By Maria Saporta
Clark Atlanta University President Ronald A. Johnson submitted his resignation Friday after a meeting with his board of trustees.
In his letter of resignation (read it here), Johnson said he was resigning with a “heavy heart” and that he had made the decision for “personal reasons.” Johnson did say he was “reluctant” to leave and that he was “incredibly proud of what we accomplished together during this period of institutional transformation.” His departure will be effective Dec. 7.
Johnson was named president of Clark Atlanta on March 31, 2015. The historically black college celebrated its 30th anniversary as a stand-alone institution on July 1, the same day that Johnson marked his third year as CAU’s president. In 1988, Clark Atlanta was formed as a result of a merger between Atlanta University, founded in 1865, and Clark College, founded in 1869.
In an interview earlier this year, Johnson spoke of how he wanted Clark Atlanta to become an economic development engine for the Westside. He acknowledged the challenges of operating a smaller private college with a relatively small endowment of $70 million.
While CAU may be cash poor, it is a “land rich” institution. Earlier this year, it gained even more land, winning its legal challenges with the City of Atlanta over land that previously had been used by Morris Brown College.
Clark Atlanta owns both the historic Gaines Hall and the Paschal’s Motor Lodge – two of the most significant buildings in Atlanta. Both are in a state of “demolition by neglect.”
Clark Atlanta is strategically located on the Westside with its campus just a half-mile west of the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
In the recent interview, Johnson called Clark Atlanta “a leader in upward economic mobility.” About 35 percent of its students are first-generation college students, and 62 percent of them come from families with incomes of $48,000 or less.
“We are one of the entities working to bridge that gap deliberately,” Johnson said at the time.
Johnson, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., was a first generation college student from a family with modest income. He was the second oldest of nine children, and eight of them went to college.
“I came to an institution to develop a future for people who have that kind of background,” Johnson explained.
Johnson was dean of the Jesse H. Jones School of Business at Texas Southern University in Houston before coming to CAU. He is an economist by training, and he has had extensive academic and business experiences.
His letter to the board highlighted CAU’s accomplishments during his tenure.
“As evidenced by these achievements and many others, we have placed our beloved CAU on an upward trajectory that has been acknowledged around the nation,” Johnson wrote.
The departure of Johnson comes at a tenuous time for the CAU. It has been in the midst of discussions over its involvement on the Westside, and it has been working with the City of Atlanta on how to preserve and develop its land.
Johnson’s tenure also reflects the transiency that exists among Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The average tenure of a president of an HBCU is about three years.