The Board of Trustees of Johnson C. Smith University announced today the selection of Clarence D. “Clay” Armbrister, J.D., as the university’s 14th president, effective January 1, 2018.
President-elect Armbrister currently serves as president of Girard College, an independent college preparatory five-day boarding school for academically capable students from economically disadvantaged families from the Philadelphia region.
Armbrister succeeds Dr. Ronald L. Carter, who steps down officially on December 31, 2017, after leading the successful transformation of Johnson C. Smith University for nine years. Carter announced his resignation in August 2016 and committed to remain as President, allowing the Board of Trustees time to conduct a thorough national search for the right leader to continue the forward trajectory of the institution that is celebrating its 150th year.
Armbrister has extensive experience at all levels of education, including time in the School District of Philadelphia and senior administrative positions at Temple University and Johns Hopkins University. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees of Community College of Philadelphia. In addition to his background in education, Armbrister has held executive positions in law, government and finance.
Armbrister’s range of experience across several sectors helped him stand out among highly-qualified candidates, said Shirley J. Hughes, chair of the JCSU Board of Trustees and chair of the Presidential Search Committee.
“Mr. Armbrister’s diverse career experience provided the competitive edge in a nine-month search,” said Hughes. “We believe his varied background in education, finance, government and law brings an exceptionally broad lens to the increasingly complex demands of the changing landscape in higher education today.”
Armbrister looks forward to bringing his experience to Charlotte and working with the board, faculty, staff, students and alumni of Johnson C. Smith University while collaborating with community leaders to continue propelling JCSU to the forefront as an innovative institution that provides higher education access to diverse students. As a first generation college graduate, he has a powerful personal perspective on the importance of education.
“I am honored and humbled to have been selected as the 14th president of Johnson C. Smith University, which throughout its 150-year history has improved the lives of its students and contributed to the growth of Charlotte,” Armbrister said. “I am especially looking forward to working with the Board, the faculty, staff and administration to position JCSU as one of the finest institutions of higher education in the country that meets not only the needs of its students, but those of the communities it serves—locally, regionally and globally. This will build upon the unparalleled success of Dr. Carter’s work to establish JCSU as a premier independent 21st century new urban university.”
Armbrister’s leadership, passion for education and dedication to student development will be a great benefit to JCSU, said Bernard W. Smalley, vice chair of the Board of Directors of City Trusts and chair of the Girard College Committee.
“I have had the privilege – and it is a genuine privilege – to work closely with Clay Armbrister over the last five years,” Smalley said. “He has worked tirelessly in leading the development of a new curriculum that is preparing our students to be even more successful in college and build lives as productive citizens. Through that work, it became clear that Clay has a passion for shaping young lives through the power of higher education, and JCSU offers a challenge that he just couldn’t pass up. I know this much: JCSU is getting a great leader who is dedicated to the cause of helping young people use higher education to build successful and productive lives.”
Prior to his leadership of Girard College, Armbrister served as senior vice president and chief of staff at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He honed his experience in higher education during his five years at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he served as senior vice president for administration before being promoted to executive vice president and chief operating officer.
During his tenure as executive vice president and chief operating officer at Temple University, Armbrister was responsible for $400 million in capital projects on several campuses and the rapid conversion from a commuter to a residential campus. He also led Temple’s management, planning and coordination of student affairs, facilities management services, campus safety services, intercollegiate athletics, computer and information services, affirmative action, enrollment management services, and management analysis.
Armbrister also has higher education teaching experience. He served as an adjunct faculty member at Temple, developing and teaching a municipal finance curriculum in the Beasley School of Law.
In addition to his experience in elementary and secondary education at Girard College, Armbrister served as managing director for the School District of Philadelphia (1996-1998), which at that time was the fourth largest school district in the United States with more than 215,000 students.
Armbrister has been successful at the highest levels of municipal government and has worked with some of the most well-known politicians in the recent history of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He was city treasurer for the City of Philadelphia (1994-1996) during the tenure of former mayor Ed Rendell, who become governor of Pennsylvania. From 2008-2011, Armbrister served as chief of staff for former Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter. His work in the finance sector includes being an investment banker at UBS PaineWebber, Inc., where he served as head of the Municipal Securities Group education practice, overseeing nationwide efforts in underwriting transactions for issuers in the K-12 public education market. Armbrister began his professional career practicing law and was a partner in the public finance division of Saul, Ewing, Remick & Saul in Philadelphia.
A native of Miami, Armbrister received a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and in economics from the University of Pennsylvania. He earned his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Michigan Law School. He and his wife, Denise, who is senior vice president of Wells Fargo Corporation and executive director of the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation and the Wells Fargo Regional Community Development Corporation, currently reside in Philadelphia. They have five children, including a daughter who is a graduate of Spelman College and a son who is a senior at North Carolina Central University.
Armbrister and his wife will be introduced to the JCSU community on Thursday, October 19, 2017.
The Johnson C. Smith University Presidential Search Committee included: Trustees Thomas Barnhardt, Steven Boyd ’79, Sheila R. Brown, D.D.S. ’77, Christy Bryant ’75, Kevin A. Henry, Shirley J. Hughes, Michael Jones, Monroe Miller and Tami B. Simmons as well as Helen Caldwell, Ph.D., chair of the Council of Deans, and Phillip Otienoburu, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology. William Farthing of Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP, served as counsel to the group. Issacson, Miller, an executive search firm, assisted in the national search