Underlying Turmoil at Lincoln

President of Lincoln U. in Pennsylvania, widely criticized this week for remarks on rape, has many more problems on his plate, according to faculty and students.

November 12, 2014
Lincoln U. of Pennsylvania
Robert R. Jennings

The Lincoln University of Pennsylvania president's inflammatory suggestions about the motives of female students who make rape accusations were not his first.

Nor are the remarks the only firestorm engulfing the presidency of Robert R. Jennings, the 13th president of Lincoln, one of the nation’s oldest historically black colleges.

Faculty complain that his poor business decisions hurt morale and jeopardize academics. Students complain about decisions that hurt enrollment, violate their privacy and cast the university in a bad light. Both groups say that Jennings says things he ought not.

Jennings gained unwanted infamy this week when a video from September gained wide circulation. The video shows him saying that three female students at Lincoln made rape allegations only after having “done whatever they did with young men and then it didn't turn out the way they wanted it to turn out.” Those remarks, made to a group of female students and faculty, became public this month on YouTube and unleashed criticism of Jennings from nearly every corner of a culture that has become increasingly sensitive to comments about rape that place blame on the victims. 

The president also characterized male students as out to “use ... up” the college's female students. Those remarks, though they attracted less public notice, angered the men on campus.

The remarks about rape were made at a women-only convocation for incoming students.

Such convocations are a recent addition that Jennings made to Lincoln: they happen weekly, and the first convocations of the year are gender-segregated. He's offended people at them in the past.

In his first remarks to an all-male convocation in fall 2012, Jennings made a suggestion about men raised by single mothers that insulted male students in the audience.

Kevin Favor, a psychology professor who is a former dean of campus life, was in the audience for the all-male event and said Jennings suggested that men have a criminal nature and that being raised by a single mother could disadvantage some of them. One young man, Favor recalled, stood up to challenge the president.

Favor said Jennings doesn’t know when to stop during his talks and begins to free associate. But, Favor said, "We wouldn’t expect the president of an HBCU to pander to such a dim view of the student body which he serves.”

At the all-female convocation this fall, some members of the crowd clapped during parts of his remarks – until Jennings started to talk about rape.

Jennings suggested that some female students who had reported having been raped had not actually been raped, and then talked about the effect the allegations would have on men. The remarks, critics said, were bound to discourage women on the campus from bringing allegations of sexual assault to the university’s attention.

Ugonma Ejiawoko, a senior biology major, said she didn’t go to the all-women's convocation because she knew based on past experience that she might be upset.

“I wouldn’t be able to sit there and be insulted, because I’ve been through a lot of things at this school,” Ejiawoko said.

Male students have also complained about Jennings’s remarks, which cast the men of the college as predatory.  

“We will use you up if you allow us to use you up,” Jennings said, apparently including himself and other men. He said that men will convince a woman she is the best thing since sliced bread, even though “we’re slicing your bread and somebody else’s bread too – if you allow us to do that.”

If the weekly convocation is male-only or female-only, Jennings is “going to say something out of context,” said Raheem McLeod, a junior biology major.

 “You’re a president, you should know what you say will affect a lot of people. So you should sit down and think about what you should say,” McLeod said.

Beyond the content of the convocations, students said they have forced changes to campus life. Class schedules had to be adjusted to accommodate the weekly convocations.  While they are going on, Lincoln offers no classes, the cafeteria is closed and the library is closed, according to students and faculty.

Jennings is not the only speaker at these events, and juniors and seniors are not required to attend. But one time, when the president couldn’t make it, students were asked to watch a video of him speaking.

A spokeswoman for Jennings, who this week apologized for failing to “not clearly communicate” during his remarks to female students in September, did not respond in detail Tuesday to requests for comment on this story, including a detailed list of questions about the convocation comments and about views of his leadership.

