The last year has been a rough one for West Virginia State University. The land grant institution and one of the country’s Historically Black Colleges has had to, like every other college, deal with the pandemic. But also, the school has suffered through a leadership crisis.
That crisis came to a head recently when three University vice presidents, a provost and the general counsel, sent a letter to the school’s Board of Governors and Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Sarah Tucker expressing “no confidence” in President Nicole Pride.
Pride had been on the job for less than a year, but clearly it has been a tumultuous time for her and the school. Members of the executive leadership team who signed the letter accused her of creating a “hostile work environment.”
Specifically, the signatories accused her of condescending, abusive, harassing dialogue, bullying behavior, and retaliatory practices.
“The level of staff turnover during the President’s tenure is troubling,” they wrote. “Faculty and staff openly share in campus-wide forums issues of low morale and uncertainty after a fall Reduction in Force and continuous personnel changes.”
The issue came to a head Friday when, after a five-hour executive session, the Board of Governor’s unanimously accepted Pride’s resignation.
Pride never commented publicly on the specific allegations against her, so we may never know her side of the story. However, the open revolt by school leaders strongly suggests that Pride was a bad choice from the very beginning.
West Virginia State University is a jewel of Black history. It was authorized by Congress in 1890 as one of 19 land-grant institutions in the country to educate Black students during a time of segregation.
The school was deeply influenced by Booker T. Washington whose boyhood home was not far from the Institute campus. Katherine Johnson, who was a pioneer in the early space program, studied mathematics and graduated from West Virginia State. Leon Sullivan, who developed the “Sullivan Principles,” a framework for equal treatment in the workplace, is an alum.
In addition, WVSU has served as an important reservoir for the retention and study of Black history. It is a host institution for a Freedom Station on the National Underground Railroad which provides education on slavery and the long struggle for equality for Black Americans. It offers a course of study about the Tuskegee Airmen, the celebrated squadron of Black fighter pilots during WWII.
Only four percent of West Virginia’s population is Black, yet our state has a significant and influential history of achievement by people of color. That heritage serves as an inspirational beacon for Black West Virginians who want to be proud of their state, while pursuing their educational goals.
The controversy over former WVSU President Nicole Pride has been a major distraction from those opportunities. It is now the challenge of the school’s Board of Governors to right the ship by making a presidential hire that reflects the storied legacy of the institution.