Editor's Note - After Wednesday's Carolinian Newspaper deadline, attorney Willie Gary, chairman of the Shaw University Board of Trustees, consented to an interview. Read his remarks, and defense against allegations that the school is not being managed properly, in the August 18 edition of The Carolinian.
By Cash Michaels
"Culture clash" is the term many Shaw University employees and alums are using as a key reason to explain the extraordinary and unexpected resignation this week of the school’s 15th president.
Indeed, sources have been informing The Carolinian since earlier this year, the problems at the beloved historically black university, scheduled to begin classes August 17th, despite severe budgetary challenges and recovering from an April tornado that crippled the campus, have been mounting ever since Dr. Irma McClaurin took the helm.
The Carolinian has learned that after a tumultuous eleven months, the Shaw Trustee Board, according to sources, decided to terminate her contract, and give McClaurin one-year’s severance pay.
Attorney Willie Gary, chairman of Shaw’s Trustee Board, confirmed what The Carolinian learned when he told the News and Observer Wednesday, “ It just wasn’t working.”
Sources tell The Carolinian that the board was reportedly displeased that McClaurin, 58, allegedly wasn’t raising the kind of funding they had expected from her after almost a year in office, and the trustees especially balked when she allegedly turned in a $300,000 budget for her installation ceremony in October.
As is custom in these kinds of separation, both parties agreed to publicly state that Dr. McClaurin’s departure was “mutual.”
McClaurin, an anthropologist, Chicago native and founding executive director of the Urban Research and Outreach Engagement Center at the University of Minnesota, could not be reached for comment Wednesday for this story. But on her website, she seemed to hint in a past writing that professionally, those who work with her can always expect something different.
“In my career, I’ve found that not following the routine trajectory has created unique opportunities for me,” she wrote. “I don’t fit the boxes, but I’ve learned from every experience, even when it hasn’t gone as expected.”
“We also assume the academy supports a free-flow of ideas,” McClaurin wrote. “Well…not all the time.”
Her detractors called her a “self-centered and dictatorial” leader who didn’t understand the culture of historically black institutions, and maybe wasn’t “tough enough” to lead one, having come from a white university.
“Many staff and students said that she is an African-American woman that has a white person’s approach,” said one former Shaw staffer.
An alum who spoke with The Carolinian agreed, using the term “culture clash” to describe McClaurin’s problems at the school. The person added that the problems started at the 2010 Shaw Homecoming activities, when Dr. McClaurin was not “very embracing” at the Shaw alumni meeting, seeming indifferent to the special tradition and pride of the university.
But her supporters counter that McClaurin, “…brought a no-nonsense business approach [to Shaw University] that was severely lacking.” In the end, dealing with the mounting stress and tens of millions in school debt, particularly after working to get the campus repaired and ready for the new semester, may have proved to be too much for the Shaw president.
In March 2011, a Shaw University employee, expressing exuberance and hope about the future of the historically black university under the leadership of Dr. McClaurin, wrote in an email to The Carolinian, “It won't be an easy job.... but we’re up for the challenge because we truly, truly, TRULY love our alma mater,” later adding, “Although it may not necessarily feel like good things are happening at the university...they truly are. People just aren't looking in the right places…yet.”
But by the end of May, that same devoted Shaw alum and employee had a dramatic change of heart.
“What we have seen, smelled, touched and heard over the course of the past four months is enough to make [founder] Henry Martin Tupper himself do cartwheels in his grave,” the emailer wrote. “I want to tell you that Shaw is in serious, serious trouble. But we CANNOT stand by idly, without the desire to help.”
By the middle of July, that Shaw employee had allegedly seen so much that was disturbing, the person was emailing again, literally asking for help.
“I am having serious regrets,” the Shaw employee wrote, later documenting disturbing allegations of malfeasance, failure in personal conduct, conflicts of interest and employee mistreatment covering the entire university administration. “I really wish that I had tried to "pay it forward" from the OUTSIDE because once I got on the INSIDE - - I have observed some things that were immoral, illegal and downright scary. Because of the culture of fear - - no one will rock the boat.”
