Aug 29, 2022 - News

Fisk University president departs

Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Fisk University is once again searching for a new top executive after the abrupt departure of its president Vann Newkirk over the weekend.

  • Board chair Frank L. Sims stepped in as interim president, a role he previously held from 2015-2017.

Why it matters: Turnover is unusually high among Fisk presidents. Newkirk took the helm as interim president in 2020, promising consistent leadership after many waves of executive upheaval. But he ultimately stayed in the top job for only two years.

What they're saying: "The Board of Trustees is charged with ensuring that Fisk University continues to excel as a leading academic institution and that our future is defined by a shared vision and set of values," Sims said in a statement.

  • "The Board unanimously agreed that the next chapter in the Fisk future calls for new leadership."

The statement did not explain the reasoning behind Newkirk's unexpected exit.

State of play: The news shocked many Fisk graduates, particularly because the university has touted watershed fundraising and enrollment wins under Newkirk.

Flashback: Fisk boosters have clamored for long-term stability in the president's office. But it has been elusive.

  • H. James Williams started in 2013 and resigned in 2015 amid disagreements with the board.
  • After Sims' first stint as interim, the board picked Kevin Rome in 2017 — in part because he said he wanted to hold the job for at least a decade. But he left in 2020 after controversy overtook his tenure.
  • Newkirk started as interim president in 2020. The board selected him to continue as a permanent replacement last year.

The big picture: Crystal deGregory, a Fisk graduate and historian who studies historically Black colleges and universities, tells Axios that Fisk alumni and supporters should get "more accountability and more transparency" surrounding board decision-making.

  • "High presidential and senior-level turnover has left many HBCU students and alums weary and worn," she says.

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