Students, faculty call for leadership overhaul at Wilberforce

Officials say ‘university is not on life support’

Students and staff held signs that read “No Future” and “Broken Promises” during their boycott of the 157-year-old historically black university’s Founders’ Day Celebration. Their signs also aired their grievances over dwindling enrollment, living conditions on campus, declining student services and pay of faculty. The event was the second protest by students this academic year.

“This is really an increasing and escalating set of issues,” said faculty union president Richard Deering. “The question is: Where is the institution going, especially under this leadership?”

President Patricia Hardaway in a meeting with the media called Tuesday’s protest “yet another attack on Wilberforce University by individuals whose personal agendas are not in the best interest of Wilberforce University.” The Rev. Earl Harris, a trustee, said the board supports Hardaway in dealing with students and responding, when appropriate, to their concerns.

Trustee Jamye Coleman Williams added that students and faculty do not understand that their role is not to dictate who will be university president. She also noted that Wilberforce’s legacy as the nation’s oldest private historically black university dates back to before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.

“Wilberforce University has the germ of immortality. Nothing that is going on now or will go on in the future will kill us,” said Williams, a former faculty member for 14 years who spoke at the Founders’ Day event, which had about 100 attendees.

“I say very, very sincerely, that (the) university is not on life support systems. The university will survive in spite of individuals. Even though they claim they’re doing this out of love. If you love an institution you do not put the institution out in the public arena in a negative way. Wilberforce University is so important and will, indeed, survive.”

Although Hardaway said the university has been addressing student concerns since their first protest in October, students said they have not received a response. In October, 337 of the school’s 510 students requested withdraw forms and threatened to leave in fall 2013 if changes were not made. Senior Brandon Harvey, president of student government, said since then, a nine-page document called “The Facts About Our Struggle” was written and delivered to Hardaway and the board during a board retreat this month in Atlanta.

“We have gotten no answers,” he said. “No positive changes were made. No updates. If anything, conditions have gotten worse. Students are tired of being walked over and we’re going to stand up and fight until we get the quality education we deserve.”

Deering said faculty concerns include not receiving pay increases since 2007. He said also the university has not contributed to faculty retirement since 2008; has not hired any regular faculty members since 2008; and has not paid faculty a stipend for teaching more than a full load of classes since 2009. Only adjunct, temporary full-time and visiting professors have been hired, Deering said.

Hardaway said faculty are rehashing the same claims that the Ohio Attorney General rejected last year. After a year-long investigation, the Attorney General’s Office found no evidence to support claims that university leadership were violating their fiduciary duties. Hardaway sent an email to students and staff on Tuesday urging them to avoid the protest, which she called “shameful.”

She admitted the university is in a fragile state in regard to its finances and “negative publicity — unfounded charges — makes it very difficult to retain the donors we have attracted and to attract new donors. At the same time, it makes it more difficult to retain and recruit students.”

Tuesday’s protest dispersed after about an hour after university police took an adjunct professor into custody. A university spokeswoman said professor David Evans was leading chants and was seen as an instigator. Xenia Police and the Greene County Sheriff’s Office also responded to the scene. University officials and police did not release any details about potential charges Evans faced.

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