Enrollment Drops

Enrollment at Lincoln has dropped precipitously, as it has at other historically black colleges and other smaller public universities. Enrollment at Lincoln declined 7.3 percent in fall 2013, and Moody’s Investors Service has a negative outlook on the university, in part because of that and three other years of declines. Jennings, though, is blamed by faculty and students for making the enrollment situation worse.

In particular, faculty and students said he abruptly instituted an “80/20 rule” that made students put down 80 percent of their money owed at the start of the semester.

A senior who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of backlash said the move was “catastrophic” for students because it came abruptly.

“For you to tell a student to come up with the money, $5,000 in the matter of a week, is not rational at all,” the senior said in a telephone interview. “How many future doctors, how many future lawyers, how many future teachers, how many future philosophers, how many future sociologists did you turn away because of the 80/20 rule?... It was catastrophic for the school, it left an ugly mark that doesn’t seem to be going away unless Jennings goes away.”

McLeod, the junior biology major, said he understood the need for such a rule: to bring in more revenue to shore up the place. But, he said, Jennings went about it the wrong way.

“The point was to get Lincoln financially stable,” McLeod said, “but if you do that as such a drastic change, enrollment drops; and if enrollment drops, tuition goes up. So it helped it get a little financially stable but, over all, it hurt a lot.”

This year, the university sent an email to students that had other students’ names, student identification numbers, grade-point averages and the amount of money they owed the university, McLeod said.  He said the administration said the email was a mistake, but he considers it an invasion of privacy.

“It’s uncalled-for, it’s ridiculous,” he said.

No Confidence

Faculty members brought up the policy, too, although they are also fighting battles of their own.

In interviews, faculty repeatedly talked about high turnover among management – including three provosts since Jennings became president in January 2012 after after he was fired as president of Alabama A&M University.

"He has a huge turnover rate among his administration and one can only wonder why the turnover rate among the administrators is so high,” said Robert Langley, a biology professor who is head of the campus faculty union, a chapter of the American Association of University Professors.

Faculty say some of that turnover has been in the admissions office. That could not come at a worse time, given the enrollment troubles.

Faculty are also worried because Jennings has been talking about a new campus in nearby Coatesville, as well as a branch campuses in South Africa and some academic efforts in other countries, including Ireland, Namibia and China.

The Coatesville campus is about a half hour from the main Lincoln campus in rural Pennsylvania, which itself is not far from Wilmington, Delaware. Faculty wonder, though, what that new branch campus is for.

Professor Favor said students are being bused from the main campus to Coatesville to boost the programs offered on that new campus.

“It’s more of a cost than it is a benefit at this point,” he said. “And our concern is that it was never fully vetted by the standing committees or brought before the full faculty, so we could raise some questions about what the viability or the costs would be.”

Faculty also said Jennings abruptly canceled the undergraduate teacher education program this year.

“There was no faculty involvement in it at all, so now we’re scrambling around,” said Charles Pettaway, the university’s chair of visual and performing arts. He worries that his music education program will be lost.

Faculty also question the future of the graduate teacher education program in the absence of an undergraduate program to feed it students.

Susan Safford, a biology professor and member-at-large on the state board of AAUP, said she also understood the federal government was on campus investigating Title III spending and that the university had made some changes because of it.

Safford said the Jennings administration -- which requires him to sign off on all spending -- made planning impossible for things like invited speakers and workshops to help students with resumes and interviews.

“A lot of these kind of things have gone by the wayside and when we discuss in our department the need for various types of activities for our students we are, like, ‘Do we have the money for this; if we plan this, will we be able to do this after this semester?’ ” she said. “So why do we want to invest our money in this if we’re not going to be able to do it again, and that’s one of the biggest problems with this: educational planning.”

Last month, the faculty discontent came to a head and professors took a vote of no confidence in Jennings. According to Pettaway, 64 of 94 faculty voted. Of those, 58 voted no confidence, four said they had confidence in the president and two abstained. 


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