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Wilberforce Launches "Force Of Strategy" Campaign To Find A New President

Wilberforce University was set to name a new president this week, but the selected candidate turned down the offer, and now a new search is underway.

Dwayne Smith, vice-president of academic affairs at Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis, Mo, was offered the job to become the school's 20th president at an alumni conference in Memphis. But the head of the Wilberforce Faculty Association, Richard Deering, indicated that Smith balked at the offer after learning he was not the university's first choice.

"When he learned that he was the second choice of the board and the first choice had turned them down, he also turned the board down so that's where we are," Deering said. Deering learned that Herman Felton, of Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C., was actually the the first choice to succeed interim President Dr. Wilma Mishoe.

"Dr. Felton from Livingston, he would have been my and I think the faculty's first choice. Other qualified individuals recognize the shaky nature of the institution," Deering said. "The question is 'why would you give up a real job to come to Wilberforce for a job that might only be just a year?'"

Deering is referring to the fact that Wilberforce received a "Show-Cause Order" from  the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools in June, stating that the university may lose its accreditation due to sub-par academic programs, severe cuts to faculty and staff, plus a $9.7 million deficit and low enrollment. Wilberforce must respond to the concerns by December 15 and commission officials will visit February 9, 2015.

The school's Alumni Association has committed to raise $2 million in cash donations to help launch what university officials are calling a "Force of Change" strategy, which will include naming a new president, reorganizing the board of directors, and finding ways to improve the university fiscally and academically.

The university, founded in 1856, is the oldest private historically black university in the nation.