The HBCU Presidential Spotlight Series is sponored by the Office of the President and CEO, Founder, Demetrius Johnson, Jr. at the HBCU Campaign Fund (HCF) introduces chancellors and presidents who currently serves a historically black college or university (HBCU). This initiative recongizes those individuals who serves our nation higher ed institutions daily. Chaning and educating lives while producing the next generational leaders.
M. Christopher Brown II is the 18th president of Kentucky State University and founder of the Atwood Institute on Race, Education, and the Democratic Ideal.
A native of Charleston, South Carolina, Brown earned a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education from South Carolina State University, a Master of Science in education policy and evaluation from the University of Kentucky, and a Doctor of Philosophy in higher education from the Pennsylvania State University.
After earning his Ph.D., Dr. Brown joined the faculties of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and The Pennsylvania State University where he earned tenure. During a professional leave of absence, Dr. Brown served as executive director of the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute of the United Negro College Fund (FDPRI/UNCF), director at the American Educational Research Association (AERA), and vice president at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE).
Dr. Brown was named professor and dean of the College of Education at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas before being appointed a university professor, executive vice president and provost at the historic Fisk University. He also served as the 18th president of the nation’s first historically black land-grant institution – Alcorn State University – in Lorman, Mississippi, and as the inaugural executive vice president and provost of the Southern University and A & M College System in Louisiana.
Dr. Brown’s Alcorn presidency reinvigorated one of most important public college campuses in America. Under his leadership, the university experienced record enrollment growing to over 4000 students for the first time in its 140 plus year history. Dr. Brown also dedicated a $47 million, state-of-the-art student housing complex, spearheaded the renaming of Highway 552 in honor of the university’s longest-tenured president – Dr. Walter Washington, and dedicated the world’s largest statue to Alcorn alumnus and civil rights figure, Medgar Evers. In addition to establishing the Office of Educational Equity and Inclusion, Dr. Brown hired the first non-black head football coach in both institutional and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) history.
Dr. Brown worked to develop and maintain a campus atmosphere dedicated to “excellence without excuse”. Without question, he increased awareness of the Alcorn institutional brand and enhanced its recognition. In 2012 Alcorn State University received the highly coveted HBCU of the Year Award, and in 2013 Dr. Brown was named Male HBCU President of the Year – both from the National Center for HBCU Media Advocacy.
Dr. Brown served as senior fellow at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). As a member of the Division of Academic Leadership and Change, he was responsible for assisting with the periodic review and improvement of administrative leadership training and development programs sponsored by the association, developing rubrics and monographs incident to presidential leadership and university governance, as well as other institutional support projects. During his fellowship, he completed a book with Dr. Christopher Knaus, “Whiteness Is The New South Africa: Qualitative Research On Post-Apartheid Racism In Schools And Society”.
Dr. Brown is the author/editor of 16 other books and monographs. He is the author or co-author of more than 100 journal articles, book chapters, and publications related to education and society. Regarded as an international scholar, he has lectured and/or presented research in various countries on six of seven continents – Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America. He is especially well known for his studies of historically black colleges, educational equity, and professorial responsibilities. His research and scholarly writing includes publications on education policy, governance/administration, and institutional contexts.
Dr. Brown is the recipient of the 2001 Association for the Study of Higher Education’s Promising Scholar/Early Career Award, the 2002 AERA Committee on Scholars of Color Early Career Contribution Award, the 2007 Philip C. Chinn Book Award from the National Association for Multicultural Education, the 2008 Association of Teacher Educators Distinguished Educator Award, and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities Commission on Access, Diversity, and Excellence 2013 Distinguished Service Award. Dr. Brown received the Isaac Murphy Image Award for Education at the 2012 Kentucky Derby. He was also recognized with a 2013 Trofeu Raca Negra (Black Race Trophy) from the Honors Council of the Society of Afro-Brazilian Socio-Cultural, the 2015 Distinguished Alumnus Award from South Carolina State University, and a 2017 Trumpet Award for Spiritual Enlightenment.
A former member of the South Carolina State University Board of Trustees, Dr. Brown is a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated, the 100 Black Men of America, Rotary International, a 33rd degree Free and Accepted Mason Prince Hall Affiliation, and an ordained Baptist minister.
He is married to the former Adrienne Joyce Allen of Canton, Mississippi. Mrs. Brown is a middle school teacher.