Actually, at that same time, a former Shaw professor, alleging wrongful termination, was “rocking the boat,” supplying media outlets with documents purportedly showing how fired longtime Shaw employees were allegedly being denied due process.
This week, much of what that Shaw employee and professor allegedly saw and heard came to a head, and the 15th president of Shaw University - the school’s third leader in the past three years - announced her resignation just one month shy of her first anniversary, and two months out from a planned official installation ceremony.
Based on internal sources, former employees and press reports The Carolinian has reviewed, an unhealthy picture of a black university president constantly at war with many of her trustee board and faculty members, and campus employees, has emerged.
While much of the blame is placed on Dr. McClaurin, some say Shaw’s Trustee Board must also shoulder much of the blame for some of the administrative dysfunction.
“There was no accountability for funds,” Cornell Adams, a New Jersey businessman and trustee who resigned from the Shaw Trustee Board last month after three years, told The News and Observer. “I didn’t like the situation.”
Adams also made it clear that “there weren’t too many people happy with her.”
Indeed, Irma McClaurin, the first female to take the helm as Shaw University’s permanent president last September (former Johnson C. Smith University Dr. Dorothy Yancey served as interim president prior to McClaurin’s arrival), ran into a buzz saw of backlash almost as soon as she took the torch, sources confirm.
“Most alumni I’ve been in touch with or heard from are pleased with the separation,” responded one Shaw alumna. “It’s been a contentious 11 months or so, which in my opinion, didn’t get off to a good start.”
Perhaps Dr. McClaurin’s biggest controversy during her short tenure was her March 11th termination of four Shaw faculty members who had given a combined 68 years of service to the institution.
After word got out about the firings, protests by faculty, students and alums rang the Shaw Campus in April, alleging that the school violated its own policies in the process.
On April 11th in response, Dr. McClaurin issued a terse statement of rebuke, saying in part, “I think it unfortunate that at the very moment Shaw is gaining positive recognition locally and nationally that a few have chosen to become involved in university personnel matters, on which I am prevented from commenting for confidentiality reasons.”
McClaurin continued, “What I can tell you is that the information recently circulated by disgruntled employees contains only partial truths, and mixes employment activities that occurred years ago for various reasons with more recent actions, and tries to convey that these unrelated incidences are somehow part of an orchestrated plan.”
Shaw University has new leadership,” Dr. McClaurin went on, “…and with such comes change. I regret that many have lost sight of more pressing issues facing our beloved institution, such as the impact of proposed federal and state cuts in financial aid to our students, and the ramifications of such cuts for this institution.”
“To protest during commencement, when students should be celebrating their accomplishments, is an action that is neither in the best interest of our students, nor in the best interest of Shaw University,” she concluded.
Sources say McClaurin tried to resolve the matter by hiring an attorney to act as mediator between the school and the Shaw four.
“We felt deceived when she announced mediation as a way to resolves the issues,” wrote one of the fired Shaw professors in a July 26th missive, adding that because they were terminated for little reason, they should just be reinstated without delay.
According to a July 8, 2011 letter to Dr. McClaurin from the American Association of University Professors, the March 11 letter of termination to the Shaw four notified them that “…their services were being terminated at the end of the 2010-11 academic year.”
The AAUP letter went on, “We understand that they received no explanation of the administration’s action and that they have not been afforded an opportunity to contest the action in an appropriate faculty hearing.”
The AAUP letter goes on to state that,”… the Shaw University faculty handbook contains no provisions for protecting academic freedom through a system of tenure.” AAUP argued that the four, who averaged anywhere from 12 to 20 years apiece, should have been tenured, and in effect, safe from termination long before they were notified.
AAUP urged McClaurin to reinstate the Shaw four, and, “…an attempt be made to seek a resolution acceptable to them.”
As of press time, the Shaw four are still gone, but now, so is the university president who fired them.