Correction to This Article
ยท A May 30 Metro article incorrectly described the connection between incoming Howard University President Sidney A. Ribeau and Howard Board of Trustees Chairman Addison Barry Rand. Rand married Ribeau's sister when he was 24, more than 30 years ago.

Trustee Had Family Tie To Incoming President

By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 30, 2008

The chairman of Howard University's Board of Trustees recused himself from voting on the school's new president during a recently concluded search because the candidate had been his brother-in-law decades ago, school sources said.

Faculty Senate President Theodore Bremner said his panel, already concerned about what members consider a secretive search process, could discuss the former relationship when they convene in the fall.

Sidney A. Ribeau, president of Bowling Green State University in Ohio for 13 years, was tapped this month to become the 16th president of the nation's premier predominantly African American university by a committee seeking a successor to H. Patrick Swygert, whose decade-long tenure ends June 30. Ribeau officially starts July 1.

Addison Barry Rand, chairman of the Board of Trustees and a member of the search committee, spotted Ribeau's name on a list of candidates provided by a consultant and revealed that he had a connection with the candidate. Sources with knowledge of the search proceedings said that Rand said he would recuse himself from any decision involving Ribeau and that he did so. The sources spoke anonymously because of confidentiality rules.

Rand did not return phone calls yesterday. Ribeau's office in Bowling Green said he was traveling and hard to reach.

Ribeau, 59, married Rand's sister when he was 24. The two men have not spoken for decades, a school spokesman said. Ribeau and Rand have talked about their former connection in public, school officials said, although it was not mentioned in the announcement of Ribeau's appointment.

Bremner said yesterday that he and other faculty members had sent a letter to Rand about the presidential search process, saying that it was too secretive.

"The faculty Senate is committed to working with President Sidney Ribeau in an atmosphere of cooperation and shared governance," the letter said. "However the Board of Trustees should realize that such unilateral action regarding his selection as president does not engender trust amongst the key stakeholders of Howard University."

The faculty panel had sent a letter to Rand last year complaining about Swygert's leadership and demanding his ouster. Bremner said he wasn't sure whether the relationship had any bearing on the decision to hire Ribeau. "We really knew very little about the process," he said.

One school spokesman said any link was "ridiculous." Other officials said that Rand introduced Ribeau to various groups of people at Howard this month and raised the former connection between the two in those meetings. Ribeau talked about it in a recent interview with Howard's radio station.

Nicholas Owen, president of the student government association, said he met Ribeau for the first time at one of the meetings but did not learn about the association until asked by a reporter yesterday. He said he had no concern about the presidential process.

The former family connection "has nothing to do with his qualifications, and that's why he was selected," Owen said.

Ribeau was chosen from an initial pool of more than 150 candidates that was whittled down to two: Ribeau and Ronald Mason Jr., president of Jackson State University in Mississippi. Mason said yesterday that the process had been "fair and open" and that he wished Ribeau and the university well.

Kurt L. Schmoke, dean of Howard's law school and a former mayor of Baltimore, had been seen as a likely successor to Swygert when he arrived on campus five years ago. He told the committee he did not want to be a formal candidate but would serve if no one else was found, sources familiar with the discussions said. Schmoke said he was never a candidate.

Staff writer Susan Kinzie contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company