General, Mr. Shapiro’s lawsuit to rectify the conniving of the university’s board chair and her trustee cohorts is ultimately intended to improperly intrude on the university’s governance. A thorough review of events reveals the Board’s chair and her minions who voted not to retain Dr. Brenda Allen as President of the university corruptly connived to reach that objective.

Dr. Allen is inordinately well-qualified to be any college’s President. As a recent petition signed by more than 14,000 evinces, the alumni, students, and faculty of Lincoln are overjoyed with her return to our alma mater. As an alumna, Dr. Allen is well-acquainted with the unique culture and storied history of our university. After graduating from Lincoln, she earned graduate degrees, i.e., a Master of Science and doctorate from Howard University. Her post-graduate education includes studies at Harvard University, Smith College, and Yale University. She has held administrative positions at Smith, Brown, and Winston-Salem University, including Provost, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Assistant to the President, Director of Institutional Diversity, and Department Chair. She has taught at Yale, Smith, Brown, and Winston-Salem.

Thus, Dr. Allen has experienced the full educational panoply at the highest levels. Additionally, she has taken Lincoln to new heights during her short, initial three-year tenure as our university’s president.

Lincoln University is a state-related institution, unlike a state-owned facility. Although the Commonwealth appropriates money to Lincoln, the laws of the Commonwealth and the university’s bylaws vest entire management of the university in its board of trustees. The Commonwealth only retains a minority interest in the management of the institution. The governor, secretary of education, and the state legislature have the authority to appoint 12 of the university’s 39 trustees.

Between January and June 2020, the various authorized Pennsylvania entities duly appointed five of the Commonwealth’s 12 trustees to Lincoln’s Board of Trustees.

Nothing the Attorney General is now trying to achieve threatens to change that arrangement. Prior to the July 10 Board meeting, the Attorney General wrote the Chair of the Board, informing her the Commonwealth’s trustees were to be seated at its July 10 meeting without further delay. The next day, the Attorney General reportedly called the chair of the board, reasserted the Commonwealth’s demand regarding seating its trustees, and reportedly received the chair’s assurance that the Commonwealth’s trustees would be seated at the July 10 meeting. They were not! 

At the request of the alumni (and apparently a minority member of the Board), the attorney general has filed a lawsuit to guarantee that a properly constituted Board of Trustees convenes to manage the university, including, currently, Dr. Allen’s retention. The alumni, and assumptively one minority, alumni board member, have invited the attorney general’s intervention on behalf of the university, that is, to seat the Commonwealth Trustees and to nullify the chair’s July 10 meeting and the vice chair’s subsequent efforts, and to remove board members, most especially the chair.

We made that request, thinking only the Commonwealth, i.e., its Attorney General, could seek to redress the chair’s refusal to seat the Commonwealth Trustees who could change the vote to retain Dr. Allen as the university’s president and to nullify the chair and vice-chair’s corrupt efforts.

Understanding the propriety of nullifying the dishonest July 10 meeting and the subsequent efforts of the chair and vice-chair requires one to understand that Pennsylvania, like most other states, has enacted a Sunshine Act. That legislation assures the transparency of public institutions, like Lincoln, by requiring, among other things: e.g., proper public notices of meetings of the Board of Trustees; public meetings of the Board; limited 30-minute, closed, confidential, “executive sessions” of the Board; public votes on matters, like the retention of university presidents; etc.

Here, the chair of the board published an inadequate notice of the business to be considered by the Board at the July 10 special meeting; in contravention of the law, the Board, or some number of its members, ignored the 30-minute limitation on “executive session” and stayed in a closed, confidential so-called “executive session” for more than three-and-a-half hours; despite the legal requirement that the Board conduct a public vote on retaining Dr. Allen, the Board voted on her retention during its closed “executive session.”

Moreover, following the 11-to-11 retention vote, the chair emerged from the “executive session” and falsely reported that Dr. Allen had lost the vote by four percentage points: 52 to 48%.

 So, you see, the chair of Lincoln University’s Board of Trustees and those trustees who have conspired with her to corrupt the management of the university can no longer be trusted. The students, alumni, and faculty were in need of the Attorney General’s intervention to rectify that situation, because, as you observe in your article the Attorney has stated, “students, alumni, faculty, and staff of the [university] that taught Langston Hughes and Thurgood Marshall must have confidence that their leadership complied with state law.” The Attorney General has intervened to grant us that assurance.

Rather than being wary of the Attorney General because he is a Caucasian, we owe him a debt of gratitude.

L. Jackson Thomas II is a 1973 graduate of Lincoln University.