Transitions and Transformations
Exploring the recent developments at Central State University under the leadership of Dr. Jack Thomas
Upon his appointment as the ninth president of Central State University in July 2020, Dr. Jack Thomas wasted little time. Bringing decades of successful academic leadership, he deftly navigated the challenges of the COVID pandemic, the worst global crisis since World War II, assembled a team of industry professionals to address the university’s needs, and developed plans across nine crucial areas. These initiatives served as the bedrock for the institution’s new strategic plan.
Firmly focusing on achieving tangible results, Dr. Jack Thomas enacted numerous changes, including strategic personnel reassignments aimed at maximizing their impact. Among those affected by the initial changes were the Provost, a College Dean, and the Vice President for Advancement. A significant move involving a female leader didn’t take place until more than a year later, and a similar change with another female leader occurred years into his tenure. It should be noted that the first three individuals removed from duty were men. These personnel changes seemed routine and justified for leading such a large organization while maintaining the integrity of an HBCU. Under Dr. Thomas’s tenure, Central State experienced considerable evolution and growth. Achievements included record-breaking fundraising, the establishment of an honors college, the completion of a new Honors Residence Hall, and the construction of three new facilities, including apartments, a research facility, and a storage facility.
Dr. Thomas demonstrated remarkable engagement with the community, extending from state legislators and the governor to the Mayors of Xenia, Dayton, and Trotwood, as well as school superintendents and a multitude of community organizations. His proactive community outreach spurred a resurgence of interest and instilled a renewed sense of support for Central State from the community at large, particularly for the satellite campuses in Xenia, Dayton, and Trotwood.
Dr. Thomas encouraged his team to achieve unprecedented enrollment goals, which included broadening the programs offered and expanding access through the establishment of Central State Global. Alongside these pioneering changes, the University updated its brand for a more contemporary appeal and developed a new, responsive, and engaging website tailored to prospective students. Additionally, Dr. Thomas spearheaded the expansion of corporate partnerships, bringing in significant funding from corporations across the country. Unsatisfied with these accomplishments, he pushed further, securing over $50 million in grant funding, including a sizable award from the USDA, which made national headlines.
While this piece could continue listing Dr. Jack Thomas’s significant contributions to Central State, it’s also essential to discuss the resistance he faced. His era of transformation disrupted the status quo, requiring employees to adjust to new ways of thinking and operating. The discomfort with these changes led to feelings of uncertainty or fear, ultimately resulting in some resisting these progressive strides.
This resistance is evident in the findings of a law firm hired to investigate complaints about Dr. Thomas. The firm concluded that Dr. Thomas did not discriminate in his hiring practices, and his leadership style wasn’t harmful. However, based on statements from those resistant to change, they suggested that his leadership style could be perceived as rude or belittling. Despite these findings, Dr. Thomas faced public humiliation and undermining due to these allegations, seemingly due to his extreme ambition to improve Central State. It is likely that this negativity and lack of supportive allies contributed to his decision not to renew his contract.
If we cannot embrace positive and transformative change brought about by leaders like Dr. Jack Thomas, the future of our HBCUs could be at stake. In fact, national reports show an unprecedented number of HBCU leaders being ousted across several states. We wonder whether this disheartening pattern is an indicator of college and university leaders’ impatience to embrace the requisite journey of meaningful transformation and organizational change. Dr. Thomas, a seasoned professional with impeccable credentials, assessed, made necessary changes, and set Central State on a path of sustainable growth. His commitment to innovation led to numerous achievements by his team. It’s regrettable to see such a successful leader lack the support he rightly deserves. Whatever Dr. Jack Thomas’s next endeavor, his ongoing success is inevitable. We can only hope that his future institution will embrace and appreciate this impactful change agent.
Op-Ed From the Following:
- The Honorable Stephanie House Cleveland City Council Ward 7
- The Honorable Paula Hicks Hudson State Senator 11th District of Toledo
- Mayor Mary McDonald
- Former State Senator Rhine McLin Dayton, Ohio