Why did you want to become a College/University president, and why at an HBCU?
I spent my faculty career researching and publishing scholarship on the role and importance of historically black colleges and universities. This was joined to research on the effective governance and organizational behavior of colleges and universities. Over the years, I would consult in both areas. While serving as dean at UNLV, I was invited to consult at Fisk University on their upcoming accreditation. The consultancy turned into my full-time commitment to serve as provost to insure that the campus was viable and strong in the face of peer review. My time at Fisk created a professional passion – I could use my knowledge and skills gained from research universities to stabilize and grow campuses that serve populations that reflect my own lived experience. After a successful SACSCOC reaffirmation, I was blessed to be named president at Alcorn State University. All of my colleagues, friends, and family said that I was finally living my calling. They are absolutely right. I love my job and I invest my heart, mind, and resources into the campus. There is not a day that I do not wake up and thank God for the privilege of being able to protect our national treasures and propel new generations of prepared HBCU graduates into the world.
How does it feel to serve as a College/University President?
It is a weighty and humbling assignment. People see the robes and pageantry, but are not privy to the countless hours or reading, planning, praying, and making decisions (some small and some large) that impact thousands of families in our communities. My goal is to make sure that the campuses I lead have systems, traditions, and structures that last long after my season of stewardship. Presidents who served generations before me made hard and wise decisions to make certain that the institutions that were founded to educate the descendants of the formerly enslaved Africans in America still have access to education and opportunity decades and centuries after their deaths. It is my job to make sure that my campus is viable and celebrated decades and even a century after my transition.
What is your definition of leadership? What have been your leadership priorities as president?
Leadership is the ability to motivate and convince others to work toward an identified task with full effort and commitment. A supervisor or manager can direct someone to complete a task. However, a leader inspires people to choose to use their talents, resources, and abilities to advance a common ambition. As president of Kentucky State University and at Alcorn, Fisk, and Southern, I have been committed to creating, reinforcing, and promoting institutional brand identity. It is my contention that with rare exception the content of most academic degree offering are invariable across institutions (i.e., most English majors or Psychology majors study the same content no matter which college they attend). I believe that the greatest value in a college degree is in the institutional brand. This is why some colleges have higher application rates, rejection numbers, and tuition prices. The president (who I deem the “living logo” of the campus) should make certain that her/his campus has brand definition in the market and their products – students, research, community engagement – are respected and ideally celebrated in the larger landscapes of higher education, employment sectors, and government. Whether one values rankings or not, the most highly ranked colleges and universities in our nation have strong brand identity. The public often has clear perceptions about the campus even if they have never visited. I am committed to brand identity and the esprit de corps of a campus. You should feel proud to claim and represent your institution. The announcement of your campus need should create a set of positive physical responses at the mere mention of the name.
What does HBCU mean to you? Are the HBCU institutions relevant to the higher education space?
This is a tricky question for an academic researcher, because the nomenclature has a succinct legal definition – any institution founded before 1964 for the express purpose of providing postsecondary educational access to the descendent of the formerly enslaved Africans in America in a state or district where such access was excluded by law and practice. However, conjoined to this legal definition is a cultural history of academic excellence, managerial efficiency, and social impact that is unparalleled by any other cohort of institutions. With less than six degrees of separation, HBCUs have been the birthplace of nearly every civic and social advancement on the timeline of black history in America (and some of Africa). Black colleges serve as cultural repositories of the black experience, incubators for black excellence, and the physical manifestation of our black existence. The black family, the black church, and the black college are the trinity of our anthropological history in this nation. The three are inextricably linked and must be elevated at all costs. The black college possesses unique agency of self-definition and reproduction. If we did not have them, the social dynamics of our nation would cry out for their creation.
What are three goals you are planning to accomplish for the 2020/2021 academic year?
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has upended the normalcy that we call higher education. While the strategic plan and my own professional priorities previously prescribed particular activities the upcoming year presents a necessary deviation. For the 2020-21 academic term, I have three new priorities. First, my intention will be to take every practicable step to insure that that the students, faculty, staff, alumni, and stakeholders of Kentucky State University are not subjected to any avoidable health hazards by introducing new non-pharmaceutical intervention protocols, providing access to personal protection safety products, and delimiting high risk contexts on the campus landmass. Next, I want to stand up virtual and in-person engagements that continue the traditions and ethos of the traditional HBCU context while provide educational delivery to our student populace. Finally, it is my unabating commitment to make certain that our campus maintains fiscal viability and institutional autonomy for the indefinite future.
