Everett Ward, who became interim president of St. Augustine’s University Wednesday, pledged to help put his alma mater on firm financial footing and restore faith among its students, alumni and faculty.
Minutes after being introduced in a campus ceremony, Ward, 55, a former Department of Transportation administrator and state Democratic Party director, gave St. Aug’s a $10,000 donation. It was perhaps an example to alumni who will be asked to support the financially troubled university.
He succeeds Dianne Boardley Suber, who was forced out this month by the Board of Trustees after she had announced her intention to retire in May.
Ward steps into a role stacked with challenges. St. Aug’s has been in crisis, with enrollment declines, administrative turnover, staff cuts and a construction lawsuit. Two federal agencies are looking into the university’s handling of grants, and the regional accrediting agency is reviewing its financial situation. An audit last fall showed accounting disarray, questionable check writing practices and a $3 million drop in tuition revenue.
Wednesday’s announcement was attended by students, faculty, alumni and beloved former St. Aug’s president, Prezell Robinson. It was a homecoming for Ward, who was born at St. Agnes Hospital on the campus, graduated in 1982 and chaired the Board of Trustees from 2009-2011.
“Let the word go forth that the stone gates of St. Augustine’s swing open today and that all are welcome,” Ward said. “St. Augustine’s is alive and well.”
He called his sister, also a St. Aug’s graduate, to the stage to present a check for a Ward family endowment. The crowd cheered.
“We’re looking to reinvigorate St. Augustine’s financially, and I want you to know I’m personally committed to this restoration,” he said, “and to what we’re calling the St. Augustine’s renaissance.”
He said he didn’t have all the answers to the challenges that face the university, but asked others to join him in creating viable solutions for the private, historically black campus founded in 1867. He said he would approach the future with a strategy rooted in ethical leadership.
Option kept open
Trustee Chairman Rodney Gaddy said Ward is a natural choice for his “collaborative yet decisive” leadership style and his genuine care for the institution. He said Ward will be in the position from 12 to 18 months, while the board gears up for a national search.
But Gaddy did not rule out that Ward could be in the role permanently. “We knew he would be a good candidate if he’s interested, so we kept that option open,” Gaddy said.
Dennis English, a 2000 graduate, said he couldn’t think of anyone more suited to lead St. Aug’s at a critical time. He said alumni will be ready to work with Ward to help stabilize the university. “Alumni have been on the sidelines for years,” English said. “He’s going to at least bring back a sense of pride.”
Many students attended the event. Christian Roberson, a junior from Richmond, Va., hopes to see changes. “I’m sure he will do a great job,” she said, but added: “One person can’t move mountains. It’s a collective thing.”
Ward was director of the Historically Black Colleges and University/Minority Institutions of Higher Education Program for the state Department of Transportation. Before that, he was the DOT’s director of intergovernmental affairs and special assistant to the deputy secretary for environment, planning and local government.
He is a member of the Democratic National Committee, where he is vice chairman of the DNC Black Caucus. He held several roles with the state Democratic Party and was named its first African American executive director in 1989.
He has a master’s degree from N.C. State University, where he is a visiting history lecturer. Last year, he earned a Ph.D. in leadership studies at N.C. A&T State University.
Ward said that as a son of St. Aug’s, he has a passion and a mission to shore up the future of the university. He joked that his doctor told him his/ blood was not red but “the dark hue of the violet and the snow white lily’s bloom,” quoting the school song.
The ceremony was followed by a chapel service. Then Ward had lunch with students.