The incoming president of Harris-Stowe State University doesn’t take over until mid-July, but Dwaun J. Warmack has a pretty good idea of what his priorities will be.
He told a news conference on campus Thursday that he is a visionary leader, and his vision has four parts:
- Academic excellence
- Strong enrollment and retention of students
- Marketing and branding
- Friend-raising and fund-raising
And, Warmack said, his background prepares him to get the job done.
Citing his experience at universities public and private, with a variety of missions, he made clear that he knows how to deal with students on a personal level. After all, he pointed out, his own story is very much like many of theirs.
Warmack said he and his four brothers were raised by a single mother in the projects of Detroit. He is the first member of his family to graduate from college. So he will be able to relate to the students that have been the core of Harris-Stowe’s recruitment efforts.
“Harris-Stowe is a place that gives students an opportunity who are like me,” Warmack said. “So my passion, and my calling, have the opportunity to line up and to serve.”
Repeating the mantra of a school that is accessible, affordable and diverse, Warmack said an interview that he wants to make sure Harris-Stowe graduates have the tools they need to succeed once they leave campus.
“We will brand the institution in a way that individuals will know coming to Harris-Stowe, you will get a quality education but you have a real world experience,” he said. “Our students will leave here prepared to serve and compete against anyone in the country. That’s what our focus will be.”
In his current job as senior vice president for administration and student services at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Fla. – a campus he joined as a vice president in 2010 at the age of 33 – he said he connects with students via social media and even gives out his cell phone number. Such personal relationships, he said, are ways to help students succeed.
“I like to lead by example,” Warmack said. “Because of my upbringing, because of my background, there’s no separation from the work that I do and the person that I am.
“I don’t wear two suits. I don’t wear a suit to church and a suit to work. Who I am all the time is who I am. So I think I am modeling behavior that is necessary to show them as a blueprint to what it means to be successful.”
Warmack succeeds Constance Gully, who has served as interim president for the current school year. She replaced Albert Walker, who served just two years as president following the 32-year tenure of Henry Givens.
Warmack will take over a campus where the governing board imposed a contract onto the faculty after declaring that negotiations had reached an impasse. Professors who were unhappy with their treatment by the administration formed the first union at a public campus in Missouri and have been vocal about what they consider to be a lack of influence in how the school is governed.
Asked about the relationship with the faculty, Warmack noted he is a former professor and has an idea about what their concerns may be.
“Faculty, staff and administrators all have one common goal,” he said. “That’s to serve the students.So my goal will be to bring us together and keep that as our main focus.
“At the end of the day, whether it’s a union or not a union, our goal is to serve the students.”
Brian Elsesser, the newly elected president of the faculty union, said in an email that in his new position, Warmack “will need to prove that he is serious about academics by moving more resources and power to faculty and away from an extremely top-heavy administration.
“Faculty are still angry about the way the board of regents blew money on lawyers that could have gone to raises, and then imposed terms in the contract negotiations after only 10 sessions. The new president will need to find a way to ameliorate this problem.”
So far, he said, Warmack’s comments have been encouraging, but his actions once he takes over on July 14 will be more revealing.
“We will know if Dr. Warmack is serious about academic excellence, shared governance and transparency within the first 90 days of his presidency,” Elsesser said. “I intend to work with him and will support him as long as he holds true to these principles.”
Despite what kind of cooperative climate Warmack encounters on campus, he told the news conference that the question of another kind of climate figured into deliberations by him and his wife, LaKisha, about whether to seek a job in St. Louis.
He noted that his current job is in Daytona Beach, which he called “the world’s most famous beach.
“My wife has grown extremely accustomed to the beach weather. And so we did a lot of soul searching and praying before we applied. So my helpmate, my soulmate, thank you for being here with me on this journey.”