Lincoln University president Brenda A. Allen said she’s learned a lot, and she believes the board of trustees did too.
Now, it’s time to put the feud that became public last month behind them and move Lincoln forward through the pandemic, she said.
“Clearly, we all have love for the institution, and we will be working to make sure we do the best job for this institution,” Allen said Thursday. “I’m so happy to be able to continue my work here at Lincoln.”
Her comments came shortly after Lincoln’s board, with no discussion at a Zoom meeting, unanimously authorized lawyers to begin negotiating a new contract with Allen, to be voted on by the board at a public meeting within 30 days.
Just last month, the board voted in private against seeking a new contract with Allen, which led to lawsuits by Allen’s lawyer, Gov. Tom Wolf and Attorney General Josh Shapiro, claiming the board had violated the state’s Sunshine Law and its own bylaws by voting in private. Wolf and Shapiro in their suit also said that five state-appointed trustees were barred from participating.
That led Chester County Judge William P. Mahon to order the board to seat those state-appointed trustees and hold a new public vote on whether to negotiate a new contract with Allen. In the interim, he ordered her reinstated.
The board also on Thursday seated the state-appointed trustees and all were permitted to vote.
The sudden turnabout came as a surprise to some.
“It sure is different when things are voted on publicly than privately,” said State Sen. Andy Dinniman, a Democrat and a member of Lincoln’s board.
After the meeting ended, a man still on the call, whose identity wasn’t apparent, summed up the dramatic change this way: “We rounded up the votes ahead of time. They knew they couldn’t win.”
Board Chair Theresa R. Braswell said in a statement: “I am 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.”
Controversy erupted at Lincoln earlier last month as rumors circulated that the board planned to not retain Allen. She has led the school for three years, earning widespread support among faculty, students, and alumni. More than 14,000 people signed an online petition backing Allen, whose contract ran out June 30.
Allen, a 1981 Lincoln graduate, sued the board after it announced it would not pursue a new contract with her, saying members illegally voted to end her tenure. Her supporters say Allen has improved student retention, alumni giving and the university’s academic rankings.
“Numbers don’t lie, and they all point up,” alumnus Ray Jeter, president of Lincoln’s Pittsburgh alumni chapter, said to the board before the vote.
Allen, who participated in Thursday’s meeting, said the issues with the board were more over process than anything else. She learned from it, she said.
“Sometimes I put some things to the side and sort of put my head down and get the task done in front of me,” she said. “Going forward, there are some things you have to address when they occur.”
She’s been back for a couple weeks under the judge’s order and has been working to prepare the 2,100-student historically black university for the fall semester. Fifty percent of students will return to campus and the rest will learn remotely, she said. The return to campus will be delayed a bit, however, until enough COVID-19 testing is available, she said. Students will begin to return on Aug. 19, a week later than planned, she said.
The university also had been coping with a systemwide email shutdown that lasted for about two weeks and recently ended. The university, Allen said, has migrated to a new email system.
Her lawsuit against Lincoln will stay in place until the matter is resolved, said her lawyer, Riley H. Ross III.
Allen said she’s not sure how long of a contract she’ll seek, noting she has family in North Carolina that she needs to see periodically.
“Dr. Allen has not been thinking about the contract,” Ross said. “Her focus has been on getting school ready for the upcoming semester.”