Honoring the past, leading toward the future

Honoring the past, leading toward the future – goals for president of Johnson C. Smith University

Dorothy Cowser Yancy

It is often the dream of professional educators in higher education to be tapped for the leadership position of the

institution that nurtured them. But even when that occurs, no one is ever prepared f6r the realities, the real demands, and sometimes unrealistic expectations placed upon the head and shoulders of the college president.

This is especially true when you are female in a domain that has previously been all male; when you come — as I have — from a campus (Georgia Institute of Technology) that was filled with the rapid changes of 21st century technology, but now find yourself immersed in an environment steeped in tradition; and when there are those who stand by expecting you to fail. There is no way to explain to the novice about the jobs within the job; or about the many constituencies to which you are accountable — the trustees, the donors and benefactors, the faculty and staff, the students and their parents, and the alumni.

At times, the job can be tantamount to embarking on a journey without a definite destination and without a return ticket. For me, it has been an odyssey filled with challenges and some surprises. Coming from an environment of plenty and being plunged into one where the pinching of pennies is a necessity, it has been a cultural shock as well.

Although ;crises upon crises may arise, stability must be maintained. You’re expected to have a little magic wand that, when waved while reciting the correct incantation, produces the desired funding for whatever project — fanciful or fundamental — presented.

Little did I know that a zero-based budget would be an all-too-constant reality. Coming from a generation when one was taught to respect the wisdom of elders, I believed it when I was told that a successful college president finds the resources and creates the environment where successful ventures — ventures that establish opportunities for professors to teach effectively and do research, and for students to experience a quality education — could happen.

The stewardship of my alma mater, while forward looking, had been anchored in the past. While I have not cast aside, the: legacy of the previous eleven presidents, I know that I must consider the needs of the current clientele. It is important that one studies and analyzes the past for the degree to which it can inform the future in a meaningful way

As W. E. B. DuBois wrote in Souls of Black Folk: “The function of the university, is not simply to teach bread-winning, or to furnish teachers for public schools, or to be a center of polite society; it is, above all, to be the organ of the fine adjustment between real life and the growing knowledge of life, an adjustment that forms the secret of civilization.”

He further wrote: “The function of the Negro College, then is clear; it must maintain the standards of popular education, it must seek the social regeneration of the Negro, and it must help in the solution of the problem of race contact and cooperation. And finally beyond all this, it must develop men [and women].”

Since I acknowledge the educational imperative apparent in these words, what then was the vision, the dream, the blueprint that I brought to the presidency?

At my inauguration, I expressed a strong commitment to a new era of celebration — focusing on restoration, redevelopment, and projections. My blueprint evolved from tradition, my own academic training, reflections, conversations, and personal experience. I envisioned that Johnson C. Smith University would exemplify a spirit of discovery, intellectualism, and commitment to service. That included the skillful and creative use of limited resources to provide access and excellence for all students.

I remain committed to strategic planning and well-supported implementation of initiatives that guide the educational experience.

As a graduate of this institution, I feel compelled to pass on the torch of hope and faith to those who pass through during my watch.

We know that a true university exists for the future. To that end, JCSU does not need to be reinvented; it only needs continuous renewal. I am propelled by the chilling awareness that today’s excellence is tomorrow’s mediocrity. As JCSU’s first alumna president, I serve as a vanguard for its future. Hopefully, my high aspirations and irrepressible determination will encourage the success of my alma mater.

Dr. Dorothy Cowser Yancy President,J Johnson C. Smith University Charlotte, N.C.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group