TUSKEGEE – Tuskegee University’s new president brought along a $100,000 gift Friday.
Brian Johnson, 40, also told students and faculty that social media interaction will be fine with him.
“You will probably find me on Facebook and Twitter and that’s okay,” Johnson said, adding he’ll be too busy to start answering them right away and will rely on his staff to help him with that assignment.
Accompanied by his wife and two sons, Johnson quickly won over the large crowd at the TU chapel during his speech, especially when he said he would be promoting an “outcome-based” program available to the public under his “transparent administration.”
During a news conference following his speech, Johnson, who begins his tenure Monday, was asked about the $100,000 family gift that will take the form of an endowed student scholarship spread over five years.
Johnson indicated it was a way for him and his wife, Shemeka, to illustrate a “proverbial expression” to “put your money where your mouth is.”
The seventh president at a university created in 1881, Johnson spoke for about an hour. He received loud applause several times, including standing ovations from faculty, students and visitors.
“He hit all the necessary points to get us started and motivated in the right direction,” said Walter Hill, chairman of the Tuskegee University College of Agriculture. “You can say he just nailed it.”
Retired Gen. Charles Williams, chairman of the TU board of trustees, introduced Johnson at the chapel and news conference during which he lauded his numerous academic achievements.
Williams said 40 educators from across the country applied for the job of university president, but it wasn’t long before the list was whittled to three, with Johnson the clear choice to succeed Gilbert Rochon. Rochon resigned as president unexpectedly in October after serving as president for only three years.
Johnson’s academic credentials impressed Williams and the other trustees so much that the chairman couldn’t wait to praise him during his Friday appearances.
“I’ve seen good leaders, and this man rates at the top,” Williams said. “He is well-qualified to be president of any college.”
Tuskegee University is one of several historically black colleges and universities. Some have been suffering in recent years due to financial problems.
Johnson was interim vice president of strategic planning at Austin Peay State University when he was named TU’s new president. He let it be known that his priority will be to learn as much as he can about a school created by the legendary Booker T. Washington.
“I am not coming as the great messiah,” he said. “I am building on a very grand and glorious tradition.”
He said that tradition has led some fans to describe Tuskegee as a cross between a Maserati and a Lamborghini — two of the world’s most expensive automobiles.
“Well, this is a car ready to be fully driven into the 21st century to reach its potential,” said Johnson, who added TU already has exceeded that description within the HBCU family.
For good measure, he added: “I simply suggest we want to be the premier 21st century higher education institution.”