Long, confusing search for Shaw University president frustrates alumni

08/29/2014 6:56 PM

08/29/2014 7:19 PM

The nationwide search for a president at Shaw University has drawn out over eight months without a permanent candidate named to the job – a process some alumni are calling chaotic, unprofessional and a risk to the school’s future.

In a letter to Shaw, 50 alumni gave a detailed criticism over steps taken to replace President Dorothy Yancy, who retired Dec. 31. They describe the university’s actions as a “charade,” aided by an inexperienced consultant who has recently filed for bankruptcy and reported living on public assistance.

Citing a June article published in HBCU Digest, the alumni chastised Shaw’s board for choosing the head of an online university in California who had not been named as a finalist. That candidate was close enough to being hired to receive a draft contract, they said, but did not get the job.

The group calls for change in membership of Shaw’s board and other leadership groups.

Board Chairman Joseph N. Bell could not be reached because his answering machine in Georgia did not accept messages. An email to his wife, Carolyn, an alderman in Savannah, Ga., got no response.

Shaw spokeswoman Odessa Hines said Bell did not receive the alumni letter but that a copy would be forwarded to him.

“Please understand that we are not questioning anyone’s love for our beloved Shaw,” said the alumni letter. “However, we truly believe the actions, decision and lack of true leadership needs to be addressed.”

On Thursday, following questions about the process, Shaw announced it would extend the contract of Acting President Gaddis Faulcon for one year, making him interim president. The announcement came four months after the school’s search committee presented its finalists for the board’s consideration.

In January, when Faulcon began his stint as acting president, Shaw announced that he would not be eligible to apply for the permanent job. In Thursday’s announcement, that rule had changed.

“We write this letter with a humble heart,” the alumni message said. “Over the past several months, things have been happening that we feel as a group is truly not in the best interest of our beloved Shaw.”

Founded in 1865, Shaw is the oldest historically black college in the South. Its student body includes more than 2,000 students in 30 degree programs.

The university cleared a big hurdle last year by getting its accreditation reaffirmed. But financial trouble and unstable administration have persisted for years.

HBCU struggles

Shaw’s latest 990 federal tax form shows its expenses exceeding revenue by more than 1 million. HBCUs nationwide have faced similar struggles, the alumni note in their letter. St. Paul’s College closed in Virginia last year, plagued by debt.

Shaw has sought permanent leadership since Clarence Newsome left as president in 2009 amid red ink and decaying buildings. Yancy stepped in for two short terms after Newsome’s departure, and Irma McClaurin served as president for less than a year.

Meanwhile, the six-year graduation rate at Shaw stands at 30 percent, statistics show. A private school, Shaw charges roughly $29,000 a year in tuition, room and board.

The search for Yancy’s successor began Jan. 1, led by a 23-member committee with three advisers. Chaired by the Rev. David Forbes, its members ranged from Student Government Association President Brandon Moyer to former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker.

Heal Global Consulting assisted the search. On its website, the Savannah-based firm said it provides “Solomonic counsel” to clients and focuses on mergers and acquisitions, research and development, risk management and executive searches.

Forbes said Thursday that the search committee finished its work in April and disbanded after submitting three finalists’ names to the board. Heal Global’s work wrapped up at that time as well, Hines confirmed.

Hines said a candidate came before the board in June but did not receive enough votes. So the search continues in the hands of the board’s executive committee.

‘Very puzzling’

The alumni letter tells a broader story.

They cite the June story from HBCU Digest, which announced that Andrew Honeycutt was to be named Shaw’s new president. Honeycutt had emerged despite not being named by the search committee, and the process had been changed to elevate him, the Digest story said.

Honeycutt is president of the online Anaheim University in California. A receptionist said he does not keep an office there. A Wikipedia page lists him living in Georgia, where he is a candidate for the state House. But the Georgia Board of Elections showed no candidate by that name running this year.

The alumni letter describes Honeycutt making plans to move to Raleigh, then dropping out. He could not be reached because his answering machine did not accept messages. Hines said she could not say whether Honeycutt is the candidate the board did not approve in June.

“The fact that Dr. Honeycutt was even in the discussion and highlighted in the article on HBCU Digest is very puzzling to this group,” the letter said.

The alumni letter also focused on James Allen Zow, the head of Heal Global, whom they say has no prior experience in university president selection. The Digest article said he excluded vocal members of the search committee from email lists.

In Zow’s bankruptcy filings from 2012, he listed Heal Global’s office at his home address in Savannah. He also listed $668 in public assistance as his monthly income and more than $500,000 in debt.

“Debtor can’t reasonably anticipate when, how or if monthly income will increase or decrease,” the filing said. “Furthermore, based upon the current economy, debtor can’t reasonably anticipate when and if clients or employment will occur in this economy.”

Statement of praise

Zow sent a statement by email Thursday saying his firm won praise for its work. He included this statement from board Chairman Bell: “He managed the process with the utmost professionalism, integrity and timeliness.”

Several alumni who signed the letter said their concerns remain strong and that the university has not addressed them.

“Not at all,” said the Rev. Carlton Whidby, a 1998 alumnus. “That’s really been a problem. We’ve been trying to pull information from them from a number of sources and haven’t been successful.”

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