Local News

Shaw president out amid school's financial troubles

Posted May 13, 2009 11:21 a.m. EDT
Updated May 13, 2009 6:52 p.m. EDT

— Shaw University on Wednesday announced a split with President Clarence Newsome as the university tries to regain its financial footing.

Founded in 1865 as one of the first black colleges in the South, Shaw is $20 million in debt, Executive Vice President Martel Perry said.

"Shaw has done so much for so many. ... Now, it's debt-paying time," Willie Gary, chairman of Shaw's Board of Trustees, told about 300 faculty and staff members Wednesday. "We are facing some tough times."

Each of Shaw's 40 trustees has pledged to contribute $50,000 to the university and to raise additional funds, he said. Faculty, staff and alumni also will be asked to do more, he said.

"We are headed in the right direction. We are making some changes that are going to make a difference," Gary said in an often fiery speech.

In December, Shaw laid off a number of employees, gave others a pay cut and suspended retirement benefits. Dozens of students also protested about poor living conditions in university dorms.

"I think what is very clear is that students have spoken that they wanted to see some changes. The board was responsive to that," said David Marshall, head of Shaw's Department of Mass Communications. "The victory here ... is that this institution has listened to the students, and at the end of the day, the students have won."

The split with Newsome was mutually agreed to last Friday, Gary said. The university held its graduation on Saturday, when 405 students earned their degrees.

Shaw has about 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students.

"Although it was not an easy decision, I believe that it is the best course of action for me and the school,” Newsome said in a statement. "The time has come for me to focus on other endeavors and new opportunities. Shaw University will always be dear to me.”

Newsome was Shaw's 13th president and was appointed to the position in February 2003 after serving for more than a decade as dean of Howard University's Divinity School.

A statement from Shaw officials said Newsome would take a one-year sabbatical, but Gary said the former president wouldn't return to the school after that time.

Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, although Gary said Newsome would be paid during the next year.

"We got him to agree to allow us to move forward," Gary said. "We came together, and we worked out a severance package that we both were able to live with."

He acknowledged that it would be difficult for cash-strapped Shaw to pay Newsome for the next year, but he said the university had to uphold its contract with him.

"You want to save every dollar you can , but your credibility means a lot to you," he said.

Trustees have been working almost around the clock in recent days to stabilize the university, Gary said, promising that an interim president would be appointed within 10 days.

A national search for Newsome's successor will be conducted, he said.

"We're going to do whatever it takes," he said, noting Shaw's board would meet at least three times a month in the coming months. "We don't want anything to fall through the cracks. We want to make sure we're on top of everything."