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A Great Choice for University President, Until She Doesn’t Want to Be Bossed

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How’s this for a résumé:

 

  • 33 years as an engineer and assistant director in the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
  • 13 years as the chair of Johns Hopkins University’s University Wide Leadership Council
  • Member, President Obama’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African-Americans
  • National president, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
  • Minister and ordained itinerant elder, African Methodist Episcopal Church
  • Undergraduate degree in math from Alabama State University
  • First African-American woman mechanical engineer to graduate from Yale University
  • Ph.D. in divinity from Howard University

This resume belongs to Gwendolyn Boyd, the recently suspended president of Alabama State University, and it is not exhaustive; there is much, much more. Still, the board of trustees of the university, composed of a majority of men, found it necessary to suspend President Boyd from her presidency with no cause and as a surprise to both her and nearly everyone at the university.

Boyd joins Elmira Mangum, the former president of Florida A&M University, as yet another African-American woman president of a Black college to be removed by the board of trustees. Although we are in the midst of chaos as a nation, I don’t want us to forget what is happening at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and what happened to Boyd, in particular. Just as we saw immense sexism, including internalized sexism among White women, we are seeing sexism at HBCUs. We have to ask ourselves why these strong, highly capable, Black women are being fired and suspended. What is it about them that looks so good during the hiring process but turns so ugly once they are hired?

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Once we find the answers to these questions, confront them, and admit what is happening, HBCUs will be much stronger and more Black women primed for leadership will have the opportunity to lead without constraints.

Wait, I think we already know the answers. Some HBCU boards of trustees are impressed by highly qualified, intelligent, strong African-American women during the hiring process; however, once these women refuse to be controlled and bossed around these same boards are no longer supportive.

When will we realize that you can’t hire a talented, intelligent, capable Black woman, tie her hands behind her back, and say lead? Until we do, HBCUs will suffer and none of us can afford that.

Dr. Marybeth Gasman is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the university’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

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