By Lee Eric Smith
Early reactions to the hiring of Dr. Carolyn Johnson-Dean as interim president of LeMoyne-Owen College are positive among LOC alumni. Given her predecessor’s tumultuous tenure, it should surprise no one that there is a recurring theme:
“I think it’s a great choice,” said Jesse Chatman, president of the LOC Alumni Association. “I wish her well. We need someone to come in here and stabilize things…and she’s a stabilizer. So I like the choice.”
Brian Clay, a 1992 alum, shared a similar sentiment.
“It’s a good move,” Clay said. “She doesn’t have a long history with LeMoyne-Owen, but what LOC needs now more than anything is stability.
“She can definitely bring that.”
The LOC Board of Trustees announced the appointment Monday in a press release. In June, the trustees board voted not to renew the four-year contract of Dr. Andrea Lewis Miller, the embattled former president whose contract expires Sept. 1.
Johnson-Dean’s tenure as president begins Aug. 26.
“It is truly an honor to assume the role of Interim President of LeMoyne-Owen College, an institution with a more than 150-year legacy in Memphis,” Johnson-Dean said in a statement.
In Memphis, Johnson-Dean is a safe, solid choice. She’s well-known and well-connected because of her 2003-07 stint as superintendent of Memphis City Schools. Her credentials also include being superintendent of schools in both Minneapolis and Boston.
She returned to Memphis in 2014 as an adviser to then-Shelby County Schools Supt. Dorsey Hopson. And as a current member of the LOC Board of Trustees, she’s a known quantity.
“Dr. Johnson-Dean’s breadth of educational leadership experience and unique understanding of the inner workings of HBCUs made her stand out as a highly qualified candidate for interim president,” said Dr. Christopher Davis, who was also announced as the new chairman of the LOC Board of Trustees, in a statement.
“Selecting Dr. Johnson-Dean to serve in this critical role is just one of the many great strides LeMoyne-Owen is making as we push forward in our mission.”
Chatman, a 1971 alumnus, believes Johnson’s tenure on the board will serve her well.
“She knows the inner workings of the college,” Chatman said. “And I’m pretty sure that the alums will rally behind her.”
Clay said Johnson-Dean should seek to boost morale among alumni, students and faculty, recounting a story from his freshman year (1987) when Dr. Irving McPhail was president.
“One thing I loved was how Dr. McPhail (took new students) through a process to kind of brainwash us into thinking we were at the best school in the world,” Clay said. “He wanted us to have a pride and sense of esteem about going to LeMoyne-Owen. That’s the kind of transition LOC needs to go through.
“You have to build morale,” he added. “You have to build enthusiasm with faculty and students.”
A spokeswoman for LOC said that Johnson-Dean would not be available for interview before TSD press time.
“As an HBCU, LeMoyne-Owen College continues to play an integral role in educating and serving students, many of whom are first-generation college-goers,” Johnson-Dean said in the statement.
“I am humbled at the tremendous opportunities that lie ahead for the College, and I look forward to working with faculty, students and community partners in this critical endeavor.”
In related news, a federal judge recently set an August 2020 date for a non-jury trial between the college’s board of trustees and faculty senate. The faculty sued the board, alleging breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract during Miller’s term as president.
Phone calls and emails to LOC Faculty Senate President Michael Robinson had received no response at TSD press time. Robinson presided over a faculty senate that twice gave a no-confidence vote to Miller.
LeMoyne-Owen will name a permanent president at a later date, the statement said. Chatman said the next president will have work to do in fundraising, enrollment, infrastructure and technology. He also thinks a new president will need to develop relationships throughout Memphis, particularly in the faith community.
In the interim, he’s delighted with Johnson-Dean.
“I think her selection will have a calming effect on the campus,” Chatman said. “And I truly believe from all the alums I’ve talked to so far, that they’re going to rally behind Dr. Johnson.”
This article originally appeared in the New Tri-State Defender