Dr. Tashni-Ann Dubroy: Howard University’s transformer

Meet the new power broker of higher education. There are no challenges or obstacles that Dr. Tashni-Ann Dubroy believe she can’t hurdle over. The impossible is transformed into unlimited possibility with Dubroy. The good people at Shaw University knows this firsthand after Dubroy stabilized the institution’s money flow and brought up a sinking enrollment ship in only a couple of years.

Her task now is to make Howard University the threshold of greatness again among historically black colleges and universities. This is no small feat considering the rich history of the “Mecca” in producing distinguished alumni like Thurgood Marshall, Debbie Allen, Chadwick Boseman, Stokely Carmichael, Sean P. Diddy Combs, and others.

Howard University is a cultural beacon. But like a lot of institutions of higher learning, rough patches can sometimes involve themselves into the academic landscape. The state of the school’s finances has reportedly come into question in recent years. Four years ago, former university president Sidney A Ribeau left the school in a sudden departure.

And as of the spring this year, some faculty members produced a no confidence vote in current Howard President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick. Critics notwithstanding, Frederick had enough backing from the Howard University Board of Trustees to receive a five-year extension. Besides securing his future commitment at Howard, Frederick’s most important move this summer was snagging Dubroy away from Shaw.

“Dr. Dubroy brings valuable experiences to this position, a proven track record of success, and I’m ecstatic that she is joining my leadership team,” said Frederick in a released statement. “She comes to Howard at a very critical time. As higher education becomes an increasingly more competitive environment, especially for HBCUs, her ability to advance innovation and strategies that lead to key outcomes and process optimization across the University will continue to drive us to a vibrant future.”

Dr Tashni-Ann Dubroy is Howard University’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. Courtesy photo

Attracting talented individuals like Dubroy is almost a given at Howard. Yet it took some serious recruiting moxie and determined persuasion from Frederick to get Dubroy to leave her post as president of Shaw University to become executive vice president and chief operating officer at the home of the Bison.

“I took the job because I wanted to bring as much value as I can to someone who I consider a great leader,” Dubroy said in reference to Frederick. “As I learn the Howard University landscape, the challenges that Howard faces, one of the things that I really want to make sure is that the Mecca is intact. Howard represents a model of excellence. I want the university to remain the pride of all of our stakeholders.”

A New Day

The enrollment at Howard (nearly 10,000 students) is five times as big as those numbers at Shaw (roughly 2,000 students), and has more of an overwhelming budget to handle than its HBCU brethren. Dubroy is taking on more a diverse workload at Howard. Among the hats she’s being asked to wear is being involved in strategic planning and taking part in real estate development.

“I look at it as a golden opportunity,” Dubroy said. “I’m extremely excited.”

Coming to work for Howard is a game-changing moment for Dubroy’s academic career. It should also pay dividends for Howard when it comes to fiscal management and budgetary matters. Dubroy has the resume to back that up. The Jamaica native has gone from working as a research scientist to the corporate boardroom to becoming a highly sought-after educator in the scope of a decade.

HBCU Digest selected Dubroy as its 2017 Female President of the Year. She was named as the 2017 CEO of the Year by Triangle Business Journal. When it comes to the pocketbook, the noted chemist is a whiz when it comes to financial matters, finding feature landing spots in Money magazine and Bloomberg Businessweek for her driving entrepreneur stewardship.

The Shaw Experience

Her biggest academic achievement to date is lifting Shaw University to financial stability and increased enrollment.

When she took over as president of Shaw in 2015, her alma mater was sliding into financial abyss. Enrollment was steadily trendy in a downward spiral. Dubroy not only stopped the backward direction the university was heading in, she helped accelerate the fiscal growth of the school with her management style.

Before coming to Howard University, Dr. Tashni-Ann Dubroy was selected as the 2017 Female President of the Year by HBCU Digest. Courtesy photo

Within the time frame of her arrival and departure from the North Carolina school, Dubroy managed to generate an increase in enrollment at the university for the first time in six years, and became a fundraising whip, shoring up a $4 million fundraising hole.

“I’ve adopted the Shaw family. It’s mostly all I know, in terms of people going there for undergrad, being able to assimilate in the academic profession at Shaw,” Dubroy said.

Her biggest victory at the school, however, was getting staff and faculty pay retroactively re-instated. As a professor at the school, Dubroy remembers when the former president spoke on a mandatory 5-10 percent cuts to faculty and staff pay, a move to save money. The announcement that the school was going to implement a three-year program that would slash salaries was not good for employee morale, said Dubroy.

“I remember the entire room being extremely quiet,” Dubroy said. “Some people quit, but not the majority of the folks. When you compare, our salary bracket brackets are low. Then we were asked to shave off some money to shore up the finances for the institution, and we all did it. The one thing that I hold dear to my heart is re-instating faculty and staff pay. When I took the presidency, I didn’t make any promises to anyone, but I told them that would be one of my priorities. So, after we were able to shore up enrollment for the institution and return the finances, we were able to re-instate staff pay. That was probably the most significant morale booster and it was probably my most significant accomplishment.”

The two biggest functions of a college president are increasing enrollment and finding ways to generate financial capital for the university they represent. Dubroy did both at Shaw. She achieved that after some prodding by a former supervisor who saw leadership qualities in Dubroy. Dubroy took that que and ran with it, using her entrepreneurship abilities as a platform to turn things around at Shaw. But it wasn’t easy.

Breaking the Mode

“I don’t think any experience prepares you the for the many multi-layered hats that a university president wears and the poker face you have to attain quite quickly,” Dubroy said. “There are certain things you learn on the job. I took the position (president) because I realized that Shaw was in a bind, and that it needed a passionate leader who cared about the institution. So many times, you have great CEO’s that come in and they don’t understand the softer side of academia, the part where you have to be sensitive to needs of a multi-branch audience-faculty, students and staff. I’ve played those roles. I was a student at a university. I was a faculty member. I’ve been a staff member, so I knew what the needs of those people were. I knew people by name. That really helped with the whole emotional intelligent part of leadership.”

Shaw is not the first historically black college to find itself rudderless when it comes to financial woes or sliding enrollment numbers. Howard was in this boat as well. Dubroy said black schools typically fall short in these areas because there is not enough push to retrieve and gather data. Attending high school and college recruiting fairs across the country brought this to light for her.

Dubroy said she discovered that other colleges and universities would often use the collection of data and the use of technology to get a jump over HBCUs in their recruitment of students. Dubroy is hopeful black colleges and universities realize that they need to catch up to this marketing reality soon.

“It didn’t take me two seconds to realize that we had to change that immediately,” Dubroy said. “A lot people don’t pay attention to the data. That’s that part that I consider to be my strength. That part, using technology as a tool, can’t be understated. You’ve got to be in tuned to what students are being exposed to. They have a chance to compare. They’re out there shopping. Their parents are shopping, too…We have to be so strong that we pay attention to the marketing dynamics.”

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