One year after he took over as its interim leader, Everett B. Ward was named the 11th president of St. Augustine’s University on Friday.
“The lifeblood of St. Augustine’s runs through my every vein,” said Ward, 56, a St. Aug’s alumnus. “I have a long affiliation here, having been born on the campus. My father attended St. Aug’s. We have been part of this institution for generations.”
Ward, a former state Department of Transportation administrator and state Democratic Party director, was credited with bringing stability to the historically black university after the turbulent tenure of former president Dianne Suber, who was ousted by the trustees in April 2014.
The university was under scrutiny by auditors, its accrediting agency and the federal Department of Education. Students were leaving in large numbers, along with administrators Suber had fired.
“St. Augustine’s was really in sort of turmoil, and we needed somebody who would be a stabilizing force,” said Rodney Gaddy, chairman of the board of trustees, shortly after the board voted Friday to make Ward’s stay permanent.
“We’re just in a better place now than where we were,” Gaddy continued. “There was a lot of uncertainty about the future of St. Augustine’s, and while things haven’t been totally resolved, I have a view that the future is very bright for us.”
Ward said St. Augustine’s, founded in 1867 and now with 892 students, is working to attract the best students and to control tuition and other costs. He said the university is focused on its “four academic pillars,” programs in journalism and media, public health, criminal justice, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses.
Gaddy was confident that students would be pleased with the board’s decision. Ward was, too.
“I think we have created a much more engaging environment for our students – and I think they’ll say that with a round of applause,” Ward told reporters gathered around the library steps. On cue, the two dozen students listening to the announcement clapped and cheered.
“Dr. Ward is a great fit for us,” sophomore Stephen McLeon, 25, of Trenton, N.J., said in an interview. “When we see him, he is very excited to interact with the students.
“Dr. Suber, her best interest wasn’t with the students – or if it was, it was very hard to tell. I could count on one hand how many times we saw her out interacting with the students,” McLeon said. “On the other hand, Dr. Ward thrives on making sure the students are taken care of, and that we’re safe. Pretty much things you would expect a president to do.”