Lincoln, St. Aug's Go Old School with Haphazard Presidential Actions

Trustees at Lincoln University of Pennsylvania and Saint Augustine’s University will announce new presidents in the coming days. LU officials announced today that President Brenda Allen will not receive a new contract following the expiration of her original deal on June 30, while sources close to the St. Aug’s board say that the school is set to announce former LeMoyne-Owen College President Irving McPhail as its permanent president next week.

Boards have the right to hire and fire presidents who they deem to fit with a school’s strategic objectives and mission statement. But the dismissals of Brenda Allen at Lincoln and Interim President Maria Lumpkin at SAU seem to be inconsistent with their performance in the respective seats, and the timing for which a presidential transition would seem to be the wisest.

At Lincoln, students and faculty appear to have overwhelming support for Allen, who since her appointment in 2017 has successfully improved student retention, graduation rates, and alumni engagement while successfully working to reaffirm the school’s accreditation, according to a statement from the LU Board of Trustees.

The university’s most recent tax filings show a deficit of just under $400,000, but more than $11 million in increased auxiliary revenues, private gifts, and federal grants and contracts in Allen’s first year.

Saint Augustine’s hasn’t even had enough time to run the numbers on Lumpkin’s tenure, who was appointed as the school’s second interim president in March after being hired as campus COO five months prior.

Her portfolio after just nine months also reads impressively; a record-setting capital improvement grant exceeding more than $3 million, enhanced student support with technology and scholarship access, and surpluses in the school’s overall financial picture.

There are things that any college trustee board knows that the public could and should never know — and in these cases, each president comes with her own set of controversy. Allen has the public endorsement of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, a political ally which is never a good thing in HBCU leadership contexts in any state.

Lumpkin is connected to growing whispers about executive mismanagement and excessive personnel management, not by her own doing, but mostly as a liaison for the SAU board and its cringe-worthy interference in daily campus affairs.

But with all things being considered, neither president from the outside looks to be deserving of an unceremonious removal after an abbreviated term of leadership. So why is this happening at a time when so much is riding on the next few weeks when every school will have to make complex decisions about reopening, closing, hiring and firing in the context of a global pandemic?

The last thing any campus should want is a novice to the position or to the campus culture to have to learn one of the most complex jobs on the planet while navigating a public health crisis no one has ever seen before. No search, no onboarding process and no ‘welcome to campus’ reception can warm enough stakeholders’ hearts to accept leadership displacement when it is truly the most valuable asset any campus will have in the next 18 to 24 months — unless it is an absolute executive crisis which may be the case at a place like South Carolina State University.

The HBCU sector has been through stretches where women in leadership have borne an unfair burden of evaluation and removal, and if Lincoln and Saint Augustine’s are trending in that direction, their efforts won’t galvanize alumni to support with more donations and gifts, and won’t instill confidence in presidential hopefuls seeking board stability as a condition of applying.

By this time next week, Lincoln and Saint Augustine’s will have two new presidents with appointments not expected to last more than three years. It is the right of each board to lead in this way, but is it the right way to lead and the right time to walk such slim margins for error in executive stability?