How important is it yo you for students to receive their education while attending an HBCU?
On the wall above the door of my high school are inscribed the words, “Education is a possession of which no man can be robbed.” I saw these words every school day for four years. It serves as both mantra and affirmation. I bear the weight of an ancestral charge and a divine unction to make certain that the students who are entrusted to my institution for collegiate instruction are enlightened academically, developed personally, and prepared professionally. A CHARGE TO KEEP I HAVE. Parents and guardians who bring their loved ones to us expect that we will do our best work and enable them to go forth into the world with emancipatory and transformative power to live, to be, and to thrive. I take this responsibility personally. As a former elementary school teacher, in loco parentis does not end for me with high school. It is our just duty to support and advance a communal collective through our students – when one of us is successful then all of us can be successful.
What are the most interesting challenges of working as an University president and in the space of higher education?
The administrative tasks are common across campuses. The nuances of HBCU leadership and even more public HBCU leadership are significant. Private HBCUs at least have the luxury of being a non-state actor as they promote the historic dynamic of our campus context. To this end, most private HBCUs are church affiliated and have 90% or greater black student enrollments. Public HBCUs are state agencies, most with greater than 20-30% non-black student enrollments. The complicated interplay of historic mission, public governance, and enrollment mix can make the leadership of a public HBCU a metaphorical minefield. Additionally, the work is never done. You can clear your desk today, but a new pile of challenges will await you tomorrow.
What has been the proudest moments of your presidency so far?
The proudest moments for me as a senior HBCU leader are graduations and commissioning ceremonies. Don’t judge me, but I am known to shed a tear on these days. As I sit and watch the sea of young, educated faces, I realized that on that day – that moment and the actions of conferring a degree or commissioning an officer – will forever transform the life of that student and their families. It is an awe-inspiring reflection to realize that something you did or helped to leadwill alter the trajectory of an entire family for generations to come. I often leave graduation events on foot – walking through the campus back to my office – to take in the beauty of the campus and the joy of the day. Inevitably, I end up humming to myself (probably because I cannot sing) – “Lord, I done done. Lord, I done done. Lord, I done done. I done done what you told me to too.”
What are the two or three initiatives that most excite you as you look forward to your future as president?
My presidential and provost roles center on permanence – organizational structures, academic precision, campus traditions, and physical structures. There is a wonderful book by Kathleen Manning – Rituals, Ceremonies, and Cultural Meaning in Higher Education – that metamorphosized my understanding of the power of the postsecondary space to create and define. Interestingly enough, Kentucky State University is finishing a few construction projects and launching a new housing development. We are aligning the academic structure to increase efficiency and improve outcomes. And we are being extremely intentional about the quality of students we produce and taking deliberate steps to support their on campus and lifelong success.
Why should students choose to attend your HBCU institution?
Kentucky State University is one of the nation’s fastest growing HBCUs – as evidenced by enrollment increases, graduation rates, media market shares, and upward movement in public rankings. The campus is culturally congenial and possesses a family atmosphere. We are a public university with private college student-teacher ratios. We are poised to be the first and only HBCU admitted into COPLAC – the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges. We are the home of the Thorobreds. A thorobred/thoroughbred horse is the fastest and strongest horse bred from the purest bloodline. It is celebrated for speed, agility, and spirit. Why Kentucky State University you ask? Students choose us because “WE ARE THORO”.
About Kentucky State University (KSU)
Kentucky State University is a public, comprehensive, historically black land-grant university committed to advancing the Commonwealth of Kentucky, enhancing society, and impacting individuals by providing quality teaching with a foundation in liberal studies, scholarly research, and public service to enable productive lives within the diverse global economy. For more information, visit www.kysu.edu.
About the HBCU Campaign Fund (HCF)
The HBCU Campaign Fund (HCF) is a nonprofit advocacy educational organization that is mission to support the significance and raises funds for scholarship, initiative programming, and for public and private HBCUs and MSIs. HCF remains today as a strong advocate for students and higher education. For more information, visit www.hbcucampaignfund.org.