On Friday, January 19, Oakwood University released a statement expressing “unwavering support” for its president Leslie Pollard while announcing a new Spring slate of alumni-focused meetings. Reiterating points from previous press releases from the Board of Trustees, it noted key successes for the Huntsville, Alabama campus in the face of a “challenging environment” and commended the university’s “talented and deeply skilled leadership team.”
The new community outreach events, titled “Oakwood Comes to You,” focus on enhancing the connection between the university and its alumni. An earlier version of the press release called it “yOU,” but this capitalization does not appear in the website version, dated January 21. Oakwood’s alumni outreach events were previously called “Oakwood Ignite.”
As reported in a recent Spectrum article, the president of the only Seventh-day Adventist HBCU has faced growing allegations of mismanagement from around 1,700 alumni, staff, faculty, and current students as he begins his 13th year as its leader. United under the name Concerned Oakwoodites, the group continues to express its lack of confidence in the leadership of the university. On December 28, 2023, the Concerned Oakwoodites released an open letter and appeared in local media urging Pollard to step down.
This new four page statement by the 37 member university board—chaired by the president of the North American Division—includes information regarding plans for improvement, including a commitment to “increasing communication with the Oakwood community more widely.” It goes on to catalog famous alumni and recent successes including a rise in fundraising, accreditation for ten more years, increasing diversity, and its musical legacy. In addition, the statement mentions the 100 percent state board pass rate of its Nursing Department—a test was taken by two students. In addition, the university states that in October it “put a plan in place” to “move this institution forward and address the challenges and opportunities ahead.” It promises more details of this “strategic plan” later in January. Early this month the university announced new vice presidents for enrollment and advancement.
While the press release touts the university’s accreditation affirmation late last year, the statement fails to note that the accrediting organization, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, has requested a “Monitoring Report” in the next twelve months. In addition, the organization “denied approval” of Oakwood University’s move to offer a new DMin program, “because the institution did not provide an acceptable plan and supporting documentation to ensure that it has the capacity to comply with the following standards of the Principles of Accreditation as they relate to the substantive change.”
Described as an “opportunity for meaningful conversation,” this newly named “Oakwood Comes to You” series will feature six events taking place this Spring in New York, Bermuda, Atlanta, and Columbus, each coordinated by a regional conference president. The two other events include alumni weekend at the university’s campus in Huntsville, Alabama, and a March 17 Zoom.
As reported earlier this year, the Concerned Oakwoodites have posted a detailed list of concerns, including school finances, violations of cyber security and privacy, enrollment, faculty, and staff retention, ethical practices, and board governance.
“The fact that Oakwood is facing specific challenges has not changed—and won’t be changed by PR events,” David Person, co-founder of the Concerned Oakwoodites, said in his response to the university’s latest statement. “We continue to call for real change, which still calls for accountability, transparency, and corrective action.”
Alexander Carpenter contributed to this report.