By Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell, Special to the New Tri-State Defender
Dr. Andrea Lewis Miller, who was once deemed the right candidate at the right moment “for such a time as this” at LeMoyne-Owen College, will not get a second term as president.
The first woman appointed president of the then 153-year-old college, the city’s only historically black college/university (HBCU), Miller, a graduate of the college, learned in mid-June that the LeMoyne-Owen College Board of Trustees would not pick up her contract this September.
Amid considerable optimism, Miller became the 12th president on Sept. 1, 2015. She brought with her 20 years of experience in higher learning, exiting Baton Rouge Community College for the return to Memphis. She was the second LOC graduate to serve as president.
A statement released on Tuesday confirmed the rumblings that Dr. Miller was out. “(The) Board of Trustees is grateful for Dr. Miller’s service and commitment to LeMoyne-Owen for the past four years.”
Neither Miller nor Board of Trustee’s Chair Dr. Christopher Davis had returned calls by TSD press time. Davis did indicate that an interim would be named; no timetable was given.
Miller set an ambitious agenda for LeMoyne-Owen College. Initially established as a “teachers’ college” like many other HBCUs, the liberal arts institution was put on an overhaul course that included the goal of offering students more relevant courses of study.
Steps in the new direction garnered both supporters and adversaries of her proposed changes. During LOC’s 2016 commencement exercises, shipping giant FedEx gave the college $1 million for technology upgrades – and another $100,000 as a scholarship endowment.
Meanwhile, enrollment did not change significantly for the better. And in 2017, a vote of “no confidence by some faculty members added to Miller’s challenges.
Along the way came charges of nepotism and ineffective leadership by some student government leaders, who sought Miller’s removal.
In response, Miller assessed the charges by students as “a few, just a few who do not want to see me succeed.”
Alumni, who met with student leaders, joined the call to remove Miller. Several meetings over the past few months indicated that members of the Board of Trustees were split on whether to move forward with her.
The Faculty Senate at LeMoyne-Owen College issued a second vote of no confidence after accusing Miller of plagiarizing world-renowned pastor Joel Osteen’s sermon – entitled “I’m Still Standing – during her Oct. 2018 convocation address to incoming freshmen.
At the time, Michael Robinson, a professor and president of the college’s faculty organization, told reporters, “The president is the highest academic and administrative officer…and sets the standard for ethical and moral conduct at the college as well…These are some serious allegations, because it impacts the credibility of the college because the president is the face of the organization…and that’s a serious infraction.”
In a written statement released after the plagiarism assertion, Miller defended her use of Osteen’s remarks, also implying that it was an “oversight” not to credit him. The matter, she said, did not “constitute a serious breach of academic standards that would rise to a level of review for faculty or students.”
Miller also has defended her tenure as president, saying that LeMoyne-Owen must evolve its curriculum to properly serve students in a changing world and job market. She has said criticism of her leadership stems mostly from resistance to what she believes is necessary change.
“It is no secret that organizational changes, the pace of change and our new direction at LeMoyne-Owen College has caused consternation among some faculty members,” Miller said in a prepared statement issued after the plagiarism assertion.
“Still, I am committed to ensuring this 156-year-old institution achieves new heights in outcomes for the students and families we serve.”