Friday, November 17, 2017

bc_2017_president_artis_roslyn_0630For Benedict College's new president, Roslyn Artis, her first experience with a Historically Black College left a lasting memory

Tracy Glantz tglantz@thestate.com

'I am going to be aggressive'

Artis said she is a big believer in the value of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) like Benedict. Growing up as a coal miner's daughter in an almost all-white corner of West Virginia, Artis says she was "racially confused" before she attended historically black West Virginia State, becoming the first in her family to go to college in the process.

She first went to law school, then decided on a career in education after teaching a legal research class. At the end of the course, "my student left me a note saying, 'You changed my life,'" she said.

She earned her doctorate from Vanderbilt University and went on to serve as president of Florida Memorial College, an HBC in Miami, for four years until this past summer.

"Amongst her peers, Dr. Artis is a star," said Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, who sits on Benedict's board of trustees. "She's an educator, a lawyer and an expert in higher education finance, but her first priority is the students."

J.T. McLawhorn, president of Columbia's Urban League, was impressed with Artis after she gave a talk at his church.

"Dr. Artis has a passion for education, and she's able to connect with the underserved as a first-generation college graduate," McLawhorn said.

Part of Artis's appeal to the board was her reputation as a fundraiser. At Florida Memorial, unrestricted gifts rose by 20 percent on her watch, and restricted gifts jumped 38 percent.

In comparison, Benedict received $12 million in outside contributions in 2015. Of that, Artis said only $2 million was gifted by donors, half by Benedict alumni and another $500,000 from Benedict-affiliated churches.

"We have not had what you would want to see from our corporate foundations, (or) from a private foundation standpoint," Artis said. "We are a great bang for our buck. $1 million here is a significant, transformative gift when you think about the kind of kids we're educating and the content of our budget."

Artis points to a study that shows Benedict and its students had a $130 million impact on the surrounding community in 2014.

"If I'm doing business to the tune of $130 million, I ought to be getting something back from those businesses that we patronize and support," she says. "So I am going to be aggressive and engaged with our business community."

'There's a little fear of the unknown'

As part of her efforts to cut costs, Artis already has put some Benedict-owned off-campus housing properties – some as far away as St. Andrews – up for sale to consolidate Benedict's students on campus.

The president says Benedict's current faculty size – 116 full-time, 46 part-time – is the right fit for the newly capped class size. Her next step, she said, is to "update classroom technology and wireless infrastructure" to teach a more high-tech generation – as long as the faculty can keep up.

"There's a little fear of the unknown, and that's fine," she said. "If you've been teaching one way for 25 years, you're going to want to keep doing that."

She has the support of her bosses to make changes. Benjamin says the board wants Artis to do a "full, top to bottom assessment" of the school.

"We are beginning a new chapter in the history of Benedict College. We are focusing very specifically on our core population and our core mission," Artis said. "We are hopeful our business community will embrace our students."

"And," she added. "Send checks."

2,000 The number at which Benedict College's student body will be capped in fall 2018.
$29K Benedict's current annual tuition, which Artis plans to drop by a yet to-be-determined amount in fall 2018.

Bristow Marchant: 803-771-8405, @BristowatHome, @BuzzAtTheState

Source: The State Newspaper.

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