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Black Arts and Culture

Saving Black Colleges: Leading Change In A Complex Organization

By Glen Mason
Arts and Culture Correspondent
New Journal and Guide

With Norfolk as the epicenter of NCAA Division I college basketball this weekend as it hosts the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference basketball tournament. It seems an appropriate time to submit the New Journal and Guide’s latest book review.

As such Saving Black Colleges: Leading Change in a Complex Organization by Alvin J. Schexnider published by Palgrave and Macmillan, is a must read if Historically Black Colleges and Universities are to thrive instead of survive. An informative read, expertly reported and documented by Schexnider, his work could be in basketball parlance a “fast break” that creates a lane that can help HBCU(s) modernize their mission and the viability of their future.

Historically, no pun intended, HBCUs were instituted to provide scholarly and post high school education for African-Americans when education was fraught with bigotry, prejudice and racism. Segregation was the norm at many institutions of higher education in the United States, especially those in the South. Since a majority of his research occurred in the South, Schexnider uses his collegiate and professional experiences as well as extensive research for his oeuvre.

Schexnider’s book examines the challenges faced by African-American colleges and universities both public and private. Much of the analysis is based on the author’s personal experiences as a college administrator and leadership consultant at various colleges and universities across the country. This book could be a game changer for lack of a better expression.

Between 1974 to 1996 Schexnider, as an administrator and at times president, studied, experienced, researched and documented the HBCU milieu. His observations reflected that most HBCUs inevitably would be confronted by a “lack of standard operating procedure, a lack of internal fiscal controls and strong resistance to doing things differently than been done in years.”

The bane or Achilles heel of most HBCUs is business and financial management. Schexnider addresses those issues early on. He noted other common institutional issues such as limited resources, low morale, competition for students much less top scholars and researchers. Keeping pace with technological and marketing is difficult. It begs the question if the pressure to adjust the mission to meet the needs of the many instead of a collective is an unfortunate albatross to bear.

One thing his work reveals is a zeal for professionalism and a progressive perspective of the business of education. For lack of a better metaphor professional educators and leaders like Schexnider are more like knights in fragile armor. Taking on a grail challenge that is as formidable as it is unfathomable, or as Dr. Schexnider puts it so delicately, “insurmountable.”

Perhaps, using the pride in ownership and spirit evident among sponsors, supporters and alumni in Norfolk this week, HBCUs can petition them to collaborate on initiatives that reverse their current state of affairs.

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Like a well-traveled, successful basketball coach who remains a student of the game, Schexnider puts forth options that solutions may lie within with proper leadership. The book is a cause célèbre that reestablish the relevance of the historic assets that is a HBCU.

“This is a must-read for any professional considering a career at an HBCU,” said

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. President and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, said succinctly in his cover testimony.

“HBCUs’ transformation is paramount to their viability. Today’s students are savvy consumers and look for institutions that offer a robust student life experience and support opportunities to achieve their academic and career goals. “Therefore, HBCUs must transform their focus to improving the continuum of student success (first year to graduation/career) which includes many of the strategic priorities mentioned by Dr. Schexnider,” said Johnna Coleman-Yates, M.P.A., a professional university administrator.

“It is important to note that HBCUs can maintain their traditions and transform to reassert their position as institutions of choice for not only African-American students.”

His first year initiatives listed in his book is an expert guidance system for any college or university, offering his methodology to “strengthen and stabilize enrollments, improve internal and external communications, build and/or create a sound management infrastructure, and most importantly, “enhance the quality of academic life.”

Not to mention promoting functional integrity of university systems as well as policies. With a progressive and inspired eye towards success of public and private HBCUs “the university should function in a “professional’ business like manner” which Schexnider trumpets today as a higher education and organizational/industry leadership consultant.

If the Saving Black Colleges: Leading Change in a Complex Organization lends itself to nothing else, it would suggest that one first step in charting a successful, future course for HBCUs is by taking his work to the next level by creating a National Commission on the Future of HBCUs.

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