Alumni criticized a vote by Lincoln University’s Board of Trustees on Friday not to renew the contract of president Brenda A. Allen, alleging on Saturday that the board had violated its own bylaws and failed to be transparent.
After a private executive Zoom session that neared four hours, the board for the public, historic Black university in Chester County said 52% of the 21 trustees present had voted not to renew Allen’s contract, while 48% voted in favor of renewal. They did not give a reason for their decision. Two trustees were absent, the board secretary said.
The vote drew anger from the 250-person audience on an adjacent Zoom call, as well as the larger community, much of which had rallied behind Allen, a Lincoln alumna who became the school’s 14th president in 2017.
“My head is still swirling, if you will,” Lennell Dade, a 1984 Lincoln graduate and the school’s chair of the department of psychology and human services, said Saturday. “Trying to comprehend it and take it in.” She noted that a large crowd stayed on the Zoom call during the hours-long meeting. “Over 200 of us remained on the line, mostly alum. We remained in that room for three hours waiting for them to come back — that level of commitment.”
Former Lincoln University trustee Rosalie Hornbuckle said Saturday that the private vote was a violation of the board’s bylaws and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act, which mandates that “all official actions must be taken during the public portion of a meeting.”
“If you are acting to remove the president, under Lincoln bylaws and the Sunshine Act, you cannot hold a vote in an executive session,” said Hornbuckle, a 1983 graduate. “That vote must be held in public session. You can go into executive session to discuss issues privately, but then you have to come out and have a roll call vote.”
Five people that the commonwealth appointed to Lincoln University’s Board of Trustees in January — and who Hornbuckle said were subsequently kept at arm’s length from participating in the board’s business — were also excluded from the vote.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said a day before the trustee’s meeting that the board should allow the commonwealth appointees to participate.
“After reviewing the University’s Bylaws and the enabling statute, it is my expectation that the Board will promptly seat these new Board members and allow them to participate in the meeting and vote on any matters that should come before the Board,” Shapiro stated in a letter Thursday.
Dimitrius M. Hutcherson, the board’s vice chair, referred all questions to a press release from the university, which said the board would name an interim president “within the next few days.”
“We thank Dr. Allen for her service, and I can’t get into anything else,” he said Saturday.
Hutcherson declined to name the board’s commonwealth appointments.
“It is our practice at Lincoln University of PA, to not reveal the names of the candidates who are going through the process of being seated on the Board of Trustees until the vetting process has been completed,” he said. “As a result, I cannot provide you the names of the candidates.”
Theresa Braswell, the board’s chairwoman, has not responded to requests for comment.
‘Dr. Allen is not the type of president you can just run over,” Hornbuckle said. “Dr. Allen’s focus is primarily the institution’s best interest, and not a personal best interest.”
The board, which on Friday also carried a motion, 14-7, to find an interim president, said that “emphasis will be placed on new leadership with extensive executive experience in higher education, coupled with a strong background in business, finance, and entrepreneurship.”
In her three-year tenure, the board’s press release said, Allen had improved freshman retention and four-year graduation rates, earned back accreditation for the school in 2019, and raised the university’s ranking.
In the lead-up to Friday’s meeting, Allen had received widespread praise, including an endorsement from Pennsylvania State Sen. Vincent Hughes, who called her “the best person to be the president of Lincoln.” More than 14,000 people had also signed a petition that implored the board to keep her as president. The Board of Trustees said Friday that her contract ended June 30.