St. Augustine's ousts president, reinstates two other officials

jstancill@newsobserver.comApril 7, 2014 

  • St. Augustine’s University

    Founded: 1867

    2014 enrollment: 1,064

    Campus: 122 acres near downtown Raleigh

    Student/faculty ratio: 14:1

    Academics: 27 undergraduate majors, 3 adult degree-completion programs

    Athletics: 16 sports, NCAA Division II, Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association conference

    Tuition, fees, room and board: $25,582 (annually)

— Dianne Boardley Suber has been ousted as president of St. Augustine’s University, despite her intention to retire at the end of May.

At a news conference Monday at the St. Aug’s library, trustees Chairman Rodney Gaddy said the board decided to remove Suber at a meeting that ended at 5:21 p.m. Friday. He said he tried to contact Suber to tell her but couldn’t reach her. Her own retirement announcement then went out at 5:42 p.m.

Gaddy said he finally was able to notify Suber on Saturday by email.

“We looked at all the challenges we had financially, and we looked at the accreditation questions that were coming up,” Gaddy said, “and we just decided that in the future, a change in leadership would be very important.”

The university also has reinstated two employees whose jobs were halted by Suber recently – Angela Haynes, vice president of business and finance, who was fired last Thursday, and Connie Allen, the provost who was put on leave in mid-March. Haynes had said last week that her firing was retaliation for giving information to the board about the university’s management.

Students, faculty and alumni packed the library for the unusual announcement Monday. Some professors had suspended classes so students could attend.

The crowd applauded when Gaddy told them, “we’d like to partner with you and just have a new, stronger St. Augustine’s University.”

Ronald Brown, vice president for strategic initiatives at St. Aug’s, will lead the university for the next couple of weeks as acting executive director while the board hires an interim president. Then, a search will commence for a permanent leader.

“St. Augustine’s University is strong,” Gaddy added. “We have a strong faculty. We have a tremendous student body. We’re going to improve our communications with the student body so that they feel very comfortable in knowing that this is an institution that is going to continue to be here and provide a quality education.”

‘Just long enough’

Suber, who had led St. Aug’s for 14 years, could not be reached for comment Monday. In a news release Friday, she said she trusted that her legacy would affirm that she left the university better than she found it. “Sometimes we tend to ‘stay too long at the fair.’ More often, we stay just long enough,” the announcement said.

Gaddy said details of Suber’s exit package were still being finalized and were confidential. According to 2011 tax documents, Suber was paid a salary of $248,100, plus $85,500 in other compensation.

A news release from the university credited Suber, the first female president there, with reinstating football, building a new athletic complex and changing the status of St. Aug’s from a college to a university.

But recent problems seemed to overwhelm any progress.

St. Aug’s, a historically black institution founded in 1867, has been troubled for months, with administrative turnover, staff cuts and a construction lawsuit. An audit last fall showed accounting disarray, questionable check writing practices and a $3 million drop in tuition revenue. Enrollment has declined in the past few years, worsening the financial picture.

Meanwhile, two federal agencies are looking into the university’s handling of grants, including questions about payments to a former employee, now deceased, who was Suber’s godson.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the regional accrediting agency, has asked the university for more information about its financial situation. Those inquiries were reported last week in The News & Observer.

Faculty said they weren’t fully aware of the financial problems nor were they consulted in the strategy for reorganization. The faculty senate had been disbanded years ago, so there was no formal mechanism for the faculty to weigh in with the administration.

‘Had not been invited’

Natalie Bullock Brown, chairwoman of the department of film and interactive media, said the situation had been stressful.

“We didn’t know what the plan was,” she said. “We had not been invited to participate in a plan to solve any of the issues.”

Some of the academic decisions seemed haphazard, Brown said, such as combining academic programs that were unrelated. Yet the university was moving ahead with a plan for online graduate degrees.

“I don’t know how that was happening,” Brown said. “Our undergraduate degrees need a complete overhaul.”

Students said they were glad to hear assurances from Gaddy that St. Aug’s would survive. About 200 students did not return for this semester after last fall.

“I don’t know too much about what’s going on, but it looked like people were just happy today,” said Tynesha Jones, 24, a senior from Philadelphia.

Jones will graduate next month. She said fellow students were speculating that it would be the last graduation at St. Aug’s.

She has hopes for the school that will soon be her alma mater.

“I love it here,” she said. “I just want to see enrollment go up, the tuition go down and students supporting the school more and being involved.”

Gaddy said he had talked with a student who transferred from St. Paul’s College, a historically black campus in Virginia that shut down last year because of financial hardship. The student transferred to St. Aug’s and worried that he was reliving a bad experience.

“I told him, ‘No,’ ” Gaddy said of his conversation with the student. “While we’ve had challenges, he ought not be that concerned because we are going to be stable. We are going to get our finances in order. I believe you’re going to see pretty dramatic change in how we manage things.”

For a time last year, St. Aug’s leaders considered acquiring St. Paul’s but decided against it.

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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