Everett Ward wrapped up his work in the president’s office of St. Augustine’s University on Monday around 8 p.m. then went for a stroll on the deserted campus.
It was a lovely evening, and as Ward walked, he could see the signposts of his life: the historic St. Agnes hospital building, now a shell with trees sprouting inside, where he was born. The dorms where he lived and the campus spots where he wooed his college sweetheart and future wife, Cassandra. In 2011, his family would seek solace on St. Augustine’s grounds after her funeral.
Even the sidewalks have meaning. Ward’s father, who attended St. Aug’s, poured them as a Raleigh concrete contractor.
“It’s everywhere,” Ward says of his emotional tie to the university. “It’s literally everywhere.”
Ward, a former Department of Transportation administrator and state Democratic Party director, was named interim president last month. Though he has no higher education leadership on his resume, he is tasked with turning around the historically black university with a proud past but a precarious financial future.
For months, the university has been in chaos, the subject of a negative audit, a review by its accrediting agency and an investigation by the federal Department of Education. Students have left in large numbers, as have administrators who were fired by the former president, Dianne Boardley Suber.
Employees and faculty had described an atmosphere of secrecy and retaliation. The turmoil built until Suber was ousted by the board of trustees in April.
It is perhaps the most challenging point in St. Aug’s 147-year history.
And so Ward, 55, who earned a Ph.D. last year in hopes of becoming a college professor, now is on a personal mission to save St. Aug’s.
“People understand that I’m not doing this because of a job,” Ward said. “I’m doing this out of passion and love for my alma mater and my family alma mater. And that goes a long way, I think.”