Tuesday, April 04, 2017

HBCU Digest: Gasman tough on majority black BOTs at HBCUs, but not white system leaders

HBCU Digest recently took University of Pennsylvania Professor Marybeth Gasman to task for being quick to criticize problems that predominantly black boards of trustees create at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), but mainly ignoring the harm that white leaders of state university systems cause at HBCUs.

Gasman is the director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

From HBCU Digest:

Dozens of HBCU presidents over the last few years have been fired, but only a handful of them of earned the defense of University of Pennsylvania professor Marybeth Gasman in the pages of national news. Today, outgoing Morehouse College President John Silvanus Wilson became the latest to earn the Ivy League endorsement…

She did something similar for former Florida A&M University President Elmira Mangum last September, accusing its board of sexism and interference…

And the same was true in 2012, when Gasman defended Morgan State University President David Wilson, who was then on the verge of being fired by the board, but reversed its decision and has kept Dr. Wilson on an ‘indefinite appointment’ agreement in the years following…

Of these three examples, some startling trends reveal themselves about the nature of these dismissals and the endorsement of Dr. Gasman, who in spite of her self-heralded decades of research experience and visits to 101 of 105 campuses, and even her experience as an HBCU board member, still doesn’t seem to grasp the persistence of her white privilege in assessing HBCU issues, or basic concepts of the politics, governance, and the nature of board leadership in higher education.

All three of her charges of board incompetence have come against institutions with predominantly black, autonomous boards. Several HBCU presidents, even those serving under boards of visitors, have all been dismissed by state system boards largely made up of middle-aged white guys; all without a word from Dr. Gasman…

Did they deserve to be fired? In some cases yes and in some cases no. But Dr. Gasman’s silence in all of these cases signals that she is prone to selective support for some presidents and some interpretations of why they are fired, and not others. This makes her the most unreliable resource for any campus trying to make sense of why the culture at large is suffering from these issues on a variety of campuses…

What separates some failures from others? What makes some mistakes or some leadership issues which draw a vote to terminate or for non-renewal, worthy of silence and others worthy of a UPENN push? Personal relationships could be one possibility. The other?  That when white folks fire black folks, it’s for good reason. But when we do it, it is because we are not familiar with how boards should operate.

If we’re talking trends in HBCU administration, and Gasman is free to discuss how frequently black boards get it wrong in hiring and firing presidents, then she should be among the first to examine the same trend among system boards doing the same dirt. But she doesn’t, and when you add that to her habit of telling all black colleges not to take money from organizations and people whom she deems as unfit to help black people, you begin to see why most in the HBCU community dismiss her voice, research and platform outright…

Read the full editorial here.

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