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VOL. 122 | NO. 105 | Thursday, June 7, 2007

LeMoyne-Owen to Proceed With Search for Prez Soon

By Rosalind Guy

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SAVING FACE: A volunteer paints a child's face at a recent fundraiser for LeMoyne-Owen College. -- Photo Coutrtesy Of Bamm

Sometimes cleaning house has to start at the top.

In other words, the process can take on a trickle-down effect, with necessary changes being made from the top down.

Perhaps that's the thinking behind LeMoyne-Owen College's move to form a search committee for a new president.

The school's board of trustees appointed a new nine-member search committee last month. The committee is not actively reviewing applications or even soliciting them - yet.

"They've received their charge from the board of trustees with regard to beginning the search and setting the criteria," said Roger R. Brown, interim vice president of the Office of Institutional Advancement.

Onward and upward?

The committee will be searching for a president to replace interim president Johnnie B. Watson. Watson, a LOC alumnus and former Memphis City Schools superintendent, had led the school since August 2006, following the resignation of James G. Wingate the previous month.

The search committee is made up of a mix of students, staff, faculty and alumni.

Larry Brown, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for FedEx Express, will chair the committee.

Other members include James B. Jalenak and James E. Castillo Jr., LOC board of trustees; Kathy Buckman Gibson, chairman of Buckman Laboratories Inc.; Dr. Margaret James and Dr. Delphia Harris, LOC faculty; Dr. Stacey Spencer, chief apostolic officer of New Direction Christian Church; Aiisha Williams, student; Edythe Watson-Cobb, staff member; and Mickell Lowery, LOC alumnus and president of the National Alumni Association.

Lowery, who graduated from LOC in 2000 with a bachelor's degree in business management, said committee members are still trying to determine what they will look for in potential presidential candidates.

"We know this won't be an easy position for us to fill," Lowery said. "So, right now we're in the early phases of trying to determine what type of candidate we want. But we're also aware that we need to wait until certain decisions are made concerning our SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) accreditation."

Robert Lipscomb, the city chief financial officer and LOC alum, said the formation of the search committee is an important step for the college.

"The presidential search is important as it will identify a new leader for the college that will hopefully take the college to the next level," he said. "The college is in a period of obvious transition. The transition will allow the college the opportunity to reinvent itself and be positioned to achieve greatness for the future generations."

Resolving the turmoil

The city's only HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) was placed on probation in 2005. The sticking point for the college has been an inability to balance its budget.

The college needs to raise about $4 million by June 30 to pay its bills and keep its doors open.

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, members voted 9-2 in favor of a resolution that would give $3 million to the college over the next three years. The first million would go to the college next month.

Talking to reporters at City Hall, Rev. James Netters, pastor of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, said the college is a landmark that should not be destroyed.

In April, Lipscomb encouraged the local community to support the struggling institution.

"If we don't support our own institution, then why should anybody else?" Lipscomb asked those in attendance. "It's time we take our community back; we can't let this community fail."

At a fundraiser organized by the New Olivet Baptist Church's BAMM (Bust-a-Move-Monday) committee, people turned out in record numbers to show their support. The event was held on the college's campus Saturday.

More than 900 supporters showed up, Brown said.

"There were people on the street collecting money from people who didn't want to get out of their cars," he said. "They collected over $3,000 just by people driving by wanting to give a gift to the college."

Even buses stopped to allow passengers to give.

So far, the fundraiser has brought in more than $31,000. Several pledges still are outstanding as well.

One mountain down, several to go

Amidst all the community support the college is receiving, much more remains to be done.

With the money the college has received so far, it still falls short of what's needed by the June 30 deadline. So the presidential search committee members won't take any real steps toward finding a permanent president until they have a more solid grasp on the college's status.

"Anyone taking this position will want to know our SACS accreditation status," Lowery said. "So, in taking that into account, we probably won't be releasing postings until those decisions have been made."

At the same time, Lowery said he's impressed with the makeup of the committee members.

"This is probably one of the first times we've had the type of corporate representation we do at the college," he said. "And that's a great show of faith that people in the corporate community believe that if we get the right person at the college, it definitely will succeed."

The next meeting of the presidential search committee will be Monday. Part of the agenda for that meeting will be a state of the college address from the interim president.

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