RALEIGH — Shaw Univer sity will name Irma McClaurin as its 15th president this morning, making her the first woman to hold the permanent job of steering the oldest historically black college in the South.
Board of trustees Chairman WillieGary announced McClaurin's name in a Sept. 6 letter to fellow board members, saying she would be formally introduced at a 10 a.m. news conference. McClaurin, 58, who has a doctorate in anthropology, comes to Raleigh from an associate vice president's job at the University of Minnesota.
Her arrival ends the tenure of interim President Dorothy C. Yancy, who took over in June 2009 after the abrupt announcement that President Clarence Newsome was taking a one-year leave of absence and would not return. The private university also said at the time that it was drowning in more than $20 million of debt.
During her 15-month stay, Yancy helped secure a $31 million federal loan to keep the school running. She had pledged that she would resume her retirement after no more than a year, but amid reports on and off campus that a replacement was imminent, she remained on the job. Yancy did not return a call Wednesday.
A spokeswoman in Gary's Florida law office said that the millionaire attorney would not be available for comment until this morning and that McClaurin would take no questions until the Raleigh news conference.
The announcement was closely held, and those who received the letter said they couldn't discuss it.
About 2,700 students attend Shaw. Its board consists of educators, business people and Baptist officials in North Carolina, Florida and New York, as well as boxer Evander Holyfield and boxing promoter Don King, according to Shaw's website.
McClaurin is a native of Chicago. Her university website describes her as a "born-again anthropologist" with a bachelor's degree in American studies from Grinnell College in Iowa and a doctorate in anthropology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Her recent research concerns Zora Neale Hurston, the 20th-century folklorist and author of the 1937 novel "Their Eyes Were Watching God."
When McClaurin took the University of Minnesota job in 2007, officials described her position as including "helping to identify funding opportunities to support the University's Urban Agenda, the University Northside Partnership, and the Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center."
McClaurin is "very, very strong" in strategic planning and strategic vision, said Robert J. Jones, senior vice president for system academic administration at the University of Minnesota.
Jones, who has been her boss since 2007, described McClaurin as unusually smart and a people person. "She is one of the brightest people I know, has a lot of charisma, and she is a very strategic thinker," he said.
She demonstrated that strategic bent, Jones said, when he hired her to be the first executive director of the university's new Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center. The university had developed a vision for a center to leverage the university's expertise, he said, and McClaurin "did a terrific job implementing that vision, building the new center and getting it up and running."
That skill in building relationships between universities and the communities is one reason that McClaurin will be not only Shaw's gain, but Raleigh's too, Jones said.
The university also listed McClaurin as once being a tenured professor at the University of Florida; deputy provost in charge of faculty development, accreditation and strategic planning at Fisk University, a historically black college in Nashville, Tenn.; and a program officer responsible for higher education, scholarship and diversity programs at the Ford Foundation.
On her own website, she lists books of poetry to her credit and includes this quotation: "My pathway from a creative writing literary background to administrator and public anthropologist is a non sequitur. I am a strong example of how it is possible to translate the liberal arts into practical realities."
McClaurin comes to Shaw at a troubled time.
In May, Shaw University's national alumni group called for the school's board of trustees to step down or be dismissed, citing "gross neglect." The May 14 letter from the alumni association's president, Emily Perry, cited no specific grievance but says, "We can no longer stand by and allow Shaw to appear to deteriorate due to poor judgment. ... We have serious concerns regarding conflict of interest, fiduciary responsibilities, adverse interest and commitment."
That letter was not the first rebuke. In March, the school's Florida alumni group sent a letter to Shaw administrators saying it was "amazed" that giving among board members totaled only $41,089 since July, despite Gary's pledge that each of the roughly 40 board members would chip in $50,000.
At the time, Gary said he had no plans to step down or request anyone else's ouster. He acknowledged failing to keep up with his own $10 million pledge, made in 1991 at a promised rate of $250,000 a year - a gift that brought him nationwide praise.
Staff writer Jay Price contributed to this report.
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