“OUR BELOVED ALMA MATER IS IN CRISIS!” That is the first line of a new petition aimed at shaking up the Board of Trustees at Tuskegee University. New Years is meant for beginning anew, and the petition has a few reasons as to why the Board needs its own reset. 

“TU Alumni Awakening,” the group who initially posted the petition, believes turnover and inefficiency with leadership at Tuskegee is preventing the institution from thriving. Simply put, those who wrote the petition believe “Tuskegee University Board of Trustees Is Not Meeting Its Fiduciary Responsibilities.” 

Tuskegee University, courtesy of Tuskegee University

The petition found issue with the fact that Tuskegee has had 3 Presidents within the last 10 years. Lily D. McNair is Tuskegee’s current and 8th President, and also the first female to hold the role. She began her role in 2018. Before her, Dr. Brian L. Johnson filled the role from his appointment in 2014 to 2017. Prior to that Dr. Gilbert L. Rochon served from 2010 to 2013. 4 interim presidents have filled in between all of those appointments. The petition is also seeking to remove specific members of the Board. Those members include current Chair Norma Clayton, immediate past Chair John Page, Erick Harris ’15 who is in his second term, and Chereece Warner ’08, who is in her third term.

Financial irresponsibility is just as jilting of an accusation as poor leadership. The petition cites over $100 million in debt and an additional $140 million in deferred maintenance costs, since the tenure of President Benjamin F. Peyton ended in 2010. 

Just last July, philanthropist and author MacKenzie Scott donated $20 million to Tuskegee. The funds were unrestricted, meaning the university could use the money as it saw fit. In a statement, Tuskegee President Lily D. McNair shared her plans on what plans were for the money by addressing 4 key areas: increasing student access, strengthening signature programs, advancing research and innovation, and preserving the university’s legacy.

President Lily D. McNair, courtesy of The Birmingham Times

“We will focus on student scholarships, faculty and curriculum development, interdisciplinary programs, and campus infrastructure improvements, she said. “The gift will allow us to become the Tuskegee of the 21st century  –  a university that integrates knowledge, leadership and service to solve the problems of a global, modern society.”

The petition called for transparency among Tuskegee’s leadership, and requested that no new Board members be appointed until changes are made. So far, nearly 2,000 people have signed the petition.