Modernizing a Legacy

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It is possible these days to run into employees from companies like Apple and Google in downtown Raleigh. No, they aren’t shopping for office space but are instead partnering with nearby Shaw University. They are spending time with students to show them what it takes to make innovative products and what skills are needed to work at these types of technology companies.

This initiative is one of several new strategies put in place by the university’s newest president, a Shaw alumna and entrepreneur, Dr. Tashni-Ann Dubroy. Since August of 2015, Dubroy and her team have been focusing on better complementing Shaw’s curriculum with the needs of new business relationships.

“We have invited corporate partners to come to the campus directly and tell students what they are looking for,” says Dubroy.

Technology, entrepreneurship and analytical thinking are just a few major topics that the new curriculum emphasizes across all fields.

“The business environment is changing and higher education has to respond to those changes,” she says

Those changes, or “transformations” as Dubroy describes, are how she feels Shaw can better position students to compete in today’s workforce.

According to Dubroy, Shaw’s connectedness is “critical to the sustainability of the university.” Operating in a neighborhood alongside a revitalized downtown Raleigh and new growth, historic neighborhoods in East and Southeast Raleigh, Shaw stands to position itself as a leader in the area. However, Dubroy’s initiatives compete for attention between some alumni groups and the school’s Board of Trustees.

Shaw has a proud legacy that goes back to 1865 as the South’s first historically black college and holds a list of prominent accolades over its history. However, more recently the school, like many others in similar size, was facing financial hardships due to declining enrollment. The school’s Board of Trustees, a critical part of the leadership of any private college, has been under fire from select alumni for allowing the school to decline.

shaw-2In an August 2008 letter to the board, Charles Sparks, President of the Shaw University National Alumni Association, wrote that, “My first observation is that this Board, on the whole, is dysfunctional and derelict in its duties.” In another undated letter to the board, a group of 50 alumni suggested that the entire presidential search process “has been tainted and executed in such an unprofessional manner that the future of our University is at risk.”

It got so bad that after Dubroy’s appointment in mid-2015, a group of alumni went on to form Shaw Alumni and Friends, Inc. and have since sued two members of the board. The group hoped that suing the board would get these issues into the open and force a response.

“They feel like they are being ignored,” says Christopher Young, the attorney for the Friends group. “They want this chairman removed. They would like the board reexamined”

Poor leadership, extended terms limits, nepotism, and actions that have tarnished Shaw’s reputation over the last decade are some of the accusations against Chairman Joe Bell and past Chairman Willie Gary.

The turmoil has added another obstacle to Dubroy’s efforts to improve and transform Shaw into a forward-thinking university. When asked about the friction between the board and the Friends of Shaw, Dubroy says: “The vast majority of our alumni are on board with the direction that the university is going.”

Around the time of the lawsuit, Dubroy issued a statement claiming that the university was “financially stable and sound” and that an audit by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools found no issues at Shaw.

Recently, a judge dismissed the lawsuit paving the way for Dubroy to move past the drama surrounding Shaw’s board. She’s ready to see her plan in action and follow its course for the long term. With a current five-year contract, Dubroy is ready to continue serving Shaw if asked in the future.

“I look forward to a university that will be a force to be reckoned with,” she says.

About Leo Suarez 6 Articles
Leo Suarez is a downtown Raleigh resident and social entrepreneur who is passionate about his community. Since 2007 Leo has been writing about downtown through his blog "The Raleigh Connoisseur".