New Johnson C. Smith University president puts students first

Her theme for JCSU is “A New Era of Excellence.”
Johnson C. Smith University is a private historically black university in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Published: Sep. 15, 2023 at 12:57 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - It’s a new day at Johnson C. Smith University.

The 15th president, Dr. Valerie Kinloch, has arrived and is ready for bold change. She is no stranger to Charlotte’s only Historically Black College and University.

Kinloch graduated from JCSU back in 1996 with an English and literature degree. Now she is the top educator there. Her theme for JCSU is “A New Era of Excellence.”

“A new era of excellence looks like this,” Kinloch said. “It looks like we are fully engaged in campus with each other. We are putting students first. We are engaging with community members. We are listening. We are activating the sense of engagement, but we are also moving toward an elevated sense of institutional and operational excellence in ways that benefit every single person that might be on campus but also might be in the larger Charlotte community.”

Kinloch said all her decisions will benefit the students. The president believes if JCSU is not about students then the school is missing the point.

She has already heard from students about the band department’s lack of resources and students’ complaints about the cafeteria. She is working on those concerns. She also wants to hear from faculty and staff about their concerns.

Kinloch wants JCSU to be inclusive when thinking about who the campus serves.

“We are tuition-driven, and so we need to think differently about enrollment,” she said. “And enrollment doesn’t mean 18-year-old students. It means 18-year-olds, adult learners, transfer students, life-long learners, and we need to think differently across those bands.”

Kinloch has been on the job for more than a month. She is evaluating everything.

“We need to improve on how we market and communicate,” she said. “But we also need to take a hard look at our operation efficiencies; are we operating at maximum level? And when I say maximum level, are our systems correct? Are our structures appropriate and are students really being centered in the midst of everything that we do?”

Before taking the job at JCSU, Kinloch was the dean of the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh. WBTV did ask her about JCSU not having a School of Education. That program was cut back in 2016 due to low enrollment.

“I will be very clear,” Kinloch said. “Education is important and to have a school - a program - a college of education, I see that as fundamentally important for every single Historically Black College that is rooted in the liberal arts tradition. We don’t have it. There are reasons why we don’t have it. There are reasons why we should have it. And so my goal is to figure out why we don’t. What happened when and then how do we think differently about education as a civil right here at Johnson C Smith University.”

The president is coming on the job at a time when private and corporate donors raised $80 million to improve conditions at the 156-year-old institution. The money has already been used to repair buildings. Money will also go to support the school’s plan and the president’s vision.

“What are the types of investments might this $80 million Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative allow us to do that we haven’t been doing?” Kinloch said “I think we have to look closely at the community. I think we have to think about how we develop internship programs for our students that allow students from this institution to go into organizations businesses corporations in the Charlotte area and put the lessons that they learned here to work. We need summer internships. We need fall and spring. We need students engaging in global partnerships; $80 million is the beginnings of that.”

The goal is to turn JCSU into a top-tier HBCU. Kinloch said she knows what that looks like.

“A top-tier HBCU looks like an institution that has a bold and courageous leader who understands the value of cultivating a bold and courageous staff of faculty. And staff members who understand the need to go into communities and to foster, support, cultivate relationships even heal past relationships.”

Kinloch said she is up for the challenge. She wants to increase enrollment, evaluate the curriculum that is being offered at the school and be ready to make changes. She calls herself a calculated risk-taker.

“When I ask people to take risks, for example, they might ask the benefit of taking a risk and it doesn’t always have to be a financial benefit,” Kinloch said. “It could be, if we are going to move the needle, I am going to take risks and I need you to take intentional risks in order for us to get the types of resources academically, operationally, functionally, and financially, that we rightfully need and deserve on behalf of our students.”