Lincoln University's history and future were the main topics in an hour-long conversation Friday afternoon, between LU alumni and Interim President Mike Middleton.
Many alums remain concerned Lincoln administrators are abandoning the school's roots as a historically black university (HBCU).
Lincoln was founded 151 years ago by soldiers of the 62nd and 65th Missouri Colored Infantry units — and their white officers — as they were being mustered out of service at the end of the Civil War.
They wanted to create a school in Missouri that would teach basic education skills — reading, writing and arithmetic — to people who had never learned them.
They especially wanted to help African Americans who — whether they had been free or were slaves — had been denied the right to a basic education by an 1847 state law.
Among their concerns, the alumni pointed to LU's re-branding effort a couple years ago, that removed the recognition of the soldiers' military units from Lincoln's official seal.
Curators President Marvin Teer, a 1985 LU graduate, acknowledged a mistake had been made — and the reference to the 62nd and 65th infantry units quickly was returned to the seal.
"It's an integral part of our history," Teer said. "Do you think we're going to lose that?
"Understand: We are never going to lose, nor give up, nor relinquish our history. It is who we are."
A 1962 graduate was concerned some students, as well as other alumni, have told her "they've been here three or four years and never had a black professor."
Middleton started as interim president June 1, after coming out of retirement.
His previous job was serving about 15 months as the interim president of the four-campus University of Missouri System — where he earlier had been a student and, later, a law professor and deputy chancellor of the Columbia campus.
"I was shocked when I got here and found only about 30 percent of our faculty were African Americans — at an HBCU," he told the alumni. "That's concerning to me.
"But it is hard to attract faculty to Mid-Missouri — we certainly had that problem up the road 30 miles (at MU)."
Attracting more African American faculty members was a push former President Kevin Rome started more than a year ago.
Middleton said he would continue seeking a more diverse faculty.
"We believe in a diverse faculty," he said. "We believe that our African American students — and our Caucasian students — deserve a diverse faculty.
"And I think we can accomplish that."
Some alumni complained a recent picture promoting LU's Homecoming and its history included only white faces.
"There's not a black face on the picture" about the history of a historically black college, one man said. "I didn't understand that."
Another alum, who graduated in 2010, wondered how that picture will help recruit future students.
Middleton said he "didn't see the picture, but I heard about it. I don't have an explanation for that."
However, he promised to find out what happened — and "make sure it doesn't happen again."
He added, "It does seem odd that at an HBCU you couldn't find a picture that reflected the diversity of the university.
"All the images of this university should reflect this university, its diversity and its history."
The 2010 graduate also asked how much the questionnaires answered by alumni — on criteria for the next president — were considered in developing the search profile.
Middleton noted the search firm — Boston-based Isaacson, Miller — does "good work" and has "a great reputation" in finding qualified people to be higher education leaders.
Teer reminded the alumni they are represented on the search committee by the association and through the Lincoln Foundation. The search committee is made up of basically the same groups — lawmakers, Jefferson City area officials, students, faculty, staff and alumni — involved in searches for former presidents Carolyn Mahoney and Rome.
"We've tried to include all interested parties, all of the collected groups," Teer said.
The current search for hiring Lincoln's next president is underway because Rome left in June to be the new president of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.
Hardy Dorsey — a 1969 graduate who is also the new Foundation president and serves on the presidential search committee — assured the alumni: "We provided input with regard to the characteristics, requirements (and) skill sets that we think are required (of the new president), to make sure that we maintain our HBCU mission.
"And that's in place with our feedback."
Several questions were raised about LU's operations of The Linc wellness center.
Among those were: Since some colleges around the nation are selling off property to raise money, will Lincoln consider selling The Linc?
"There's no chance of that happening," Middleton said, explaining the memorandum of understanding with Jefferson City's Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department — which was reached while Rome was Lincoln's president — is a 99-year partnership.
"All decisions made (including) naming opportunities are 50-50," Middleton said. "Neither of us can acquire that facility without the agreement of the other."
He agreed, though, "HBCUs are having a heck of a time (financially).
"Resources are tight. But I don't think that we're at a point where we're anywhere near selling off Lincoln property in order to fund our operations.
"So, the possibility of us wanting to sell off property to generate revenue is very, very slim."
The meeting began with Alumni Association President Alfred Harris, a 1969 graduate, noting as he introduced Middleton: "We are in a period of transformation, and it is good to have seasoned leadership as we move forward."
As interim president, Middleton noted, "I'm only going to be here for a short time. What I need is input from you.
"The fact of the matter is, you are Lincoln. Lincoln is nothing without its students and its alums. So I want you to tell me what you think of Lincoln, where you think Lincoln is (and) where you think Lincoln is going and should be going — and what I can do to help Lincoln accomplish its noble and historic mission."