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Woolfolk: LU history, diversity part of presidency attraction

Woolfolk: LU history, diversity part of presidency attraction

March 18th, 2018 by Bob Watson in Local News
Julie Smith/News Tribune Jerald Jones Woolfold, the second of two finalists for Lincoln University's president's job, talks to and addresses questions from members of the community.

Jerald Jones Woolfolk was one of nearly five dozen people who applied to be Lincoln University's 20th permanent president.

LU Curators announced her hiring last week, and she'll begin working on the job in just 2 months.

Woolfolk currently is vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at the State University of New York in Oswego.

During a telephone interview last week, she said three things attracted her to the LU chief administrator's job.

"One thing was its history — and, particularly, its being a historically black institution," she said. "Another thing that, for me, set Lincoln apart was the level of diversity that was at the school.

"I can just almost be sure that Lincoln, particularly with its historical background, has to be one of the most diverse HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) in the country — if not one of the most diverse institutions of higher education, period, in the country."

And then there was the profile Lincoln used to advertise its search for a new president after Kevin Rome left last June to become the new president at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.

"Lincoln was looking for a president that basically I felt I fit the bill for," Woolfolk explained, "and I thought that I could be able to make a difference."

Woolfolk grew up in Leland, Mississippi, one of the nation's poorest places.

She earned her bachelor's (in psychology) and doctorate (in urban higher education) degrees from Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi — another HBCU.

She's worked and taught in HBCUs — including the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Mississippi Valley State University — and at predominately white institutions, including her current job at SUNY Oswego.

SUNY Oswego President Deborah F. Stanley said last week: "In addition to spearheading the creation of a Strategic Diversity & Inclusion Plan at SUNY Oswego, Dr. Woolfolk played a key role in guiding the college to its most culturally diverse student body in its history.

"Thanks to Jerald's award-winning efforts and commitment to developing a diverse and inclusive community of scholars, SUNY Oswego has made substantial strides in fostering an environment that embraces and promotes cultural competence, civil discourse and active engagement."

Woolfolk thinks Lincoln needs to promote its history — as a school founded to educate those who had been denied an education — and its current position as a school where cultures mix.

"We understand that, throughout the country, diversity and inclusion are very important — particularly in higher education," she said. "And Lincoln, for me, appears to be a model for this diversity and inclusion — and that story needs to be told."

Woolfolk is aware some alumni are concerned LU's heritage will be lost in diversification.

"We can celebrate the history and also look at Lincoln as a 21st century HBCU and how it has transformed," she said. "That does not mean that we forget about those soldiers from the 62nd and 65th Infantry (who founded LU in 1866).

"It means that we lift them up and we celebrate, but (now), we're inclusive of all people."

Marvin Teer, of St. Louis, a 1986 LU graduate who currently serves as Curators president, said last week Woolfolk was the board's unanimous choice.

"Two of our most critical areas are enrollment management and funding," he said. "She is uniquely qualified in both of those areas."

Colleges and universities across the country are wrestling with money issues, and Woolfolk knows that will be one of her challenges at Lincoln.

"It's one of many things that college presidents have to juggle," she acknowledged, noting: "Because state funding is not what it used to be years ago, private donations and fundraising are very important to the sustainability of the institution.

"(And) there's a whole team of people who work in the fundraising arena at an institution — fundraising has many different parts, so it's not just the president."

Last month, LU's Faculty Senate passed a resolution, 29-17, asking the Curators to extend the search, saying they were concerned the finalists didn't have the "skill set needed at this crucial time in our university's history."

The request came 17 months after the Faculty Senate overwhelmingly passed, 88-18, a no confidence vote in the work of Said Sewell, then the university's vice president for academic affairs and provost.

After Woolfolk's hiring was announced, Faculty Senate Chair Stephanie Clark said: "We are eager to continue the collaborative work that Interim President (Mike) Middleton fostered and promoted with our 20th president, Dr. Jerald Woolfolk.

"We are optimistic that the leadership and devotion that Dr. Woolfolk will bring to Lincoln University will advance the 21st century solutions needed for our 21st century concerns."

One of the faculty's issues with Sewell was a feeling that their opinions didn't matter, even though — like many colleges around the country — Lincoln has a policy of "shared governance" where school policies give the faculty some say in school operations — especially in the teaching side.

Woolfolk said last week that she's done some teaching and has held several positions, including president, of a faculty-staff senate.

"I am a strong proponent of shared governance," she said. "When there are issues that impact the institution in a large way, people get a voice at the table, whether that's the staff (or) the faculty, and all of those voices should be taken into consideration."

Still, she said, "At the end of the day, the best decision has to be made for Lincoln."

Teer said he's not worried that past issues will create problems for Woolfolk.

"Once they get to know Dr. Woolfolk," he said, "I am certain they will throw their efforts behind Dr. Woolfolk in moving our university forward."

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She agreed.

"I'm sure that everybody on the campus will not agree with me in different aspects," Woolfolk explained. "But I do know that I will be transparent

"I plan to meet with every department — every academic department and every student support department — and listen to any concerns they may have and what their thoughts are on moving the institution forward."

Woolfolk starts at LU's president June 1, but lawmakers already will have passed the 2018-19 budget that includes the state's part of Lincoln's funding.

She understands LU's faculty and staff may be concerned with the future of their jobs — especially since this year's budget, developed while Rome was still president, cut nearly 50 jobs.

But she can't say yet what will happen under her watch.

"I just don't have that information," she explained. "Certainly, that's not something that we hope will happen."

When she visited the campus three weeks ago, Woolfolk said one of her goals would be working with area school districts to help them and their students know what Lincoln has to offer.

Larry Linthacum, Jefferson City's Public Schools superintendent, said: "We look forward to strengthening our partnership with Lincoln University, including Jefferson City High School and (the new) Capital City High School in the future."

And Blair Oaks Superintendent Jim Jones said: "We are excited to work with Dr.Woolfolk and her staff to further enhance post-secondary opportunities for our students through Lincoln University."

Woolfolk's son graduated last year from SUNY Oswego, and now lives and works in Little Rock, Arkansas, so her move to Jefferson City gets her closer to him.

She will live in the President's House, 601 Jackson St., and use it as her base to work "for Lincoln University 24/7," she added.