Howard faculty group votes no confidence in key Board of Trustees committee

October 16, 2013

Howard University’s Faculty Senate approved a resolution of no confidence in the executive committee of the Board of Trustees on Wednesday, slightly more than two weeks after the school’s president announced his abrupt retirement.

The resolution passed 57 to 11, with 23 members abstaining, according to Gregory Jenkins, a physics professor who supported it. The Faculty Senate chairman, political science professor Lorenzo Morris, said he was awaiting for a final vote count but confirmed that the resolution was approved.

The vote comes during a transition for the historically black university in Northwest Washington. Sidney A. Ribeau, its president for five years, is retiring Dec. 31 amid questions about Howard’s financial health and its recent decline in U.S. News & World Report’s annual college rankings. On Wednesday, the university’s interim president, Wayne A.I. Frederick, announced several changes in the school’s leadership team, including the appointment of former Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke as interim provost.

Schmoke, who has served as dean of the law school and as the university’s general counsel, will be the chief academic officer. Frederick also said the university plans to announce the appointment of a new chief financial officer soon, and he noted that student enrollment rebounded this fall after a decline in 2012.

Morris said that Frederick received a standing ovation as he addressed the faculty.

The no-confidence vote again focused a spotlight on a board that has had recent internal disputes. Renee Higginbotham-Brooks, the vice chairwoman, wrote a letter in April that raised alarms about Howard’s management and fiscal condition. Her letter surfaced publicly in June. The board chairman, Addison Barry Rand, replied that the university “remains academically, financially and operationally strong.”

The board’s executive committee is tasked with, among other duties, evaluating the performance of the university president. Under the board’s bylaws, Rand is the committee chairman.

After the Faculty Senate’s vote, Jenkins said in an e-mail: “We are hopeful that there will be positive change and reorganization of the executive committee and a new chair” of the Board of Trustees.

Rand said in a statement: “While we have not received official notification of such action from the Faculty Senate, we remain committed to shared governance and engagement of President Frederick, the faculty, students, staff and alumni. Above all, the board is committed to effective governance as we make timely, appropriate and difficult decisions as all governing boards and universities must do from time to time.”

A former Post education editor, Nick writes about college from the perspective of a father of three who will soon be buried in tuition bills.
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