By Erica Wright
Miles College on Thursday prepared to say farewell to one member of the school’s family and embrace another.
The institution welcomed Interim President Dr. Bobbie Knight and began a farewell to her predecessor Dr. George T. French Jr. who is leaving the Birmingham area to become president of Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia.
Knight will become the first female president of Miles College in the school’s 121 year history.
“I deliberated long and hard after I got over the initial shock of being asked to consider this opportunity and I have continuously prayed for the wisdom, strength and courage it will take to lead this institution with integrity, compassion and a servant’s heart,” said Knight, during a press conference.
The retired Alabama Power executive who is also chair of the Board of Managers for the Birmingham Times Media Group was named as interim president by the Board of Trustees on July 17.
“During this transition, the job before me is clear; first, to serve the students of Miles College by ensuring they receive a quality education, that they are equipped with the tools they need to be successful here and in the future and that they enjoy a safe and fulfilling campus life. Second, my job is to maintain a fiscally sound institution, I have a business background and my plan is to use business principles and practices to keep this institution financially strong.”
Knight will begin her duties Sept. 1, when French leaves for Atlanta.
Knight said her plans for the college are to continue to encourage students to enroll in Miles and the community to support the school.
The interim president said she will “continue to encourage students to enroll in Miles College. Miles is here, we’re an asset to this community and we don’t want to lose our kids out-of-state or to other colleges when we have a great institution sitting right here.”
The French Tenure
French will end his tenure at Miles on Friday, Aug.16. Miles has been his home for more than 23 years with nine years as Director of Development and the last 14 as president.
“Thank you for the opportunity to lead this great institution for the last 14 years, for the opportunity to lead in having record enrollments of this institution, for the opportunity to raise over $100 million at Miles College, for the opportunity to more than triple the size of our campus,” said French.
The outgoing president said he was grateful for his time in the metro area.
“I say thank you to the Birmingham community; I say thank you to the Alabama community; I say thank you to a governor who has been supportive, to mayors of Birmingham and Fairfield who have been supportive and to a corporate community that has been supportive of this institution, we say thank you,” he said. “Now after 14 years at the helm, it gives me great pleasure to turn over the reins to my friend, a distinguished corporate citizen, a lover of students and of education, the Interim President of Miles College, Bobbie Knight.”
French said he will continue to be a part of the Miles family and looks forward to forming a partnership between the two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
“Clark Atlanta University saw what was going on at Miles College,” said French. “That research institution with 4,000 students was looking at Birmingham. They were looking at the relationship of alums to Miles College. They were looking at how we are turning this world upside down so we look forward to a partnership with Clark Atlanta University and Miles College. I’m looking for my students after they matriculate and walk across the stage with a bachelor’s degree, I’m looking for them to come to Clark Atlanta University for masters and doctoral degrees.”
Keila Lawrence, a senior and President of the Student Government Association at Miles, said the moment is bittersweet.
“Dr. French has been a visionary and I can only emulate and strive to be like him and his leadership because he’s done so much for Miles and it’s been great to work with him,” said Lawrence. “Of course, it’s bittersweet because he’s done so much, but he had the foresight and the board as well to elect Dr. Bobbie Knight and we’re really excited to work with her and it’s a new era for Miles and I’m truly excited to what’s to come in the future and what it holds.”
This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.