Reviewing my ACAD address of 1989 awakens memories of that occasion, but also stimulates reflections about my subsequent leadership journey in higher education. In 1989 I occupied an endowed chair at Swarthmore College—an extraordinary opportunity. Two leadership positions had preceded Swarthmore, the University of California at Santa Cruz where I was the Founding Provost of Oakes College, and then President of Tougaloo College, an HBCU in Mississippi.
When I approached the ACAD meeting room, I was greeted by several friends—new presidents of Black colleges who expressed their joy at my selection as the keynote speaker, it affirmed them and all HBCUs. I was intuitively aware of the nuances shaping their sentiments and entered the meeting determined to strengthen their resolve through my words and actions.
I rose to the podium deeply engulfed in feelings of “double-consciousness.” My calm confidence reflected the leadership experiences cited by Dean Subbiondo in his introduction, while simultaneously there was a surging desire to speak directly to the emotions of my HBCU colleagues. They were looking to me to “represent” in a manner that would affirm personal confidence in their leadership as well as comfort in an “estranged” assembly. I still remember the dual emotions within me as I began my remarks. The enthusiastic response of the audience told me I met the expectations of the entire assembly.
In 1989 I had not reached the half-way point of my academic career and had little understanding of my administrative future—a road filled with constant challenges, exciting achievements, and bitter disappointments. Ahead were leadership positions in a land-grant university, an urban university, a rural university, and a medical university. The values learned before 1989 guided me through the following years.
I reflect now on my 1989 presentation from the perspectives of a long and productive career. It is satisfying to realize I had a solid foundation beneath me at the ACAD meeting. My remarks—although at times cynical—were honest and sincere. I believe the counsel I shared in 1989 has withstood the test of time. Deans must always be leaders in creating climates of excellence in the face of extraordinary, unpredictable, and constantly changing conditions.
Deans must always be leaders in creating climates of excellence.