Claflin University President Dr. Henry N. Tisdale announced Tuesday morning the end of a journey that has taken him and his wife through more than two decades of ensuring academic excellence, community pride and enhanced quality of life at and beyond his beloved alma mater.
Tisdale announced his retirement effective June 30, 2019, during a press conference held at Ministers' Hall, but drew audible gasps from a throng of attendees who had prematurely assumed his departure would be this year.
"No, not tomorrow," Tisdale said, smiling as he expressed his appreciation for the students, faculty, staff and board of trustees that he said have made his tenure which began in 1994 a successful one.
He thanked his wife of more than 40 years, Alice Carson Tisdale, who took the reins as director of Claflin's Honors College -- renamed The Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College by the university's trustees in 1996 -- for her teamwork and commitment to the university.
"I thank God for ordering our steps" and giving me such a gifted and beautiful partner, said Tisdale, a 1965 Claflin honor graduate.
Following the press conference, Tisdale said his retirement on what will be his 25th anniversary as president is timely.
"We also looked at the fact that in that time period our children are now grown, we now have grandchildren. We'd love to spend more time with them. And we just believe that we need to enjoy our lives as well. And in addition to that, it'll give me some time to step back and reflect and hopefully write a book to document what we have done over the 25-year period at Claflin University. So we believe the time is now," the president said.
He said his wife's retirement will be announced at a later time.
"We came together and we'll be leaving together. She will be making an announcement at the appropriate time with regard to her tenure, but I can assure you that we will be leaving together," he said.
Tisdale said the university's Career Pathways Initiative is among the things of which he is most proud.
Claflin University, Voorhees College and Benedict College received part of a $35.4 million grant from the United Negro College Fund Career Pathways Initiative designed to help colleges and universities enhance career readiness for students.
He said he feels good about having not just worked to improve the campus, but the surrounding community.
"I believe that we should always be good neighbors and, in doing so, of course we went onto Goff Avenue, which was a totally different place at that time with boarded up houses and it was the neighborhood dump, if you will. So we cleaned it up, we purchased property, we even helped build low-income homes for families who now live in some of those homes.
“I have decided to retire effective June 30, 2019,” Claflin University President Henry N. Tisdale said Tuesday.
"And ... even our own campus has expanded down Goff Avenue as well. So our commitment is to being a good neighbor and what we do for Claflin, we also try to share and do for our community. We are about making the community of Orangeburg a better place to live, improving the quality of life for all," Tisdale said.
The completion of Claflin Commons, a new 64,000-square-foot residential living complex, was the most recent development along the street in 2014.
Before Claflin Commons, the university built its Living and Learning Center and Kleist Hall in 1998, while its Student Residential Center including four residence halls and the dining hall was completed in 2004.
Claflin most recently held a groundbreaking for a new health and wellness complex in 2017.
Tisdale said he and wife plan to stay connected to Orangeburg, but will not reside here.
"Well, we will stay connected. We are deeply rooted, and we're Orangeburg and Claflin University forever. But we will reside in Charleston County when we leave Orangeburg," he said.
Claflin Trustee Board Chairman James Bennett said the process of looking for a new president will involve a national search.
"We would put in place a search committee that would be comprised of board of trustees, students and community leaders and then go through a process to eliminate the search and then move forward," Bennett said.
"The time is ample in order to go forward with a national search for a candidate. And candidates could be local. We could have someone right here at Claflin University, but we've made the decision to do a national search," the board chairman said.
He said Tisdale's excellent leadership of the university is something that everyone can be proud of.
"And it just wasn't by happenstance that we raised over $100 million during the downfall in the economy. Everybody bought into the Claflin story, and it is one that is very amazing thanks to Dr. Tisdale," Bennett said.
During the press conference, Bennett praised Tisdale's visionary leadership.
"We can see the amazing accomplishments expressed in new buildings, new academic programs and smart classrooms, increased funding, increased enrollment, solid infrastructure and extraordinary alumni support," Bennett said, thanking Tisdale and his wife for a job well done.
"I am convinced that both were called. ... Under President Tisdale's dynamic and exceptional leadership, Claflin is richer in resources, higher in national prominence and stronger in academic achievement. ... His tenure as Claflin's eighth president is a masterpiece in administration and leadership. We understood fully his decision to pursue another phase in life's journey. At the same time, he leaves this board of trustees a challenge and a legacy that must be confronted in the immediate future," the board chairman said.
Tisdale said since 1994, the university launched two capital campaigns, both of which exceeded their goals, with its annual alumni giving rate of 52.2 percent standing at an all-time high in 2013 and considered to be number one among HBCUs.
He said he is also proud of the major national, regional and local partners that the university has worked with over the years, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Andrew Mellon Foundation.
"I want our campus to be place of great pride," he said, noting that the university has a total economic impact of $79 million, with a total employment impact of 835 jobs.
"A strong foundation has been laid to ensure the future," he said, but not without the support and commitment of others, including a committed faculty and staff, board of visitors and trustee board.
"I stand ready to continue to serve and to support my alma mater," Tisdale said.