Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Bother at Saint Augustine’s College


Saint Augustine’s College (SAU) President Dr. Christine Johnson McPhail has been fired from her place on the faculty’s helm, reducing her contract and time period brief. The transfer comes because the Southern Affiliation of Schools (SACSCOC) voted to strip the small Traditionally Black Faculty and College of its accreditation.

The college has vowed to attraction the choice and can stay an accredited establishment on probation throughout the attraction course of. Dr. Leslie Rodriguez-McClellon, who was vp of group relations and authorities affairs however was named Appearing President on Tuesday by the varsity’s board of trustees, has promised to push ahead.

“The work has already begun to attraction SACSCOC’s determination, and we’ll stay steadfast throughout this course of,” mentioned Rodriguez-McClellon. “Whereas we’re upset by SACSCOC’s determination, we are assured and unified in our dedication to meet and full our mission.”

It is unclear why McPhail was faraway from her publish and if the varsity’s pending accreditation standing performed any position in her ouster. McPhail mentioned that she heard rumors a couple of month in the past that her termination was “pending” and that she could be fired in December however added that she didn’t know when or why.

Dr. Christine Johnson McPhailDr. Christine Johnson McPhailSaint Augustine’s College

In response to McPhail, tensions between her and the board got here to a head at an Oct 5 board assembly, the place the college’s monetary bookkeeping standing was on the agenda. 

McPhail’s contract as the varsity’s thirteenth president would have lasted by way of February 2025. She mentioned that was not given a selected cause for her termination, however she believes that the choice was “retaliation” for the interior criticism she filed on Oct. 9 for alleged hostile habits from trustees throughout an Oct. 5 board assembly.

Tensions in October

McPhail alleges that, throughout the Oct. 5 assembly, trustees Rufus Montgomery and Hadley Evans, Jr. created a “hostile setting” for her and Gwen Kea, SAU’s vp of finance and administration.

She mentioned that the trustees had been impolite, disparaging and “yelled at us,” and “banged on the desk after they had been speaking to us,” McPhail mentioned in interview with Various. The berating introduced Kea to tears, prompting McPhail to ask for the assembly to be paused, she added. 

“None of the opposite board members spoke as much as inform these different two members that they had been out of line,” McPhail mentioned of the predominantly male board. “They allowed this case to go on till I requested the vice chair and the chair to cease the assembly.”

Throughout that break, McPhail mentioned she approached Montgomery, a comparatively new trustee who she mentioned had been the “most hostile”, to handle the matter, however mentioned that she was met with extra hostility and dismissiveness.

“This was Mr. Montgomery’s first assembly, so I assumed that I might strategy him and simply say this isn’t how we behave right here. I mentioned, ‘Mr. Montgomery, is there a manner that we might collaborate so once we return into the remainder of the assembly [and] Ms. Kea and I will not should be subjected to the tone and habits that we skilled earlier?” she mentioned “And he grew to become postal appearing, simply very outrageously loud. He referred to me as an worker and that I didn’t have the authority to speak to him.”

4 days after the assembly, McPhail mentioned that she filed a criticism in regards to the incident however was requested by board chairman James E. Perry to withdraw it. She mentioned that she refused. Perry couldn’t be reached for remark.  

“They did not really feel it was egregious sufficient to take any formal motion,” McPhail mentioned of the board. “One of many issues I had requested in my criticism letter was that they ask Trustee Montgomery for his resignation. They usually mentioned they might not do this.”

Montgomery beforehand served as chairman of the Florida A&M College’s (FAMU) board of trustees however resigned from the board in 2015. A vocal critic of then-FAMU president Dr. Elmira Mangum, Montgomery had a “no-holds-barred, accountability-focused chairmanship model,” in accordance with the Tallahassee Democrat.

Shortly after McPhail filed her criticism, board members threatened her job, mentioned her lawyer David H. Tracey. 

“[In early November], our agency knowledgeable the college that we signify Dr. McPhail in claims of discrimination and retaliation. Days later, on Nov. 13, 2023, we perceive that the board of trustees voted to terminate Dr. McPhail’s employment,” Tracey informed Various. “In the end, we perceive that the board terminated Dr. McPhail’s employment mere weeks after her inner criticism and days after notifying the college that she had retained counsel for her discrimination and retaliation declare.”

In an announcement launched on Tuesday, the SAU board denied “the unfounded allegations Dr. McPhail has made” in opposition to the trustees, including that the board is “ready to defend itself and the establishment.”

HBCU knowledgeable Dr. Marybeth Gasman, who holds the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Endowed Chair in Training at Rutgers College mentioned that McPhail’s firing will make SAU seem unstable even past its monetary points.

“Though I’m not aware about the entire issues occurring at St. Aug, I do know that there has been sexism within the remedy of girls presidents on the establishment within the previous as I served on the board of trustees and witnessed this habits on a number of events,” she wrote in an electronic mail to Various. “The firing ‘with out trigger’ jogs my memory of many of the current firings and ‘non-renewed’ contracts which were occurring throughout HBCUs.”

Gasman, who additionally leads Rutgers’ Middle for Minority Serving Establishments and has researched points referring to HBCU management for almost three a long time, mentioned that she has seen management points at HBCUs ebb and circulate about each 10 years. 

“Given what Black girls have skilled as presidents of HBCUs, I feel it is very important hearken to Dr. McPhail and listen to her and all views associated to the termination,” Gasman added. 

McPhail took helm of Saint Augustine after her husband Dr. Iving Pressley McPhail handed away in 2020 after contracting COVID-19. He was solely within the position for 3 months. The McPhails had been a robust couple, having served in numerous management positions throughout academe. In 2018, Various honored McPhail with its Various Champions award. 

Turmoil on the faculty

Consultants say that the choice to fireplace McPhail from her publish, amid the Southern Affiliation of Schools and Colleges Fee on Schools (SACSCOC) ruling to take away SAU’s membership from their accrediting physique, indicators an absence of stability on the 156-year-old establishment and an uncertainty in regards to the faculty’s future. 

The accrediting physique had positioned SAU on probation final 12 months, as a consequence of monetary challenges. McPhail attributed the problems to incomplete audits, an absence of document upkeep and documentation underneath a earlier administration, and an unreliable former auditor.

SAU confronted an earlier probation between 2016 and 2018.

“I’ve an actual robust feeling that the school and employees at Saint Augustine’s College are so dedicated to this college that they are going to work aggressively with heartfelt enthusiasm to give that attraction every part that they’ve in them to achieve success,” McPhail mentioned.

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