St. Aug's picks widow of former leader as next president

Posted February 23, 2021 2:29 p.m. EST
Updated February 24, 2021 8:15 p.m. EST

— The St. Augustine’s University board of trustees on Tuesday named Christine Johnson McPhail as the school's 13th president, succeeding her husband, Irving Pressley McPhail, who died in October of COVID-19 complications.

“We are excited and fortunate to have an innovative, proven, credentialed leader of Dr. Christine McPhail’s stature to lead St. Augustine’s University to the next level of excellence as we re-imagine a new model of the HBCU of the future,” board Chairman James Perry said in a statement.

Christine McPhail called the decision to follow in her husband's footsteps "bittersweet," knowing what he wanted to achieve at St. Augustine's.

"Who better than me to step in with my background and my familiarity with the direction that they were taking the university, to step up and write the next chapter for St. Augustine's University," she said in a Wednesday interview with WRAL News.

McPhail currently serves as president and chief executive of a higher education consulting firm and as professor of practice as the John E. Roueche Center for Community College Leadership at Kansas State University. She previously served as president of Cypress College, a community college in Cypress, Calif., and was founding professor and director of the Community College Leadership Doctoral Program at Morgan State University in Baltimore.

“After interviewing several potential candidates to carry on the work unfortunately cut short by the loss of her husband, Dr. McPhail quickly rose to the top of our list,” Rodrick Miller, a Saint Augustine’s alumnus who co-chaired the search committee, said in a statement. “She has distinguished herself as one of the foremost authorities in higher education leadership and strategic organizational advancement. We are certain she is the best choice to lead SAU into the future."

"This is a great moment for SAU, and this decision opens a vista for greater things to come in building this university’s partnership with Wake County," county Commissioner James West, who served on the search committee, said in a statement.

Knowing her husband succumbed to the virus, McPhail said every decision she makes will prioritize the health and safety of St. Augustine's students and staff. She said she also understands the importance of student success and plans to push the university toward that.

"What I see myself able to do is to ... deal with the challenges and demands of where we are now while we marshal resources to take the university to where we want it to go," she said.

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