Lincoln U. board votes to reinstate president Brenda Allen

(Image via Philadelphia Tribune)

By Chanel Hill

The Lincoln University Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Thursday to negotiate a new contract for university president Brenda Allen.

During a phone interview after the board’s vote, Allen said she is “very happy” with the board’s decision.

“I’m elated,” Allen said. “I’m so committed to my students and to get unanimous support just really feels good.”

The board’s chairwoman, Theresa Braswell, said in a written statement that she is “happy that we were able to be united in our thoughts regarding this very important matter and looking forward to renewed energy and collaboration with all stakeholders.”

The board wasn’t so united a month ago, when it was split in its vote on the renewal of Allen’s contract. Braswell announced then that the board would seek a new university president. The board provided no explanation to Allen or the public.

Allen sued the board for violations of the state Sunshine Act (open meetings law) and its own bylaws when it voted on her contract in an executive session and excluded several board members from voting. She received support from the state Attorney General’s Office and Gov. Tom Wolf, who also sued, echoing her allegations and adding to them.

The AG’s office also asked the court to unseat Braswell, saying in its suit that Braswell exercised a “gross abuse of her authority” when she led the board to take actions that violated state laws in “willful defiance and wanton disregard” of the advice of the board’s attorney.

Judge orders stay of Lincoln U. Board of Trustees’ vote to unseat Brenda Allen

It took a July 24 order from Chester County Judge William P. Mahon Jr. for the board of trustees to reinstate Allen on an interim basis. Mahon ordered the board to meet on Thursday and vote on Allen’s contract.

Mahon issued a separate order earlier this week, instructing the board to “conduct its meeting in the public session and not retreat to the executive session.”

In the meeting on Thursday, the board also unanimously voted to reject the resignations of two trustees and seat five new board members. All were permitted to vote on Allen’s contract.

Since she was reinstated, Allen has moved forward with plans to reopen the nation’s oldest degree-granting Black university for the fall semester during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“I’ve gone back to my plan and try to connect it with where the virus is at right now and make adjustments as far as who will come back and what we have to do first,” Allen said.

“We want to make sure we keep our students and community safe, but still offer the best education to as many students who want to partake in it.”

The board appointed Allen, a 1981 graduate of Lincoln, its 14th president in 2017. Her contract expired on June 30.

After the board voted on July 10 not to renew Allen’s contract, it was quick to take steps to remove her from office. Board Vice Chairman Dimitrius Hutcherson immediately sent Allen a letter, asking her to vacate the president’s residence. And the board ordered university staff to bar Allen from entering the building where her office is located, reclaim her technological devices, and cut off her access to university email, among other things.

The board announced on July 15 that Hutcherson would be working with the administration on “any day-to-day issues where supervisory assistance is required,” i.e. presidential duties, until the board selected an interim president at a special meeting on July 23.

On July 21, Mahon ordered a stay of the board’s July 10 vote and actions to remove Allen.

Lincoln University won’t renew president Brenda Allen’s contract

The board scheduled a new vote for July 31, but Allen and her attorney raised concerns in court about the agenda for that meeting, which listed selecting a new president before discussion of Allen’s contract, and the likelihood of the vote being fair. Mahon issued another order, instructing the board to reinstate Allen on an interim basis and setting a meeting date for Aug. 6 with a specific agenda.

Throughout the controversy, Allen received support from faculty, staff, students and alumni of the university.

More than 14,000 people signed an online petition urging the board to keep Allen, and several groups held rallies for her.

Allen said “she’s extremely grateful” for all of the support.

“I received support from people I worked with 20 years ago and heard stories from so many people on how I made an impact on their lives,” Allen said. “All of the love really helped get through some of the low times during this process.”

Allen also said the experience has given her “an opportunity to think about how I can continue to be the person that I am, but also reflect on areas where I can be better.”

Supporters credit Allen with raising more funds for the university, improving student retention and the four-year graduation rates, and ensuring the schools’ re-accreditation.

The school also has more stability in state funding and a growing enrollment base. Lincoln enrolled 2,040 undergraduates and 200 graduate students last year.

Lincoln is now ranked in the top 10 HBCUs in the country and among the top 40 Northern Public Institutions of the United States (a first for the university).

“We want to continue to ensure our students are prepared for the 21st century,” Allen said. “We will continue to make our curriculum as strong as it can be and give our students access to co-curricular activities that help strengthen their skills in critical thinking and problem solving.”

Chanel Hill is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared