Ask Dr. Carter

With all of the fascinating, innovative and cutting edge additions, upgrades, interventions and initiatives you and your staff have achieved during your tenure...

...why do you think select alumni are still discontent and at odds with the new directions of the University? Likewise, with the new buildings, educational pursuits, awards, technologies, etc. (although there are challenges that alumni are concerned about such as student retention, attrition rates, closing the education department, and shifting away from the HBCU designation) what more can you and your staff do to bridge the emotional or psychological gap/distance between JCSU alumni and JCSU’s senior management? And, what can the National Alumni Association do to help bridge the gap/distance outside of donating/giving more to the University?


As I was walking along Dixon Street to visit the Duke Hall and George E. Davis House restoration sites last week, I noticed a car coming down the street. As the car came closer to me, I saw the driver roll down the window. He identified himself as an alumnus, told me how proud he is of the progress at the University, and said he thinks we are doing a good job despite the challenges we are facing.  A week does not go by without alumni approaching me at functions or in professional meetings to talk about how excited they are about the University’s vision, our transformation, and our steady progress. The recent workshop held during Homecoming with the National Alumni Association was a great opportunity to share information with officers, local chapter presidents and class agents.  Over the past year, I have spent considerable time traveling, with members of my administration, to various cities to speak at alumni chapter gatherings across the country.   I am always very encouraged by the positive words and support we receive during these meetings. Therefore, I have no doubt that my administration and I enjoy a tremendous amount of support from alumni.

Now having said this, I am quite aware that there are “select alumni [who] are still discontent and at odds with the new directions of the University.”   I place these alumni into two groups.  In one group are alumni (to paraphrase James Cleveland’s words in the gospel song with Albertina Walker, Please Be Patient with Me) who simply don’t like me because they don’t like me. I have never done anything to them, but they just don’t like me.  Clearly this is an intrapersonal issue. There is nothing I can do about this alum’s internal emotional aspects, so I accept it for what it is and move on.

In the other group are alumni who are confused about   the complexities of higher education today and how the University is responding.  They are not sure where to begin the conversation.  I look forward to continuing my outreach to them by inviting them to meet with me here on campus where I can address their questions and concerns.  For example, we can engage in a deep dive discussion about the notion that the University is moving away from its HBCU status.  In fact, it is our federal government that is moving all HBCUs away from the HBCU “entitlement” status, given its cutback in Title III and IV funds.

Let me explain further.  The Higher Education Act of 1965 established the term “Historically Black Colleges and Universities” for institutions established prior to 1964 that served primarily African-American students and who accordingly would be eligible for Title III and Title IV funding. Note that Black institutions established after that time are not recognized by the federal government as HBCUs, rather, they are referred to as predominantly black institutions and have not been eligible for entitlement funding.   As I noted above, in recent years the federal government is decreasing its allocation to Title III and other programs, such as the Pell Grant and the Parent PLUS Loan. Such changes in federal funding have also affected programs such as HBCU-UP, OASIS and sponsored research.  If this federal funding continues to dwindle, the HBCU description as a designated funding category will cease to exist.  The University will simply be a predominantly Black University. 

In another deep dive discussion I would invite the Director of Institutional Research to meet with alumni and me to look at data concerning the University’s retention rate. The rate has been growing steadily, up until this past year when we were adversely impacted by the Parent PLUS Loan fiasco. When I came to this University, the retention rate was 63%. It has grown steadily over the years to 72% as reported in the common data set for 2012-2013. We have also seen positive growth at the University in recent years in terms of the six-year graduation rate, which has risen from 38% in 2008 to 44% in 2012-2013.

Even more, I would love to give alumni a personal tour of the campus so that I could show them how their alma mater is phasing up to new possibilities from the strong roots of its past.  

There are several ways the National Alumni Association (NAA) can help bridge the expectations gap between some alumni and my administration, outside of giving financially to the University-- although it is extremely important that giving continues to increase.

  • The NAA could serve as an advocate in matters of state and federal public policy that adversely impact the mission and future of the University. 
  • It could encourage its membership to help with the University’s admissions process at local college fairs.  Our Office of Admissions is developing a certification program for alumni who want to help the office by representing JCSU at college fairs in areas close to where you live and work.
  • Members of the NAA who are self-employed or have influence in their companies can offer an internship or employment job to a JCSU student or graduate.
  • We would welcome the NAA to adopt some of our student organizations and in so doing, attend campus events where alumni can get to know our students.
  • The Center for Career and Professional Development would welcome contributions of gently used professional attire from NAA members to the center’s clothing closet, and the Spiritual Life Center would welcome donations of basic toiletries and other necessities to the care closet.  

There is no doubt in my mind that such engagement as recommended above would close the expectations gap because everyone would experience the Smith Way as a strong experience that binds us.  And, as one of the foremost voices in African spirituality, Sobonfu Somé, wisely notes, “… that strong moment must be held, so that in the midst of crisis it can be one’s principal ally.” 

This answer was posted on: 11/21/2013 9:03 pm