Roots of Tuskegee’s New President Herald Great Things for the Historic Institution


Tuskegee University seventh president, Brian Johnson.

As one of his first official duties as the seventh president of historic Tuskegee University Brian Johnson presided over a commencement on Aug. 1. Making the occasion even more auspicious was the summer commencement’s keynote speaker–a giant among HBCU educators: Dorothy Cowser Yancy, president emerita at Shaw and Johnson C. Smith universities, HBCUs in Raleigh, N.C., and Charlotte, N.C., respectively.

Yancy was Johnson’s mentor during his matriculation at Johnson C. Smith, and he later authored the official institutional and presidential history of Yancy’s tenure at the helm of that institution, The Yancy Years: the Age of Infrastructure, Technology and Restoration (2008).  “In Dr. Yancy’s first year as president of Johnson C. Smith University (1994), I had the distinct honor of being mentored by her as a student leader and in the 14th year of her presidency (2008), I had the honor of returning and serving my alma mater as associate professor of English and associate vice president for academic affairs. This appointment was particularly meaningful for me because I was able to write her 14-year presidential history, spanning my time as a student to professor to administrator,” Johnson said in a statement.

An Alabama native, Yancy served as the 12th president of Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU) and the 14th and 16th president of Shaw University. At Shaw from 2009-2010, she rescued the institution’s finances and recruited one of the largest freshmen classes in the history of the university. She retired September 2010, according to a press release. She returned to Shaw on Sept. 1, 2011, after the campus had been torn apart by a tornado in April. One year later, the devastation had been abated and all buildings were back in use. She also led the university through five program accreditation reviews and the regular SACSCOC reaffirmation.

Yancy saw similar success at JCSU, where she served as president from October 1994 to June 2008. She raised more than $145 million for the university during that period, and was heralded as one of the best fundraisers nationally. Additionally, JCSU’s endowment more than tripled from $14 million to $53 million, and JCSU became the first HBCU to become an IBM “Thinkpad” University, among other honors.

Johnson, who assumed Tuskegee’s helm in June, is also that institution’s youngest president at age 40.

He came to Tuskegee from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn., where he was interim vice president for strategic planning and institutional effectiveness and assistant vice provost/assistant vice president for academic affairs. Before joining Austin Peay in 2010, Johnson served as chief of staff in the president’s office at JCSU.

Tuskegee University, founded in 1881 by Booker T. Washington, has been hailed as the “intellectual epicenter of African-American culture and academia.”

It graduates more than 75 percent of the African-American veterinarians in the world and is the only HBCU with a fully accredited College of veterinary medicine offering a doctoral degree. Tuskegee is also the largest producer of Black graduates in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

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