By Erika Winston
For the students and faculty of Virginia State University (VSU), this school year has been filled with controversy, bad publicity, and mounting financial problems. Now, in the latest twist to the story, President Keith T. Miller agreed that he will leave his position on December 31 of this year. On Friday, Dr. Miller met with the University Board of Visitors for over three hours in a closed session to discuss the school’s challenges. What came out of that meeting was Dr. Miller’s offering of his resignation, along with the Board’s acceptance.
Stories of financial trouble at VSU began surfacing shortly after the 2014-15 school year began. Since August, the university has been forced to close four dormitories in response to fading enrollment numbers. The administration also cut out several class offerings and decreased cafeteria services for the current student body. Recent reports have also questioned the adequacy of the school’s security and the safety of students, following last year’s fatal shooting of a junior near the campus.
According to statements released by the university, these cuts were in response to an estimated budgetary gap of $19.6 million for the school year. The reasons for the shortage are numerous, including changes to financial aid funding, decreased student enrollment, and reductions in the state budgetary allowance for the school.
In a statement from the VSU Public Relations Office, university officials stated, “Changes to Federal law for Pell grants, SAP, Parent PLUS loans, and other federal financial aid reduced the amount of funding available to our students by $3.4 million. Over 70% of VSU students receive federal aid. When these funds were no longer available, VSU experienced a significant enrollment decline.” The statement additionally explained that the enrollment decline resulted in a shortfall of funds usually generated by tuition, housing payments, and auxiliary fees.
In early October, VSU students rallied for answers regarding the decline in student services. They demanded the immediate resignation of Dr. Miller, along with other members of the school’s administration. In statements to school leaders, students reportedly criticized leaders for not recognizing the shortage beforehand and responding adequately. They also voiced concerns about poor communication between the administration, staff, and students.
In response to escalating worries, the administration held town hall meetings to discuss the issues facing the school and respond to concerns put forth by students, as well as faculty. In response to student allegations about budget cuts, Dr. Miller explained that the shortage was anticipated and asserted that cuts were made for the purpose of balancing the budget.
Dr. Miller is the 13th president of the 132 year-old university. He took over the role of president in 2010. Prior to the commencement of his contract, he served for six years as the president of Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania. Earlier last month, Dr. Miller released a letter addressed to the VSU family. It stated in part, “In meetings and conversations with students, faculty, staff and alumni, I am impressed with the love and passion that abounds for our great university. I relish the opportunity to continuously communicate with these groups, to listen to concerns and to work in partnership to review the entire operations of the University. Together, we will determine the best and most proper courses of action to take.”
To facilitate Dr. Miller’s resignation, the Board of Visitors amended his contract. He will return to his teaching position as a tenured professor. He will also continue to collect his $356,524 salary for a period of 12 months. As stated in the amended contract, Dr. Miller will spend the remainder of the school year in preparation for teaching in the fall semester.
In a public message regarding the resignation, Board Rector Harry Black said the Board and President Miller “agreed that VSU should move in another direction strategically.” He additionally praised Dr, Miller for his demonstration of commitment to the University. “President Miller is to be commended for his integrity and putting the interests of Virginia State University and its students at the forefront of this difficult decision,” he said. “The decision is in character with his dedication as a leader committed to service.”
An interim president will be announced in November and, according to Black, a search firm will be formed in January to begin an “open, competitive and comprehensive” national search for the university’s next president.
As one interested party commented on the VSU Facebook page, “I hope looking ahead we can find a president with HBCU ties and a VSU alum would be especially poignant at this crossroads, who understand[s] what it means to be an HBCU president.”