Alumni chime in on UMES search
New president should bring unique social climate, pride to HBCU
Written by Deborah Gates
Daily Times Staff Writer
PRINCESS ANNE - (July 21, 2011) - When a search committee introduces finalists for the presidency at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, supporters of the university hope the candidates are anxious to continue the legacy of a small-town institution rooted in educating and molding the social conscience of black students.
In three decades, the university has grown from 1,000 students to a record 4,500, and consistently is rated in the upper tier of historically black colleges and universities with phenomenal growth in academic and technological programs, advanced degree offerings and impressive funding sources that have landed student scholarships and led to thousands of new jobs.
Nearly lost, though, is a unique social climate that in past years helped drive student pride, recruitment, national recognition and critical alumni support, many in a town hall audience on campus told search committee members this week.
At stake is any semblance of UMES as an HBCU, said many in the audience of mostly alumni members.
The 14th president of UMES must be committed to protecting that threatened legacy, speakers told members of the committee charged with recommending finalists for the job.
A panel of seven search committee members attended, including Paul Trotter, president of the UMES National Alumni Association, who was a student in the mid-1970s, and Jesse Williams, a 1962 graduate and current president of the UMES Board of Visitors.
"At historically black universities, we have to fight to remain our own selves," said J'Naudia Hunter-Phillips, a graduate in both 2001 and 2004 and the granddaughter of the late William P. Hytche, who led UMES for more than two decades.
Some UMES alumni who spoke (during a July 19 town hall meeting on campus) said a way to protect the UMES legacy is to parlay the university's status on academic and technological fronts into an expanded athletic program that includes football.
Football, said Andrew Anderson of Cambridge, would drive a social spirit that attracts students, strengthens alumni support and connects town and gown. As important, the sport that disbanded in 1980 after a heyday that spanned decades would be a mechanism to attract black males who otherwise would land in jail, he said.
"Black males are being incarcerated; with football, the numbers would be fewer," said Anderson, a member of the Class of '71.
Anderson also advocated for a black president to replace Thelma Thompson, who retires in mid-August.
"We have had 13 strong presidents and chancellors, and I hope that is the case with the 14th," he said. "I plead that we keep that legacy intact."
From a slate of candidates, the search committee will forward three to five finalists to University System of Maryland Chancellor William Kirwan, whose goal is to have a new president in place by the first quarter of 2012, Williams said.
This newspaper article is reprinted with permission of The (Salisbury, MD) Daily Times.